Why do the cast of Excalibur (1981) have full plated armor when that didn't exist back then?

Is this due to stereotypes about King Arthur and knights in shining armor? This was supposed to take place around the start of the Dark Ages, after the Romans left. But I don't think I've ever seen Romans depicted in such armor, which would probably look silly.

  • 4
    King Arthur is a rewrite of a rewrite of a rewrite of a myth. It has no historical accuracy at all. All the 'knights in shining armour' stuff is from the Victorian era.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 14:18
  • Ok, if it's meant to be more mythical than historical, that could be an answer. On the other hand, there are plenty of movies with mythical elements that take place in certain time periods that don't necessarily get costume design so wrong. Like the ten commandments, if that's a good example.
    – user101579
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 14:27
  • 1
    You could be out by 500 years in either direction & the ten commandments wouldn't need a costume change ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 14:51
  • Yeah I've read fashion started with Louis xiv. Clothing changed slower before. But armor and weapon tech did change.
    – user101579
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 14:53
  • Didn't exist back when? You think there were any knights in 6th century? Or was it supposed to be 5th or 7th? Did the film itself even said what time it takes place?
    – Mithoron
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


In short, the filmmakers were very well aware that the armour used in the film was both anachronistic and fanciful. Their principal armorer (Terry English) told them at the outset what 6th Century armours should look like and there was a conscious decision made not to go in that direction.

Terry English: Well, John [Boorman, the director] said to me and kind of sparked off visually, it's a building thing, and he said "I want them to look like American footballers, with these big shoulders and stuff"

Adam Savage: How accurate do you look to get? I mean because King Arthur is supposedly from the sixth century, right? Yeah, I mean clearly Boorman and you were taking from all sorts of different periods. What was your jumping-off point? Does he tell you "I like this kind of armour, I don't like that kind of armour"?

TE: Yeah, kind of what we did though because there was a lovely guy, Tony Pratt, who is the production designer and we, me, and him and John went to the Tower of London and spend an afternoon there looking at original armours with sketch pads and stuff to get various ideas and blah, blah, blah ... and it kind of always just progressed from there. I mean Tony and I got together and we did sketches of all of them ... and it just kind of happened from that.

Youtube: Adam Savage - Excalibur's Armour

At the end of the day, the director wasn't overly fussed about historical accuracy. The main character is mythical and stories about him stretch over centuries of retelling in any case. The important thing to him was to make a film that audiences could relate to.

“If there was ever an Arthur,” Boorman says, “he’s sited in about the sixth cen­tury. But the date is the least important thing really. I think of the story, the his­tory, as a myth. The film has to do with mythical truth, not historical truth; it has to do with man taking over the world on his own terms for the first time. So the first trap to avoid is to start worrying about when or whether Arthur existed. The stories that inspire us were really fifteenth-century works, by Thomas Malory and the rest, looking back nostalgi­cally on the twelfth.”

‘The Past, Present and Future of Humanity’: John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’

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