On Wednesday the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies hosted a movie night, as is traditional. Many students attended in person and there was pizza and fellowship. But as we often have in COVID times, there was a Zoom option as well. We watched the 2005 Ridley Scott Film Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green, and Edward Norton. The film follows the rise of the knight Bailan of Ibelin as he arrives in Jerusalem and later is charged with defending the city from Saladin’s army. While the film does not win any prizes for historical accuracy, it is still the most elaborate portrayal of the crusades in popular culture and has served as a gateway for many into the study of the actual crusades.
Before watching the director’s cut of the film (run time 3 hours and 14 minutes), we heard a brief introductory lecture from the director of the Center for Medieval Studies, Professor Nicholas Paul. Professor Paul discussed how Ridley Scott conceived the film and how the filmmaking process impacted the on-screen portrayal of historical events. Apparently, there had been a historical consultant on the film, but when Ridley Scott was filming he never consulted them. As a result, the film was quite divorced from historical reality and the aforementioned historical consultant asked to be removed from the credits. Professor Paul also reflected on some of the sentiments of his doctoral advisor and eminent crusades historian, Jonathan Riley-Smith, who maintained that Kingdom of Heaven was “Osama bin Laden’s version of history.” Dr. Christina Bruno spoke after Professor Paul and called our attention to the all-star cast of the film and to various cameos that we might have missed if watching the movie for the first time.
While watching the film, it was pretty easy to see why historians were upset with the way that the crusades were handled in the film. Participants could comment on the zoom chat as the movie was playing, making for some hilarious jokes–often at the expense of the actors in the movie. One viewer remarked “lack of human emotion is more contagious than leprosy” in the film when referring to Sybilla and Bailan’s romance and their limited emotional range. All the comments and the later pizza party made for good fun, and watching the movie together was a truly community-building experience.
Keep an eye out for the net medieval movie night coming up soon! For more information on events and activities at the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University, check us out on Facebook.