A Kingdom of Conscience

Kingdom of Heaven

Another epic tale; studios marketed as a successor to Gladiator since they were filmed by the same director, though Kingdom of Heaven showcases the politics of the Crusades. I like aspects of the movie that show a more neutral representation of conflicting Christians and Muslims. The Holy Land is a hot spot; always has been. I took a class in college on the Contemporary Middle East and I’d watch bits of this movie to give myself hope that a resolution could eventually come. I’m not sure how historically accurate the portrayal is (we’ve hit that my concentration is in British history and mythology); but like I comment on Disney’s Pocahontas, this what we wish the story was.

I seem to find movies that share a lot of actors. Orlando Bloom is back directly after Troy to star as Balian. Liam Neeson is Godfrey, David Thewlis (most recognized as Professor Lupin from Harry Potter) is a Hospitaler knight. Michael Sheen appears as a priest. Kevin McKidd (Colin from the rom-com Made of Honor, voiced the MacGuffins in Brave, and was Poseidon in Percy Jackson) appears with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister…yeah, I didn’t realize he was in this film either). Another surprise: Marton Csokas who plays Guy de Lusignan, is Celeborn (Galadriel’s husband) in Lord of the Rings. Another Harry Potter alum is Brendan Gleeson; there he was Mad-Eye Moody, here he’s Reynald de Chatillon. Eve Green, the Bond girl from Casino Royale and Morgan from Camelot is Sibylla. And say hello to an old friend: Jeremy Irons in Tiberius. Oh, and Ian Glein makes an appearance at the end as King Richard of England.

The film starts in France in the year 1184, right before the third Crusade. Balian is a blacksmith (Orlando Bloom seems to repeat the roles he’s good at) whom we are told has recently lost his wife; she killed herself after the death of their infant child. The friendly village priest urges Balian to go to the Hold Lands to atone for his wife’s sin. And then mentions that she no longer has a head, all while wearing her crucifix that he stole. Balian kills the idiot (yeah, he’s an idiot for mocking a man working near fire with the death of his wife) then flees for Godfrey’s encampment. He has just been informed by godfrey and menGodfrey that the man is his father (meaning Balian grew up as a bastard; his life really isn’t going well, is it?) Godfrey gladly takes his son in and begins to teach him the art of being a knight. Even defends him against guards who came to arrest him. Godfrey takes an arrow, which then festers. The Hospitaler tends to Godfrey as best he can, but they make for Messina, the port to the Holy Land. Godfrey instructs his son to serve the king of Jerusalem. On his death bed, he knights his son and calls him to defend the people.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies.  Be brave and upright that God may love thee.  Speak the truth, even if it leads to your death.  Safe guard the helpless.

Balian, now Baron of Ibelin, makes for the Holy Land. There is a storm at sea and he is the only one to survive the shipwreck, besides a horse. Balian meets two Muslims, who challenge him for the horse. The master fights him, ultimately losing, while the servant tries to stop the fight. Balian has the servant take him to Jerusalem, then gives him the contested horse. The servant remarks “your quality will be known among your enemies before ever you meet.” Balian prays at the Holy Mount, but does not receive the answers he seeks. He soon takes his place as his father’s son at court. He meets Sibylla, though he doesn’t tell her who he is at first. He then meets Tiberius, an old friend of Godfrey’s. Tiberius has to deal with Reynald and Guy, who cause trouble. Well, Reynald more openly than Guy since Guy is married to Sibylla, who is sister to the king. The king has negotiated a peace with the leader of the Muslims, Saladin.

The king tells Balian that Godfrey was one of his teachers whom he had great respect for and offers him the wisdom that Balian’s soul is in his own keeping. He orders his newest knight to protect the pilgrim road. Godfrey had told his son to be a perfect knight; a rarity and one that Tiberius is not sure Jerusalem is ready for. Balian brings his lands back to life and Sibylla visits him. They willingly go to bed with each other (another woman who is unhappy with her husband, but Guy is rather cruel). Quick question: if Balian grew up as a bastard blacksmith, how does he know reading, writing, and battle tactics? Guy and Reynald attack the pilgrims. When they are found out, well, Reynald takes the blame, the court argues. Guy declares that there must be war between the Christians and the Muslims (or Saracens as they are referred to), God wills it. A Christian army cannot be beaten. The king declares he will meet with Saladin and he will ride at the head of the army, even though it’s detrimental to his health (he is a leper).

Balian is instructed to protect the villagers as the Muslim army attacks Reynald’s land. Balian finds out that the man he spared was no servant, but a general in Saladin’s army. As such, he shows mercy to Balian. The king pleads with Saladin that Reynald will be suitably punished. Saladin agrees. The king strikes Reynald and arrests him. He will have to find a use for Balian; Tiberius needs him in Jerusalem. Back in Jerusalem, the king is putting his affairs in order and asks Balian to marry Sibylla; Guy would be executed for the crimes they all know he has committed. (Guy was their mother’s choice for Sibylla). Balian being a good knight, declines, not wanting Guy’s blood on his hands, recalling Godfrey’s words that Jerusalem is a kingdom of conscience. Tiberius argues that the day will come that Balian will wish that he had done a little evil for a greater good.

The king indeed dies and Sibylla has no choice but to crown her husband king. Guy has Reynald bring him war, and secretly sends men to kill Balian. It is insinuated that Reynald tortured and killed Saladin’s sister, for which he now demands retribution. Guy decides to meet him on the field of battle, even after Balian (fighting off the assassins) Kingdom-of-Heaven knightswarns him that their army cannot go far from water. Balian stays behind and looks to the defense of the city. And yes, Saladin wins the battle, since the Christian army drops from exhaustion (he points out to his generals where the Christians went wrong; yes God may decide who wins a battle, but tactics and planning also play a part. Simply saying “God will protect us,” does not prevent a sword from cutting a body in two). Saladin cuts Reynald’s throat, but won’t kill another king, so Guy lives.

Then he sets his eye on Jerusalem, to win it back for his people. Disheartened, Tiberius leaves. Balian stays. He tells the men who have followed him and the men who defend the city: “None of us took this city from the Muslims.” None of the Muslims attacking were born when the city was lost to the Christians. “We fight over an offense we did not give.” “What is Jerusalem?” Your holy places lie over the Jewish temples the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy?” No one has a claim and yet everyone has a claim to the Holy Land (a priest declares it blasphemy). This is what I wish people would think about. Let’s not fight over it, let’s share it.

Balian knights all the men who fight. When questioned whether he thinks that will make them fight better, he answers yes. The siege lasts several days, until the Muslims break through a walled up gate. Balian goes to discuss terms with Saladin. His concerns are the people within Jerusalem. Saladin offers safe conduct to Christian land to every person, including the knights and the former queen. They will not be harmed, he swears to God. Balian accepts. “What is Jerusalem worth?” he asks the Muslim leader. “Nothing,” and “everything.”

“If this is the kingdom of heaven, let God do with it as he wills,” Balian remarks as they prepare to leave. His Muslim friend returns the horse and offers some wisdom; “if God does not love you, how could have done all that you have.” Balian finds Sibylla, who has renounced her crown. They join hands and eventually end up back in the village in France. Crusaders come by, looking for Balian. He tells them only that he is the blacksmith. Even when the king announces himself, all he replies is “I am the blacksmith.”

I would not say that this is a fun movie. It’s not a light-hearted movie (considering the subject matter, not surprising). It’s one you have to be in the mood to watch. It’s well done, but again, I find it drags at times. And it’s not that I can’t sit through a long movie; I love Lord of the Rings. I will gladly binge watch TV shows. I think part of it is there are so many important characters that we only get a surface story. And a part of me wonders: who gave these Europeans the right to go divvy up land that is not theirs and set their own lords in place? I am sure there are politics involved and history that I have not studied.

Up Next: Braveheart

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