George And The Dragon (2004)
Director: Tom Reeve
review by Ian Sales
Saint George must have been a popular chap. He's not only the patron saint of England, but also of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece,
Iraq, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, and Russia, not to mention some 18 cities as well.
George (James Purefoy) returns to England after fighting in the Crusades. All he wants to do is settle down with an acre of land and two head of
cattle. He is accompanied by Tarik (Michael Clarke Duncan), a Moor, but they part ways in Spain. On arrival in England, George learns that King
Edgar's (Simon Callow) daughter, Princess Luma (Piper Perabo), has gone missing. He does the chivalrous thing and volunteers to look for her. Her
fianc�, Garth de Gurney (Patrick Swayze), is also looking for her, but his impending marriage to the princess is driven chiefly by his own greed,
and by the king's need for his daughter to marry into money.
Of course, George finds Princess Luma first. She was taken by a mother dragon, and is now protecting a dragon's egg. She wants the creature to
be born because it is likely the last of its kind. Dragons are, in fact, considered wholly mythical - which does sort of beg the description
"last of its kind." George himself had been sceptical of his own father's (Paul Freeman) tale of fighting a dragon but failing to kill it. However,
since dragons apparently do exist... George is not convinced that allowing the egg to hatch is a good idea. Naturally, this difference of opinion
leads to the two falling in love, which upsets Garth who'd counted on marrying the princess...
Then there's El Cabillo, a Spanish bandit who has brought his motley band of cutthroats to England in the hunt for riches. He's been told that
the king will pay a handsome reward for the return of his daughter, so he's after her too - and plans to take her from George should they catch
up with them. Princess Luma is accompanied throughout by Elmendorf (Bill Treacher), a loyal retainer, who provides some comic relief, as does the
monk Brother Bernard (Jean-Pierre Castaldi).
As history, George And The Dragon is nonsense. King
Edgar ruled England from 959 to 975. The First Crusade didn't take place until over 100 years later, in 1096. Nor did English nobility possess
French surnames, as Garth does, until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The geography too is suspect, with parts of the film set in a landscape
that resembles no English countryside - and this despite frequent mentions of the Grampians. Of course, the presence of a dragon renders any
questions of historical accuracy moot.
But neither is George And The Dragon an outright fantasy film - it's set in England, not an invented land. The fact that the England of
the film seems more invented than real is, well, beside the point. It's as if the filmmakers were determined to make a film about the legend of
St George and the dragon, as it is understood in England (St George, of course, was born in Palestine), and around that story accreted the sort
of detail which distinguishes high fantasy from historical fiction.
In a making-of featurette, director Tom Reeve admits he had set out to make a film about a dragon, but then Dragonheart was released and
he realised his own project was too close in conception. So he changed it. Given that Dragonheart came out in 1996, and George And The
Dragon was released in 2004 - clearly much thought went into how to re-position the project. To good effect: in many respects - character arcs,
action scenes, comedy beats - George And The Dragon is almost textbook script-writing.
George And The Dragon is a very entertaining film. It's like a British Steve Guttenberg film - except that would be doing it a disservice.
It's of higher quality than anything in Guttenberg's oeuvre. Purefoy is engaging, Perabo is feisty, Treacher is amusing, and Swayze swaps from
good to bad and back again with practiced ease. There's some witty banter, a number of good jokes, and the hero gets the girl. It's never going
to win awards, but it'll hold a viewer's attention through out its 89 minutes.