Top Five Medieval(ish) Movies
What’s not to love? Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, and the debut of Anthony Hopkins, a real medieval castle and a whole lot of family drama – and not just any family! Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women to ever live, going toe-to-toe with her second husband Henry II over which of their sons will become king. Bonus: the poignant evocation of the overlooked middle child, Geoffrey (sob!).
A gorgeous film that shows exactly why a medieval teen girl might decide to become an anchoress, which means being walled into the side of a church. Sounds mad, right? But to know that you wouldn’t be forced to work in the fields or to marry a man much older than you – plus everyone suddenly thinks your important and holy. Bonus: Christopher Eccleston is the priest.
This is an Icelandic film; director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson wanted to use the Viking sagas to create a set of films that had the appeal of a spaghetti western. The film succeeds in the same fun sense of adventure. It doesn’t borrow directly from any one saga but uses familiar tropes of revenge, masculine one-upsmanship, the conflict between the Norse gods followers and Christians, and the divided loyalties of former slaves who become wives. Bonus: Icelandic horses are awesome albeit tiny and who knew there were Vatican ninjas?
Directed by the legendary Liv Ullman, this sumptuous film captures a good sense of how disruptive modern notions of love would be in the Middle Ages. Kristen’s mother offers a realistic picture of the reality of marriage as something one grew into when there were no other options. The film shows how the convent was really just as much a girls school as any modern one, with the same furtive conversations about sex and religion. Bonus: it’s so beautiful!
This is a bit of a cheat: it’s a modernisation of Chaucer’s tale but it’s just so good (all the films in this BBC series range from good to extraordinary). Julie Walters plays the wife as an aging soap star who falls for a younger man after he joins the show. She’s larger than life and bawdy as they come, just like the original. The main story is the Prologue and her many marriages, while the plot of the soap borrows from the Tale (which is quite clever! Well done, Sally Wainwright). Bonus: Bill Nighy!
I could name a lot more but these will get you started.
Kathryn ‘Kit’ Marlowe is a writer of historical fiction, often with a good bit of humour. There are those who say she’s secretly an English professor who writes under other names. You can find her on Facebook, too. Her lovely author portrait was created by the fabulous artist S. L. Johnson.