A Knight’s Tale * Brian Helgeland * 2001

Another one that I saw flying. I haven’t seen this movie play in any cinema in Seattle, but neither does it seem to be shown in Europe. But you don’t miss much anyway. Just a movie about knights in general and lance-fights in particular. Nothing special.

King Arthur * Antoine Fuqua * 2004

I didn’t have very high expectations about this film, but I wanted to see it anyway. Everything is as expected. “King Arthur” is a Hollywood adventure film with Gladiator-like fighting scenes. What I dislike most is that the makers made up their own Arthur story instead of taking one of the traditional ones. The creators want us to believe that their version is more historically correct. Arthur and his knights are Sarmatians. When the Romans conquered the near East, their group was so brave that they became a Roman elite-warrior group. Being send out to Brittain they fight for the Romans and eventually get the feel for the original inhabitants of Brittain and fight the Saxons.
Arthur comes out a bit whimpy. Moreover, he is extremely Christian, while his soldiers remain ‘pagan’. The battle scenes are not really special, the ‘historical context’ is in a way interesting, but I have my doubts about the authenticity. All in all “King Arthur” would have been amusing if the film had another title/subject.

De Kelten * 2004

Well, not my usual kind of filmreview, especially the link is ‘unorthodox’ because it isn’t to the Internet Movie Database, but to the site of the shop where I bought this DVD. “The Celts” is an English documentary of 12 episodes. I don’t know if it was broadcasted anywhere, but my eye fell on the 3 dvd ‘threefold digipack’ for a very reasonable price. There are two episodes per DVD and the box claims that there is 360 minutes of running time. The episodes are not 60 minutes each though, more like 50, so we don’t come to 360 minutes, but 300 minutes running time. Anyway, I got a Dutch version which is the documentary with subtitles that can’t be turned off. The documentary itself is alright. You get the general information about the Celts, especially on the Brittish islands and spanning a period of about 2000 years. Yes, it goes all the way to the present day. There is information about the beginning, the migrations, some mythology (very little though), daily life, etc. Nice images, not too much information, but about what you need to know for a first introduction. As I mentioned the documentary focusses on the UK. A nice element is that the information comes partly from images with a voiceover, but other parts are interviews with scholars. These scholars are sometimes Irish, Welch or Schotsmen with the most brilliant accents and especially their ability to pronounce the ancient Welch of Gaelic language without blinking an eye is great. Nice to get a sound to words that you usually only see in books. So, “De Kelten” is a nice documentary for E 15,-, but do not have too high expectation regarding the background information of the tribes.

Henry VIII * Pete Travis * 2003

For a mere E 9,- I bought the DVDof these mini series. There are two episodes of 1,5 hour. Why they have to be on two DVDs is a think I don’t understand, but who cares? Ray Winstone is Henry VIII. Winstone played in films such as ‘King Arthur’, ‘Ripley’s Game’ and ‘Sexy Beast’. Even though the total running time is three hours, this production gives a rather shallow overview of the reigh of Henry VIII (1491-1547). Much stress is laid on the fact that at his deathbed, king Henry VII told his son that the most important thing to do was to produce a male heir. This proved to be a bigger problem than it sounds: Henry got nothing but daughters and one stilborn son. The will to live up to his fathers request, Henry switches wives frequently.
But there are also political sides to the story which make the film more interesting. First, Henry has to think off ways to be able to marry again. His first wife (Catherine of Aragon) was the choice of Henry’s father, since Aragon was Spanish. Henry had to find a legal way to be able to get a divorce, so Aragon was falsely accused and persecuted. Then Henry married Anne Boleyn, a young women who also proved unable to provide a son. She was also false accused and then decapitated. Bolyn was replaced by another young woman names Jane Seymour but she died giving birth to the only non-bastard son. It took a few years before Henry was over this sad fact, but then a (for his enemies) strategical marriage was arranged with Anne of Cleves from Germany. Inspite of the juridical heavy contract underlying this marriage, Henry found a way to sack her and marry the 30 years younger Kathryn Howard. Kathryn cheated on Henry with someone of her own age, so she had her head cut off. His last years, king Henry spent with Katherine Parr.
Besides all the intruigues of the kind himself, there are other interesting happenings in this part of history. For example: however Henry was a devout Catholic he was the drop Rome in order to be able to get a divorce. This is how the Church Of England came into existence. In the same period Protestantism spread throughout Europe, so the religious conflicts grew larger. Either or not on religious grounds, there were different people who wanted to get rid off king Henry, people closer to the king than he may have known. You get a nice view on how these ‘politics’ work(ed).
Like I said, sometimes the subjects are a bit too shallow. You may get the idea that the marriage with Parr lasted for only a few months, while it was actually four years. Still this is a nice history lesson. What happens here is just before “Bloody Mary” and the famous “virgin queen Elizabeth” (who are Henry’s daughters). For this price, not a bad buy at all!

Gunpowder, Treason & Plot * Gillies MacKinnon * 2004 (series)

A fairly new series that I got on DVD cheaply in a luxery twofold ‘digipack’. These two-episode series are about an interesting part of history. The first series opens when the future queen Mary of Scots (1542-1567) living in exile in France, hears about the death of her mother, Mary of Guise (1515-1560). She returns to Scotland to claim the throne. Scotland has been in war with England for many years and also there is the (connected) ongoing war between Catholics and Protestants. England was mostly Catholic and Scotland Protestant, but ‘both camps’ were present in both empires, so there were internal struggles too. However the Catholic Mary of Scots wants a peacefull reign, she starts with serious problems, being a Catholic queen in Protestant Scotland. Then Mary marries the English earl James Hepburn (1536-1578), not particularly a happy marriage and not really with the result Mary hoped for either. When Mary has ‘produced an heir’ and the heat under her feet becomes too much, she surrenders and loses her baby-boy to her brother.
Disc 2 begins when Mary’s son, James (played by Robert Carlyle!) is grown up and ready to become king of both Scotland (James VI) and England (James I), he is the only heir to both thrones! Elizabeth I (1533-1603) is dying in England and his mother imprisoned in Scotland. When Elizabeth dies, James has his mother killed and he claims both thrones. He is not welcomed warmly in England, but this gets better, even as he remains a poor king. The series ends when James prevents an attack on himself and the parliament and after years of marriage with queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619) finally becomes relatively happy now that the two have gained some wealth.
Of course I gave away whole the story, but since it is history anyway, it is easy to figure it out. These series are definately worth watching. The acting is good, the costumes and stages great and the story moving and educational. MacKinnon used two styles of filming for both episodes, which are actually two films (of about an hur and 40 minutes), because they play in two different periods and are about two different people. The first is ‘normal’, the second slighly different, with characters talking to the cameras explaining their thoughts and the events) which makes the viewer more involved in the story. “Gunpowder…” is a great watch, especially to watch in combination with the magnificent film “Elizabeth” by Shekhar Kapur (1998).
Funny detail, Tim McInnerny plays “Cecil”. He appeared more often on TV in the same historical period, but instead of playing Thomas Percy like he does in “Blackadder”, he chose another character.

Gladiator * Ridley Scott * 2000

I remember when this film came out. I did want to see it, since I can enjoy spectacular films once in a while, especially when they play in days gone by. Soon the hype and fuss came around it and everyone was talking about “Gladiator” and my desire to see it faded by the day. So I didn’t go and see it in the cinema and I didn’t rent it when it came on video and I figured that I may watch it by the time it is on tv.

But, a friend bought the DVD and told me that I should see it and last week he put the thing into my hands. Well alright then. As you probably know the film is about a Roman general Maximus (Russell Crowe) who is to take over the reign of Rome when the Ceasar would die. Ceasar’s son (who is passed in this decision) has other plans though, kills his father before he could make his decision public and takes over authority with big plans for changes. Maximus is supposed to be killed, but of course he wins the fight with his assassins and drives back to his home where he finds his house burned and his wife and son crucified. Then he is found by a slave-convoy and becomes a gladiator. Being remarkably good he wins all his fights and the love of the audience. Commodus (the new Ceasar) tries to get ridd off Maximus afterall, but of course fails. Eventually both get to fight eachother and both die.

Other things you probably know. The film lasts for three hours, which I found fairly long. The shooting, decors, scens, etc. are spectacular, the music bombastic and the story has everything that a ‘modern film lover’ (who likes popular films) wants: action and romance. Not a happy end though.

Good for entertainment. <3>

The Bridge of San Luis Rey * Mary McGuckian * 2004

The third time this film was made seems to have been quite a prestige-project. Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, exquisite stages and costumes.
In 18th century Peru there seems to have been a quite European court. The story is about a bridge that breaks and kills five people. A monk takes years to write a book about these five people, but the book is regarded heretical by the Arch-Bishop. A court is brought together and the monk is handed over to the inquisition and burned at the stake together with his book. The film is filled with the flashbacks of the lives of the victims as told by brother Juniper.
The film is a mediocre costume drama giving a nice view of the Peruan court and a bit about the Spanish, but the story is rather boring and the film isn’t much more interesting.

Anna and the King * Andy Tennant * 1999

I remember that when this film played in the cinemas, I was in doubt whether or not to see it. Jody Foster usually is alright, but she didn’t make me watch “Panic Room”. I like historical films, but the critics probably kept me out of the cinema-rooms. Now it was on TV, so…

Not a very original story! An Eastern king wants his son to get a Western education, so Foster leaves her Brittish colony in India with her son for Bangkok to teach the Kings son. Of course things don’t go too easily, especially when political affairs interfere with the relationship. So the result is a historical drama that is certainly not boring, but also not too exciting.

The 13th Warrior * John McTiernan * 1999

This is indeed a very old film and -like myself- you have probably seen it a few times already, but just in case you don’t or you want a litle bit of background information…
The director of the “Die Hard” films has made a film about Vikings. This is interesting in a way, especially now that this whole Germanic history has had my interest for a while. On the other hand, when you know ‘too much’ about the subject, the story of this film has a few definate flaws.
The film is about a Muslim pain-in-the-ass who is send to the Northern parts of Europe to be ambassador. Early in his trip he runs into a group of “Norsemen” who apparently sailed the rivers of the Baltic area scaring the local peoples. This IS possible, because the Vikings came as far as the Black Sea. Somehow the ship of Vikings hear that a small tribe somewhere in Scandinavia needs their help. A weird woman (probably meant to be a wise woman or “Völva”) says that 13 warriors have to go to help the tribe in need and the 13th warrior cannot be a Norseman. So the Arab travels with the Vikings. During the trip the Arab speaks English and the Norsemen Swedish (I think), but by listening “Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan Ibn Al Abbas Ibn Rashid Ibn Hamad” learns Swedish and from then everybody speaks English (to the viewer of course). The small community is terrorised a ghost-like warriors which they call “Wendol”. I don’t know where these “eaters of the dead” are supposed to go back to, but they are fashioned after the famous “Berzerkrs” of the Nothern mythology. The Wendol are black, inhuman (ghostly) and dress in boar skins. Their ‘symbol’/goddess is a head- and limbless statue of a fat woman, much like the Kostienko or Willendorf statues, but without a head. The two statues that I name are some 23000 years old and were found in Russia and Austria and they probably represent mother earth or at least fertility. The Wendol worship their goddess in a cave and with the aid of a priestess. The heads of the people they killed are offered to the goddess. This headhunting is (as far as I know) more something of the far East. You can see, the film is a bit of a mishmash of elements. Better are the Viking honour elements. Ahmed is surprised to hear how his Viking friends think about life/fate (everything is predisposed), death (death in battle a crown to life), honour, comradship and the like. These parts give a nice view on the Viking way of life and make the film worth to watch. It is handy to know what is ‘no-so-Viking’, so here you have a few of my thoughts.