Director Guy Ritchie on his retelling of the legend of King Arthur
PUBLISHED: 18:31 02 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:53 03 August 2017
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Not one to shy away from a fight, Guy Ritchie comes storming back on to our screens with his brilliantly bananas retelling of the Arthurian legend. Christopher Ritchie asks the Hatfield-born director about his unique style
Having once claimed ‘I can teach you what you really need to know about being a film director in an hour and anything else you need to know in a week’, Hatfield-born Guy Ritchie has never bigged-up his profession. He may be one of the most up-and-down directors around, yet he’s also one of the most exciting.
The 48-year-old is one of those larger-than-life filmmakers whose own life story would make a great film. He’s never just ‘there’ – rather he’s in or out of favour. There’s a major reason for that – adventurous in his art, Ritchie doesn’t play by the book, nor does he create films that follow a template. He likes to go his own way.
The former Mr Madonna (who made something of a career misstep when he cast the singer and actress in the critically panned rom-com Swept Away in 2002) burst on to the scene in 1998 with the low-brow gritty magic of London crime caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The similarly underwordly Snatch (2000) with Brad Pitt in full flow as an Irish traveller boxer and swaggering returns by Lock, Stock’s Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, and Alan Ford, was also a hit. Ritchie also successfully revitalised Sherlock Holmes for the screen with a daring Robert Downey Jr vehicle and who now, with his latest film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has taken another mythical character and turned him into something quite different. If you listen to some critics however – one called it a ‘geezerfied King Arthur’, another ‘Snatchalot’ – the big budget, big sequence epic is destined to be a dreaded ‘box office bomb’.
While the director may view all this as ‘swings and roundabouts’, he also has the perspective of someone who tries to learn from his mistakes or, at least, acknowledges they have occurred. Looking back on the experience of Swept Away, Ritchie is candid: ‘The idea was the wife and I would make some sassy little art movie that would come out and be wonderfully received. I think it’s a good film – I’m scratching my head about what went wrong. I took a punt on whether people would like to see Madonna in a film and I got kicked for doing it, but I think she’s good at acting.’
He no doubt thought something similar when he took the risk of casting footballer Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock.
Like his directing career, life before it was not all smooth sailing either. In person, he is a charming, loveable East London-sounding lad. What is not apparent perhaps is that Ritchie was privately educated with affluent and talented parents – his mother a model and his father a producer of TV commercials. They divorced when he was five.
His academic record – the achievement of one GCSE, in film studies – has its own back story. Dyslexic and frequently ‘finding himself in trouble’, he attended no less than 10 schools. There was drug use, fighting and expulsion – ironically from a school that specialised in teaching dyslexic children.
Ritchie’s explanation is matter-of-fact: ‘I left school at 15 with no qualifications. I’m dyslexic by disposition and I learned absolutely nothing at school. I was on a trajectory taking me nowhere, and until the age of 25 I took nothing seriously whatsoever. I didn’t really believe I could achieve anything.’
The turning point was a random conversation.
‘Someone asked me whether if I had £86,400 given to me every day I could spend it all by the end of each night,’ he recalls. ‘I thought I could. Then he said there are 86,400 seconds in a day. Suddenly I realised that life is a gift.’
Ritchie now believes his dyslexia has been a boon rather than a hindrance. Like racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart, actors Keira Knightley and Whoopi Goldberg and fellow director Steven Spielberg, they have found the learning difficulty has made them push harder to realise their ambitions.
And experience counts too. If Ritchie had not fallen in with the ‘wrong crowd’ we may never have seen Lock, Stock or Snatch.
Where Ritchie really surprises is in his diversity of projects. Having been somewhat pigeonholed as a ‘geezer-gangster’ filmmaker (he writes or co-writes most of his films too), the 2009 Sherlock Holmes reboot, its 2011 sequel A Game of Shadows, and 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E, prove otherwise. Although they do carry the signature rough-and-ready attitude of his earlier works.
His version of the King Arthur legend is a bold and ambitious endeavour – casting Charlie Hunnam, a British actor whose success has been primarily Stateside, in the title role opposite Jude Law’s bad guy Vortigern. It’s clearly a Guy Ritchie film, with both a defiantly gritty and escapist-fun approach to the story. He manages to shoehorn his buddy David Beckham into a cameo role that’s either genius casting or utterly baffling, depending on your perspective.
Looking ahead, there’s a rumoured return to Downey Jr’s Holmes (Ritchie is keeping mum) but perhaps most interestingly, Ritchie has been handed the reins to Disney’s live action update of Aladdin.
‘This is even further away from my wheelhouse and I like that frightening aspect,’ he says. ‘British urban gangster stuff, I know. Sherlock Holmes is a time-travelling variation on that in a way. Arthur and Aladdin, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E – I know very little about all of those periods and genres and that’s the impetus, that’s the thrill. I like to make it difficult for myself – what’s the point in coasting along?
‘My confidence has built up over the years and I’m far more foolhardy and gutsy in my endeavours.’
What about his critics? ‘I don’t read reviews anymore. I stopped years ago. It’s psychologically assaulting!
‘I tend to make movies for myself as well as the audience – I think about what I’d like to spend my money on when I buy my cinema ticket.’
The expectation surrounding his newest most radical departure, Aladdin, comes weighted with opinions other than his own – that of his family. His three children with his wife Jacqui Ainsley – Rafael, five, Rivka, four and two-year-old Levi – and his two boys with Madonna, Rocco, 16 and David, 11, are naturally hoping their dad puts his very best into this.
‘I’ve never embarked into the kiddie genre before. This’ll be the first with the kids in mind,’ he smiles. ‘You get the call for Aladdin and I don’t think I’d be allowed home if I said no!
‘I’m only in the casting process right now and we’re still trying to decide on the tone and path. I love Disney. I’ve seen The Jungle Book and Frozen a lot. I know them off by heart.’
The gritty filmmaker happily singing along to Let it Go? Well why not? Equally, we may see a surprising take on Aladdin. From one of Herts’ most intriguing characters, don’t bet against it.