Fun Friday–Favorite Medieval Movies
The sword fights. The romance. The chivalry. The armor. The war horses. The men in tights . . .
Yep, I’m talking about Medieval Movies! This past weekend, I pulled out an old favorite to watch, which got me thinking about all of the movies I love that are set during “medieval” times. I put it in quotes because some of them are actually more from the baroque/renaissance eras (and, okay, two are actually from the 17th century)—but I think you get my drift.
One of my favorite undergrad literature courses I took was Medieval Literature. It’s more than just Beowulf and King Arthur, though there are a lot of great stories written about King Arthur and his knights. Another favorite course was History of the English Language, where I did a research project on the impact of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 on the English language—all the way up through the reign of Robert the Bruce in Scotland, including the origins of the Robin Hood tales. Then there were the plays we read/saw in the Shakespeare class that were set during the Middle Ages. And of course, all of the medieval-set romance novels I read in my teens and twenties when that was the most popular setting for historicals. Basically what I’m saying is: I love stories about those times.
So without further ado . . . (click on the movie title for an image collage)
10. Tristan + Isolde. This movie would be much higher on my list if the romance didn’t center around an extra-marital relationship. The absolute best part of this movie is Rufus Sewell’s portrayal of Marke, the British overlord. It’s worth watching over and over and over just for him!
9. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). What medieval movie montage would be complete without a Robin Hood film? And no one buckles swashes like Errol Flynn. I like this movie so much that when my computer starts up, there’s no “Windows” chime—it’s a sound clip of Mr. Flynn’s line, “Welcome to Sherwood, my lady” from this film! Sure, Robin’s and the Merry Men’s costumes are the most clichéd ever, but that just makes it more fun. And Olivia deHavilland is absolutely gorgeous as Maid Marian. If it were a movie instead of a TV show, I would have listed the newest version of the story, the BBC’s current Robin Hood series, starring Jonas Armstrong as Robin, Lucy Griffiths as Marian, the incomparably funny Keith Allen as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and the divinely dark and brooding Richard Armitage as Sir Guy of Gisborne.
8. The Three Musketeers (1993). Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland followed up their success in a boy-band-like version of the story of Billy the Kid (1988’s Young Guns) with a comedic and campy version of The Three Musketeers, which probably had Alexandre Dumas spinning in his grave. Sanitized by Disney, Charlie Sheen (my ultimate heartthrob in the late 80s/early 90s) played the religious romantic Aramis, with Kiefer Sutherland as the brooding Athos, Oliver Platt as a portly and quite funny Porthos, and Chris O’Donnell as d’Artagnan—whose role was not center-stage as in other productions of this story. Point of interest: Paul McGann, one of my all-time favorite actors, played two different characters in this film: Girard, the dandy who was chasing d’Artagnan for ruining his sister’s reputation, and Jussac, one of the soldiers the musketeers fight at the ruins near the beginning of the movie. Rebecca deMornay does a turn as the sinister woman scorned, and Tim Curry is absolutely delightful as the villain, Cardinal Richelieu.
7. The Man in the Iron Mask. Though taking a more serious turn than the Disney version of the early part of the story, this movie is a great follow-up to #8 . . . not to mention the star-power of the actors replacing our Gen-Xers above: Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), Gerard Depardieu (Porthos), and Gabriel Byrne (d’Artagnan). While I’m no fan of Leonardo diCaprio, he did a great job in this movie, playing the double roles of Louis and Philippe. The costumes are divine, as is the acting from all of the main players. (And Jeremy Irons looks pretty good in this movie . . . for an old guy!)
6. Braveheart. Despite all of its glaring historical innacuracies, this is a fun movie to watch . . . though a bit on the longish side. In the days before Mel Gibson totally lost his mind, he and Randall Wallace had a lot of fun making a pseudo-biographical film about Scottish hero Sir William Wallace and the role he played in the rebellion against England that led to Scotland’s independence and the ascention of Robert the Bruce to the throne. (Historcial sidebar: Robert the Bruce was descended from both the native Celts and the Norman conquerors.) I adore Angus MacFadyen as Robert the Bruce—especially given the emotional journey his character makes throughout the film.
5. King Arthur. My only problem with this movie was the casting of Keira Knightley as Guinevere. Of course, I pretty much have a problem with any movie she’s cast in, as she can’t act. But that’s beside the point. Clive Owen was a ravishing Arthur, or Arturus. Ioan Gruffudd was a bit comical trying to be dark and brooding as Lancelot, but that’s okay, because it gained him some great exposure as an actor. The rest of the knights are some of the most underappreciated actors working today. Setting it in the late Roman period and making Arthur a Roman soldier, the knights conscripts from Sarmatia, was an interesting twist to the story. It was also interesting that they didn’t include the love affair between Guinevere and Lancelot. There is also a lot of talk about faith in this movie, which was nice.
4. A Knight’s Tale. If Chaucer were alive in the 21st century, what kinds of stories would he be writing? All hail to A Knight’s Tale for bringing us a campy, fun, hysterical movie that at once pays homage to the medieval pasttimes of tournaments and chivalry while also making fun of them. This may be Paul Bettany’s best role to date, as Chaucer—the writer who gives “the truth scope.” Oh, and look—it’s another medieval featuring Rufus Sewell, this time portraying the villain, which he does with aplomb. The major flaw of this movie is the ill-concieved romance storyline. Neither the character nor the actress playing Will’s love interest is at all likeable, which makes that part of the film fall flat. But that’s easily ignored for all of the other wonderful parts of the movie.
3. Henry V. Kenneth Branagh was only twenty-eight years old when he adapted, directed, and starred in this version of Shakespeare’s play about the English king, Henry V. Incorporating some of Shakespeare’s best dramatic battlefield dialogue (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead!” and the St. Crispin’s Day speech), Branagh assembled a veritable who’s-who of British film and stage actors. And the score by Patrick Doyle (who also appears in the film) is delicious. (Film trivia: many of the costumes used in this film were originally made for the 1944 Laurence Olivier version.)
2. Ever After. This is the only movie I’ve ever liked Drew Barrymore in (as an adult actress, anyway). This is one of the best versions of the Cinderella story ever, made even better by the casting of Dougray Scott as Prince Charming, and the genius twist of Leonardo daVinci becoming the “fairy godmother.”
1. Ladyhawke. Since this is the film that got me onto this train of thought, it’s only fitting that it’s the top entry. I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it as a teenager. Typically, if I heard “Matthew Broderick in a medieval-fantasy movie,” I would laugh and pass on by. But with the gravitas brought to the roles of Navarre and Isabeau by Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeifer, Matthew Broderick’s character (Mouse) brings a much-needed comic relief to the story. Though the music has not aged well, this is a classic for the ages. (Note: the music in this video is not music from the movie.)