The Very Best in Medieval FareAug 15, 2001 (Updated Apr 8, 2002) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line If you're ever in the mood for some fancy sword-work or just some good old-fashioned medieval fun, here are some ideas.
First of all, let me begin by making it absolutely clear that I have taken some liberties in assigning certain movies to the Medieval category. Movies with swords usually made the list, also chances are that dragon flicks take place in a somewhat medieval setting and therefore qualify, and fantasies have also been added to this illustrious collection of films. Furthermore, almost all Shakespeare applies and expect that to be recognized. Well, there you have it, a brief description of my selection process, but on with the show.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Brendan Gleeson, Patrick McGoohan, Angus MacFadyen, Sophie Marceau, Catherine MacCormack
dir. Mel Gibson
I don't know how any list of great medieval flicks can be compiled without including Braveheart. This movie is utterly phenomenal and garnered the Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards. Beautifully shot and sweepingly directed by Gibson, Braveheart chronicles the struggle for freedom as led by William Wallace, a simply farmer turned revolutionary after English soldiers murdered his wife. Although, the film was not based entirely on history, it tells a ferociously emotional tale of lost love and the fight for a man's inalienable rights that never gets boring throughout three hours. The battle scenes are spectacularly filmed, illustrating the blunt brutality of hand-to-hand combat while not dwelling on each kill long enought to induce sickness. Terrific acting by Gibson, Gleason, McGoohan, and MacFadyen make for a very moving presentation with Marceau chipping in around the edges with a very solid performance. James Horner's score will make you weep and, in my opinion, is only rivaled by two original scores, The Last of the Mohicans and Legends of the Fall. If you want to read any more about the picture, I've written review of it as well.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Glen Close, Alan Bates, Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Scofield
dir. Franco Zeferelli
Anyone who doubts Gibson's acting talents should watch three movies: Bravheart, The Man Without a Face, and Hamlet. I do think that Zeferelli's version of the Bard's masterpiece is more riveting than Branagh's (although both are excellent). Purists beware: old Franco has cut out and rearranged parts of the play that may displease you. Just thought I should warn you. Despite the changes, though, Gibson's delivery of the famous soliloquey is brilliant, and although Close is much to young to have played Gibson's mother, is terrific as the newlywed queen. Another visually exciting piece to watch that doesn't overplay the element of Hamlet's ghostly father (Scofield in a wonderful part albeit small.) What makes this piece truly strong, though, is Zeferelli's concentration on the intensity of each character. Each person's desire can be seen in their eyes, each man's secrets are told through sideways glances, and I thought that is what made this such a great film to watch.
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Paul Scofield, Judi Dench, Emma Thompson
dir. Kenneth Branagh
I said I'd give Shakespeare his due, and I'll follow through on that. Henry V is Branagh's landmark film that made him known as an excellent director and Shakespearean actor. Many say that he is the Olivier of our day, and personally I think Branagh is much better. Nominated for Best Director and Best Actor for the same movie, the fire in Shakespeare's play comes alive through the acting. I can't say that there is a weak performance in this movie. But Branagh puts all to shame. His portrayal of the ambitious and honorable young Harry is right on target. My favorite scene is the St. Crispan's Day speech before the battle where Henry addresses his troops. However, and this is a general flaw for all Shakespeare films, all the non-English characters speak in British accents, I always enjoyed that element, although Emma Thompson speaks almost no English while spouting mouthfuls of flawless French. Some would say that the romance between Henry and the young Princess takes away from the film, but I found his wooing scene fairly humorous and well-done (I do believe Branagh and Thompson were either dating or married at this point in time). A great flick to see, even those who don't enjoy Shakespeare should like this one.
The Lion in Winter
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton
What a great classic story of a medieval dysfunctional family. O'Toole does a perfect job as Henry II (a_r_egerton reminded me that he was not Henry VII or VIII). Not many classic films are a outrageously funny as this movie is. Hepburn and O'Toole match wits with a chemistry that I've never seen before (except maybe Spacey/Bening in American Beauty). And rightfully so, Hepburn earned herself an Oscar for her efforts. The basic premise is that Henry sends away for his wife (who lives in a separate castle) being that it is Christmas and all for a get together. Also accompanying her are three sons feuding for the throne. Prince John is Henry's favorite while Hopkins has mother on his side. Dalton seems to be nowhere in the running even. In the span of a few days, all hell breaks loose as the family fights over the succession to the throne. This was Hopkins' first feature film appearance, and a good one it was. I saw this and bought it immediately after. One of the most classic flicks of all time.
Much Ado About Nothing
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Michael Keaton
dir. Kenneth Branagh
Before you dismiss this movie because of popular actors, here me out. Every one of them (besides Reeves, he's never been good in anything) does a very fitting job in this hilarious romantic comedy. I know that sounds like a pitch, but usually one does not laugh aloud at Shakespeare, you will here. Branagh and Thompson just click as the throw scathing remarks eachother's way, until a prank brings the flirtatious lovers together. All modern movies where to people that hate each other and eventually get together, must have taken a queue from this play which boasts a number of modern implications. Yet another wonderfully directed film from Branagh, this is something that looks like it was shot on some vineyard in Tuscany (actually I believe the play does take place in Italy, I could be wrong). Pure eye candy in this film really helps out the presentation of characters, and despite a few tragic occurrences keeps the mood light. Keaton gives the funniest performance as an incompetent yet ambitious constable. His over the top delivery really hits the spot.
Well that concludes my list. Following are some more good and bad choices if you're ever in the mood for sword-wielding and what not.
Legend **** - Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, Billy Barty
dir. Ridley Scott
Camelot **** - Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave
Rob Roy **** - Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, John Hurt
Dragonslayer **** - Ralph Richardson
First Knight **** - Richarde Gere, Julia Ormond, Sean Connery
Hamlet ****- Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Charlton Heston
dir. Kenneth Branagh
A Man for All Seasons ***** - Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles
Monty Python and the Holy Grail ***** - John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Roth, Terry Gilliam
dir. Terry Gilliam
The Princess Bride **** - Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal
dir. Rob Reiner
Romeo and Juliet **** - Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey
dir. Franco Zeferelli
The Taming of the Shrew ***** - Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael York
Decent Medieval Fare:
Willow *** - Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer
Written by: George Lucas
Dragonheart *** - Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Voice of Sean Connery
Robin Hood: Men in Tights *** - Cary Elwes, Mel Brooks
dir. Mel Brooks
Romeo and Juliet *** - Leonardo DiCaprio, Clare Daines
dir. Baz Luhrman
Titus *** - Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Angus MacFadyen
dir. Julie Taymor
Movies I Would Never Watch Again:
A Knight's Tale * - Heath Ledger
Macbeth * - Ian McKellan, Judi Dench
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc ** - Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman
Ran ** - Tatsuyi Nakadai
dir. Akira Kurosawa
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