Sport

We asked some British Olympic fencers to analyse the best sword fights in film

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David Cornish
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Laurence Halsted and Marcus Mepstead know a lot more about swords than you do. 

They should, being members of Team GB's fencing team. 

As they sharpen their foils ahead of Rio 2016 (kidding, it's all safe), and put in their final preparations for the most prestigious sporting event in the world, we asked Halsted and Mepstead for some help getting to grips with what is a deeply complex sport, steeped in history and tradition. 

How? By getting them to analyse some of our favourite sword fights from the world of cinema. It made sense at the time...

The Princess Bride

Halsted: This is the classic sword fight scene and also my favourite of all-time. The over-the-top honour and respect between the swordsmen makes it for me. It's really the essence of respect between competitors taken to a whole new level.  The actors were clearly trained well and demonstrated some technically great blade work as well as some pretty decent footwork. Most of all I love the idea of both fighters starting with their weaker, left hands. I've thought about turning up to a small club somewhere and starting out with my left hand, just so I can pull out that line 'there's something you should know...'

Mepstead: Not really my favourite, but I can see what they’re trying to do here. It’s fun to watch. The moves are well executed, if a little slow and exaggerated. The best thing about the fight is the mutual respect between the swordsmen in the script. It’s the same today. If you don’t respect your opponent in competition, you will suffer.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Halsted: This is a dramatic fight scene and brilliantly shot. The dark background brings the lightsabers to life but probably masks (excuse the pun) a few mistakes. Whilst lightsaber fights have elements of fencing in them with the sword-play, the movements are more like Kendo.

Mepstead: It’s not quite Yoda-level, but I think they’ve done the fight scene well here. The freedom they get to move around is brilliant and they are really going for each other. I can see why a lot of kids want to try fencing from watching Star Wars. It is probably closest to sabre in terms of blade work… If I could have chosen my weapon from the start, I probably would have chosen sabre - definitely a fun one for beginners to start with!

Kill Bill

Halsted: Most of this scene is shot at long distance which means you can’t really technically analyse it. In the close-up shots, it’s clear that Lucy Liu is more accomplished than Uma Thurman.

Mepstead: This is one of my favourite cinema fight scenes. Even though there’s not an abundance of blade work, it’s the environment that really makes it. The sound effects, the snow falling, even the water feature – Tarantino at his best! Sometimes you get too caught up in the moment when you're training/competing and miss the little things and I feel like this is a nice nod towards that mantra of enjoying the journey - just make sure you still keep your head in the game though.

Die Another Day

Halsted: This is a brilliant scene. In fact, they used top British fencers as body doubles in the classical fencing part and this makes all the difference. It would be very time-difficult to train an actor up to look the part of an experienced fencer. As the scene plays out the drama and intensity increases, especially with the change of weapons, but the technical skills are forfeited for a bit of good old fashioned brutality. A fair swap - it’s the movies after all.  

Mepstead: Probably the closest you would get to see to what we do in competitions (punches and all!). This is closest to my weapon – foil – with the two guys really trying to stab the other. There’s a lot of energy and I like that it gives a glimpse of what our sport’s history might have looked like, but also brings in some modern touches which keeps it contemporary and relevant.

British shaving brand Wilkinson Sword has become the official partner of British Fencing, pledging their support of the Team GB fencers on their #RoadToRio journey

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David Cornish

Shortlist.com’s esteemed Tech Editor. David has a keen interest in video games, Star Wars and stuff that runs on batteries.

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