My Favourite Movies: Kingdom of Heaven
Despite thinking that Orlando Bloom (playing the lead character Balian) didn’t have what it takes to carry a film of this type (and being proven correct on that count) I was more than willing to give this film a chance when it came out in 2005. The director – Ridley Scott – and the ensemble cast which included Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons and the stunning Eva Green would have been more than enough for me to part with good money for over two hours of entertainment. The fact that this movie has made it into my favourites list testifies to what I thought of it.
Based at the time of the Crusades this is a tale of the blacksmith Balian who, on discovering he is the bastard son of a lord and having nothing to stay for in his French village, joins his father on the journey to the Holy land. On reaching Jerusalem he quickly discovers that things are far from what he expected. There is a deep internal dispute between those who want to protect the city for all worshipers – both Christian and Muslim – and those who want to start a war against Islam they are clearly unable to win. Driven by fanaticism the Christians believe that they cannot be defeated in battle as God is on their side. Hot heads in the Islamic forces believe the same but are reminded by their new leader Saladin that they won few enough battles before he arrived. Inevitable the fundamentalists get their way and Saladin attacks the city. Forced through circumstance into leading the defence Balian shows his skills both as a soldier and diplomat impressing the great Saladin himself.
Taken as a straight historical epic this is a very good film indeed. The scale of the picture is immense, sweeping across half of Europe and the deserts of the Middle East. The fight scenes and the much larger full blown battles are handled expertly as you might expect from the director of Gladiator. But much more than this – which caused no little controversy – was the attention to both philosophical and religious themes. Scott certainly did not shy away from the religious aspects of the movie but met them head on. Indeed I think he made the film in a way that only a European could. Not only was it deeply cynical about the motives of the Roman Catholic Church – the Bishop of Jerusalem was a particularly unpleasant character – but showed more than a little sympathy to Islam. Indeed at the end of the film (not giving too much away here) Saladin is shown replacing a fallen crucifix with reverence where, earlier in the film, Christians are shown as being deeply disrespectful to their Islamic counterparts. The Muslims – apart from the European leads – are shown as much more civilised that the Christians who are, supposedly, saving civilisation from them. All in all this was a well made, exciting and thought provoking film. Bloom was somewhat wooden throughout and I would have liked to see more of Neeson (pictured above with a beautiful sword) but neither of these quibbles detracted from a highly enjoyable experience. Speaking of which – look out for Eva Green. Tall, beautiful and smart. Oh, my….. oh, my…….