Normally, I blog about my books – sales, new releases, and otherwise. But I thought it would be fun to expand that content by discussing ‘other’ Medieval stories – namely, movies!
I”m a huge fan of old Hollywood, namely, the pre-code movies of the 1930s, but I also adore other eras, so my fandom isn’t limited to those black and whites. I love a good period piece! As a historical romance writer, it’s very interesting to see how Hollywood has influenced period movies, because in some cases, it’s really significant. As an author and a student of the Medieval period, I can speak to both sides of the coin – the real, the not so real, the great, and the not so great.
So, without further ado, here’s my list of the Top 10 Medieval movies:
My rating system: 1 to 5 ‘Crowns’, 5 being tops.
A Lion in Winter (1968)– Goldman’s play is a fictional account of a Christmas ‘visit’ with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and their surviving sons. I’ve written several books of my own with Henry, Eleanor, Richard, and/or John as secondary characters (John is included in my January 2019 and February 2019 releases!) and this play has been a huge influence on the dynamics of the relationships that I project in my books. We all know that Henry and Eleanor had a contentious relationship and, based on everything I’ve ever read about the pair, this movie comes close to being a perfect example of “Lenemies” (lovers/enemies). I adore this movie. 5 Crowns.
Ivanhoe (1952) – A color extravaganza with Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Fontaine. Based on one of ‘the’ original Medieval Romance novel, Hollywood turned this into a spectacle of miscasting and costuming that wasn’t true to the times. It is, however, well-done in acting and directing. But from a historical stand point, it’s an oxymoron – 16th century armor in the 12th century, etc. I find it interesting how Hollywood had to jazz it up for the audience of the 1950s. 3 Crowns.
The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) – Kind of the same as Ivanhoe. Made a big color spectacle for the audience of the 1950’s, but this one really deviated from the original novel – originally called Men of Iron, written by Howard Pyle, Hollywood turned this into a romance when that wasn’t the original intention to capitalize on the Tony Curtis/Janet Leigh dynamic. Who can blame them? But Tony Curtis and his Brooklyn accent speaking Medieval lines… oy vey!! 2 Crowns (and that’s based mostly on the terrible casting of Tony). Janet is spectacular.
Excalibur (1981) – John Boorman’s masterpiece. He took a Dark Ages legend and turned it into sheer magic and beauty, superbly acted by Nigel Terry and Helen Mirren. Does it stay true to the legend? Sort of. But who cares?! It’s a feast for the eyes! 5 Crowns.
The Princess Bride (1987) – Rob Reiner’s gorgeous interpretation of William Goldman’s novel is a classic. It’s ‘sort of’ Medieval, but it’s not a Medieval historical. It’s a Medieval fantasy, and the best one out there. However, costuming has Medieval-wearing women crossed with 18th century men’s clothing. It’s a historical mash-up, but like a good stew, OH so satisfying. And, unlike a romance novel, the kiss in movies always comes at the end – and this one has a BIG kiss at the end. 5 big crowns.
Romeo and Juliet – (various years), but I’m going to focus on the 1936 film because it was the worst cast yet, in my opinion, the best of the rest. Norma Shearer, as much as I love her, had no business playing a teenager. And Leslie Howard, quite possibly one of the finest comedic actors of his time (‘It’s Love I’m After’ is my favorite of his) is woefully cast as Romeo. What makes this even more ironic that in the film ‘It’s Love I’m After” (Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland), the opening scene has Leslie playing Romeo for laughs…. 4 Crowns.
Knights of the Round Table (1953) – Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner. See my comments on #2 and #3 – pretty much the same here. Hollywood was in love with Robert Taylor in the 1950s, so he is again miscast here. Bless him, he tries, but that American accent in a Medieval Romance movie just doesn’t cut it – nor do the costumes or lovely Ava Gardner. I’m pretty sure Medieval women weren’t that gorgeous or well put together (nice ruby lips!!). LOL! 3 Crowns.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland are perfect in this interpretation of the classic legend. The costuming is spot-on. Everything about it reeks of authenticity. Big thumbs-up from me!! 5 Crowns.
The Warlord (1965) – Authentic to the bone. In fact, it lacks all of the beauty and romance that Robert Taylor’s movies had. Watch it for the cinematography and the set decoration. Do not watch it for great casting or acting. Love Mr. Heston, but I don’t have high praise for this movie other than the straight-up authenticity of it. 2 Crowns.
Prince Valiant (1954). The haircut. Ugh. All that aside, it has a mix of authenticity and Hollywood’s epic spin. I’d watch James Mason read the phone book, so casting him as Sir Brack was a stroke of genius. The rest of it is a fun adventure with the lovely Debra Paget as the love interest. 3 Crowns.
I hope you enjoyed this journey through Hollywood’s influence on Medieval movies!
Happy Holidays to all!