Thomas F. Madden writes in NRO on Ridley Scott’s execrable Kingdom of Heaven.
Every May thousands of medieval scholars descend on Kalamazoo, Michigan for the International Congress on Medieval Studies. It is the largest such gathering in the world, featuring hundreds of papers on virtually every imaginable topic in medieval history and culture. This year the meeting coincided with the release of the much-anticipated film, The Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Orlando Bloom “” a film that is set during the period of the Crusades. As a Crusade historian, I knew I would be asked about the movie, so I decided to see it sooner rather than later. Ducking out on what I am sure was a fascinating session called “Focus on Fluids: Analyzing Urine in the Middle Ages,” I corralled a few of my graduate students and headed to the local cineplex to catch the matinee. The theater was largely empty “” a bad omen, given the number of geeky medievalists in town.
If I were a film critic I would say that this movie is dead dull. After one hour of ponderous dialogue and assorted arrow wounds I was already checking my watch to see if I might still make that paper on medieval English uroscopy. The film can best be described as a series of bloody medieval battle scenes stitched loosely together with a thin, yet preachy, modern morality play. The moral of the story, which Scott cudgels his viewer with at every opportunity, is that religious tolerance is a good thing and we should all have more of it.
But I am not a film critic; I am a historian. As a historian it naturally irritates me that there are people who will leave theaters certain that Scott and his writer, William Monahan, have served up something that approximates reality in the Middle Ages. They haven’t. In fact, there is very little that is medieval about The Kingdom of Heaven. It is instead a mixture of 19th-century Romanticism and modern Hollywood wishful-thinking. The real Crusades began in 1095 as a response to centuries of Muslim conquests of Christian lands. Their purpose was to restore those territories, including the Holy Land, to Christian control. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was established by the First Crusade in 1099, was an outpost of European Christians planted in a largely Muslim world for the purpose of safeguarding the holy sites. Subsequent major Crusades were called in response to subsequent Muslim conquests…
Read it all.