American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It is the misfortune of "First Knight" to open third in the same season that also brought "Rob Roy" and "Braveheart," two better examples of the medieval swordcraft-and-seduction genre. The movie is entertaining enough in its own way, and Sean Connery makes a splendid King Arthur, but compared with the earlier films this one seems thin and unconvincing.
The story is yet another retelling of the love triangle of Camelot. It centers on Guinevere (Julia Ormond), Lady of Leonesse, whose lands are under attack from the evil Malagant (Ben Cross). She determines to marry King Arthur, whose Camelot is legend, for two reasons: Because she can love him, and because he can protect Leonesse. But as events are unfolding, she meets the young and footloose Lancelot (Richard Gere), who saves her from a savage attack in the woods, and goes right on saving her, while falling in love with her, throughout the movie.
It's an intriguing triangle. Guinevere loves Arthur with her mind and Lancelot with her heart. The two men admire one another. If she chooses Arthur, she also protects all of those she is responsible for. If she chooses Lancelot, love conquers all. This is precisely the same situation that developed in "Casablanca," and the parallel is all the stronger because Julia Ormond, in a certain light, looks so much like Ingrid Bergman, with the apple cheeks; the full lips; the slight overbite; the wide-set, grave eyes, and the generosity of body.
The movie plays out its conflict on sets and locations that look, frankly, less than convincing after "Braveheart" and "Rob Roy." At one point, while a town is under siege, a bell tower falls over for no apparent reason except that prop men caused it to do so. At another point, Arthur stands on a hilltop with Guinevere and shows her the glistening city of Camelot at night - with a light sparkling in every window. Either they had lots of candles, or the guys who built the miniature got carried away.