Between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, fantasy epics have become the most popular source for tales of swords and kings. However, there is plenty of story telling fodder in history to be mined for entertainment value, and Kurt Sutter’s The Bastard Executioner is the latest to capitalize on historical events for their cinematic value. Telling the tale of an emotionally tortured (this is a Sutter show after all) knight in the service of King Edward I of England, The Bastard Executioner shows promise, and is set to join a long line of other historical shows and films. Fantasy realms are all well and good, but sometimes truth is greater than fiction (especially when you throw in a fictional dragon for the hell of it). While these stories all vary greatly in terms of historical accuracy and span a fairly wide range of time, check out these other medieval films and television series to prepare for Kurt Sutter’s latest war.
The Lion in Winter
The Plantagenets were known as “The Devil’s Brood,” scratching and fighting their way to power in Europe through any means necessary, and the classic film The Lion in Winter shows them at their most conniving. Their dynasty began with Henry II, masterfully portrayed by Peter O’Toole, who had three sons with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, played here by a steely Katharine Hepburn (who won an Oscar for the role). As he is reaching his twilight years, Henry II must pick a successor from amongst his three sons, but the task proves more difficult than he anticipated. Featuring a young Anthony Hopkins as Richard the Lionhearted and Timothy Dalton as the French King Philip, this masterclass in deception and treachery is not to be missed.
Back when Mel Gibson kept his crazy in check, Braveheart was a massive hit, bringing the (heavily fictitious… but not dragon fictitious) story of William Wallace and Scotland’s fight for independence to many. Set in 13th century Scotland, Wallace is struggling to free his countrymen from the tyranny of Edward I of England, also known as Longshanks. While the film takes extreme liberties with the actual historical events, Gibson still manages to make a compelling movie with scenes known to make grown men weep. Additionally, this film perhaps has the greatest link to The Bastard Executioner in terms of historical similarity, as Edward I is king in both.
The White Queen
Rebecca Ferguson is blowing up these days, winning the summer with a great performance in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and being at the top of the short list to play Captain Marvel (allegedly). Her roles as Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen was her first major American role, and she is absolutely magnetic in it. Telling the story of The War of the Roses and the women who were behind it, The White Queen is violent and sexy fun. While Ferguson’s performance is better than the production as a whole, even a middling version of this fascinating bit of history is worth a look.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Hear me out! Is this movie terribly dated? Yes. Is it historically inaccurate? Absolutely. Does Kevin Costner have the worst British accent (or lack thereof) of all-time? Oh, most definitely. However, I will choose this film over the dull Russell Crowe retelling every time. It does a serviceable job of portraying the struggles that the peasantry had when abandoned by their king who preferred fighting in the Holy Land to actually ruling, Morgan Freeman is predictably great, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is an excellent Marian. However, the true gem of this film is Alan Rickman’s campy Sheriff of Nottingham. Between threatening to cut out hearts with spoons and one of the greatest death scenes in the history of film, Rickman proves that he always plays a legendary baddie.
Kenneth Branagh’s name is practically synonymous with Shakespeare adaptations, and Henry V might be his greatest work (except for, perhaps, Much Ado About Nothing). Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s noblest creations and one of England’s greatest warrior kings. While Prince Hal spends most of his youth fighting and whoring his way through Europe, he eventually becomes a man and assumes the leadership of England. As the Hundred Years War rages on, Henry finds his courage and leads his men to a historic victory at the Battle of Agincourt, leading to peace between England and France. It is impossible not to be affected by Branagh’s rendition of the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech, so definitely take a few moments now to be deeply moved.
The Pillars of the Earth
There was no power greater in the Middle Ages than the church, and The Pillars of the Earth show exactly how extensive that power was. Set against the backdrop of England’s 12th century civil war between Queen Maud and Stephen the Usurper, The Pillars of the Earth documents the arduous construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. Starring pre-fame Hayley Atwell and Eddie Redmayne, this well-written and ambitious adaptation of the Ken Follett novel is worth your time to watch (and read).