As our Hungarian instructor attempted to explain the technique behind parry and riposte, my thoughts drifted to iconic swordplay scenes from movies. Let’s look at some of my favourites:
The Princess Bride (1987)
‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.’ ‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to die.’ Memorable lines uttered by cult character Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and the film’s hero Wesley (Cary Elwes), aka the man in black. A wonderfully scripted scene too. Patinkin rose to professional level in fencing as part of his preparation and bears striking resemblance to a young Antonio Banderas. Is that how Banderas got the Zorro gig a few years later? Hmm.
The Three Musketeers (1973)
In terms of a compelling screen presence and down and dirty swordplay, you can pretty much pick out any scene involving Athos (Oliver Reed). D’Artagnan meeting the musketeers was a key scene, as it brought the main characters together brilliantly. But special mention should go to Athos’s fight in the third act, where he appears to get killed and impaled on a windmill. Great swordplay, great scene.
Die Another Day (2002)
Whilst this Bond film may have been below par, the swordfight scene was not. Found a great behind-the-scenes clip that shows Brosnan really got stuck in, doing most of the physical work himself. Most impressive!
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Try and force the rest of the self-indulgent franchise from your head for a second and focus on the original film – a thoroughly enjoyable tale. Johnny Depp elevated this film with his quirky, masterful take on Captain Jack Sparrow. A stand-out scene had Orlando Bloom’s blacksmith Will Turner meeting Depp’s Jack for the first time and trying to prevent his escape. As expected, a wonderfully choreographed fight ensues.
Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004)
Just to be obscure I’m going to include a deleted scene, one where Bill (David Carradine) shows off his skills with Kiddo (Uma Thurman) watching with adoration in the background. I can see why it was cut, as it doesn’t drive the story forward a great deal, just adds more depth to Bill as a character. As sword fights go though, it’s pretty cool.
‘There can be only one.’ I’ve often pondered the subtext to that line. Only one what? Film with a Scottish guy (Sean Connery) playing an Egyptian lord? Or French guy (Christopher Lambert) playing a Scottish tribesman? Suspension of disbelief aside, it’s a film packed with iconic swordplay scenes. For me, Highlander vs. The Kurgan is the pick of the bunch.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
‘Recognise this? It was your father’s…’ Not technically great swordfighting, more a chance to watch Alan Rickman at his scene-stealing best, swinging a sword as long as his arm against Kevin Costner’s ‘Californian’ Robin Hood in this climactic battle. Even as an out-and-out bad guy, you don’t want Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to die. He’s mesmerising to watch, particularly when fighting and spitting venomous lines in Robin Hood’s direction.
The Lord of the Rings (2001)
Here, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) goes toe-to-toe in a frenzied battle with giant orc Lurtz. Fun fact: when filming, the stuntman playing Lurtz accidentally threw the knife directly at Mortensen instead of aiming wide as planned. Viggo instinctively deflected the blade with his sword. Does that mean Mortensen is actually Aragorn in real life? We can but sincerely hope this is the case.
As a final note, before anyone mentions Rob Roy, Seven Samurai or Star Wars, I’ve left them out because either I’ve not seen them, or don’t consider them worthy of inclusion in terms fencing quality. You may disagree, but it’s my list, so there we go.