“Cry God, for Harry, England, and St. George!”

Partaking in something that satisfies both the historian in me and the English major: Shakespeare.  Now, I believe I have mentioned before that I am not a dutiful English major; I don’t like Shakespeare, well, I don’t like reading Shakespeare.  It’s boring and most teachers pound it into our skulls by analyzing it to death.  I hate that.  But, BBC put together a phenomenal cast and put Shakespeare’s histories on screen (which I am aware has been done before, heck, I tried to watch a version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and couldn’t make it through it.  Now, there was a slightly modern version of Hamlet done with David Tennant that was fantastic).  They timed the first arc to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics; this arc included Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V.  Their second arc included Henry VI and Richard III in 2016.

Gut reactions?  Richard II was a bit odd.  Henry IV was wonderful to see and Henry V is utterly magnificent.  Henry VI is simply everyone changing sides and the start of the War of the Roses and is interesting to see from this perspective.  As for Richard III; I remember doing a segment on the historical accuracy of the play in a British history course in college and I can certainly see the Tudor propaganda in the play (oh, they all cut out and condense history, but then, these are plays, not true histories…actually, I’d like to see historical documentaries on these people), yet I now see what all the hype is about.

Above all, these are a veritable who’s who in British acting.

Richard II stars Ben Whishaw (Q in Craig’s James Bond and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins Returns) as the king.  Opposite him is Rory Kinnear (also appears with Whishaw in Skyfall, and Spectre as Bill Tanner, which he briefly played in Quantum of Solace as well) as Bolingbroke, who goes on to be crowned Henry IV.  The great Patrick Stewart appears as John of Gaunt.  If Thomas Mowbray, who argues with Bolingbroke, looks familiar, that’s because he’s played by James Purefoy, who portrays Colville aka Edward, the Black Prince of Wales in A Knight’s Tale [making this a bit funny to a historian, because Edward, the Black Prince of Wales was Richard II’s father: his father was King Edward III, but he died before his father did and so thus, his son inherited the throne].  David Morrissey appears as the Earl of Northumberland.  He’s also been the Duke of Norfolk in The Other Boleyn Girl [uncle to Anne], and has appeared in a 2008 episode of Doctor Who, “The Next Doctor”.  We briefly see David Bradley (Filch in Harry Potter and Walter Frey in Game of Thrones) as the gardener and Lindsay Duncan (also appeared in a 2009 episode of Doctor Who, “Water of Mars,” she was the mother in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a queen in two episodes of Merlin, and Lady Smallwood in several episodes of Sherlock) as the Duchess of York.

The very gifted Jeremy Irons (Scar in The Lion King [the animated classic], Tiberius in Kingdom of Heaven, Brom in Eragon, Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask, and Alfred in several of DC’s newer Batman movies) takes over as the older Henry IV.  Tom Hiddleston (we love him as Loki in the MCU) shines as Prince Hal.  Julie Walters (Mrs. Wealsey in Harry Potter and Rosie in both Mamma Mia movies) is Mistress Quickly, Robert Pugh (he’s Craster in Game of Thrones, amongst other roles in Kingdom of Heaven, The White Queen [which also depicts the War of the Roses], and Master and Commander) is Owain Glyndŵr [that is the proper spelling, IMDB lists him as Owen Glendower; a real Welsh rebel that I’ve got a book on].  Oh hey, there’s Michelle Dockery (Mary in Downton Abbey) as Kate Percy, and Harry Lloyd (Baines in 2007’s Doctor Who “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood,” Will Scarlett in BBC’s Robin Hood, and insane Viserys Targaryen in Game of Thrones) is Mortimer, and Joe Armstrong (Allan a Dale in Robin Hood) is Hotspur.  His father, Alum Armstrong (he’s had roles in Van Helsing, Braveheart, and Patriot Games amongst others) plays Hotspur’s father Northumberland, and Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones, Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey, and 2010’s Doctor Who “The Time of Angels” and “Flash and Stone”) pops up as Warwick.

Of course, Prince Hal graduates to King Henry V in the next installment.  This was the bit that makes me almost like Shakespeare.  Tom Hiddleston delivers some of the best known speeches with such quiet passion.  “Once more unto the breach,” stirs my blood, and he got the role of Henry V with “St. Crispin’s day,” which includes that famous line: “we few/ we happy few/ we band of brothers.”  One almost cries.  And his wooing of Katherine…if a dashing man ever said those words to me, I’d be weak-kneed.  I remember rehearsals for faire, male cast members are encouraged to woo female patrons (worked on me when I was a patron), and so they practiced on female cast members; I was just happy some guy was saying nice words to me, I didn’t really care what he was saying.

If Corporal Nym [grrr, I hate his name’s “Nym,” because I want to use it for a headstrong female character in my saga] looks familiar, he’s Tom Brooke and he’s appeared briefly in a few Sherlock episodes.  And look, there’s Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursely in Harry Potter, King George in On Stranger Tides) as the Duke of Burgundy [this was one of his last roles].  The ever talented John Hurt (the dragon Kilgarah in Merlin, the War Doctor of Doctor Who, Ollivander in Harry Potter, Professor Oxley in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Montrose in Rob Roy, and other roles going back to the 60’s)  acts as the chorus [and he just passed away in 2017].  Some other familiar faces join us in Henry V; Anton Lesser (Qyburn in Game of Thrones, an episode of The Musketeers, Harold Warne in Miss Potter, and other roles) as Exeter [he’ll stay on through Henry VI and Richard III] and Owen Teale (part of some older Doctor Who episodes, The Last Legion, and the Headmaster in Tolkien, but I’m sure we recognize him as Thorne in Game of Thrones ) as Captain Fluellen.

Tom Sturridge takes up the mantle of Henry VI.  Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten in “The Beast Below” and “The Pandorica Opens” in 2010’s Doctor Who) joins him as Margaret of Anjou, and Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley in Downton Abbey, Monuments Men, several episodes of Doctor Who as a pirate captain, he was even in Tomorrow Never Dies) is so encouraging as Gloucester.  Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Lord Charles Fox in Amazing Grace, and he’s even appeared in Doctor Who 2010’s “A Christmas Carol”) briefly appears as Mortimer.

In the second part, Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock, Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, amongst other roles) pops up as the Duke of York [called Plantagenet in Shakespeare as a claimant to the old royal dynasty]’s son Richard.  Phoebe Fox (the Duchess of Savoy in The Musketeers) is Anne Neville.  James Fleet as Hastings has been in several period pieces.  And say hello to the appearance of Andrew Scott (C in Spectre and Moriarty in Sherlock) as King Louis of France.  Somerset is played by Ben Miles (Peter Townsend in The Crown), and George, the Duke of Clarence is played by Sam Troughton (Much in BBC’s Robin Hood).

Benedict takes center stage in Richard III.  He is brilliant in the role.  I dislike the character of Richard, but Benedict delivers exquisitely.  Let me go on a little historical accuracy rant: historical evidence proves that Richard was not a hunchback; he may have had a slight difference in shoulder height, but is regarded to have been a tall, broad-shouldered man.  Nor was he the “Machiavellian villain” Shakespeare depicts him as, at least, no more than any other man of that time.  Shakespeare wrote him as a villain to please the Elizabethan court in order to paint her grandfather as a benevolent conqueror.  As another historian pointed out to me, if Richard had the princes of the tower in his custody, he could have produced them in order to throw suspicion off himself.  We also get the addition of Judi Dench as Richard’s mother, Cecily.

Historical note: there are several “Duke of Gloucester” throughout the plays and throughout history, because it is a title, typically a relative of the monarch.  Same as the Duke of York, and Mortimer is a title (which I got confused a bit, seeing a Mortimer in Henry IV and one in Henry VI.)  I swear, one needs a family tree to reference when watching these histories.  I’ll try to explain the central plot of the War of the Roses as best I can.  Edward III had several sons, the eldest of which was Edward, the Black Prince of Wales.  His third son (his second died young-ish) was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, his fourth son was Edmund, holding the title Duke of York, and his fifth son was Thomas, the Duke of Gloucester.  The Black Prince’s son was Richard II.  The way that Bolingbroke claimed the throne was that he had a right to it as the son of Edward’s third son (hence, Richard and Bolingbroke were cousins and until Bolingbroke’s exile, they were close).  Bolingbroke became Henry IV [Lancaster], who has at least four sons, the eldest of whom became Henry V.  Henry V died tragically young and his son, Henry VI, assumed the throne incredibly young, only nine months old.  England was ruled by the Lord Protector, his uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (one of Henry V’s brothers).

Then along comes Richard, Duke of York (the great-great-grandson of the Edward III’s second son by way of Lionel, Duke of Clarence’s daughter, then grandson, then great-granddaughter).  Just like Bolingbroke challenged Richard II for the throne due to ineptitude, the Duke of York [white rose] challenged Henry VI [followers wore a red rose].  The Duke of York’s son, Edward took the throne, becoming King Edward IV.  He had three children with Elizabeth Woodville; Elizabeth of York, Edward (briefly Edward V), and Richard (also holding the title Duke of York).   Edward IV has several younger brothers, including George, the Duke of Clarence, and Richard, the Duke of Gloucester.  Once Edward IV and George were dead, Richard declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville unlawful, making his offspring with her illegitimate.  He took the throne as Richard III.  There’s the York contingent.

But back with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, his second marriage produced several generations, to John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset, then his son John, then his daughter Margaret Beaufort, who married Edmund Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, and then had Henry, who in Shakespeare was called Richmond, thus making him the Lancastrian claimant.  [Edmund Tudor was the son of Owen Tudor (a Welshman), who married the widowed Katherine (wife of Henry V)…as for Henry V’s claim of “I am Welsh, as you know,”…well, he was Prince of Wales and born there, but not actually Welsh by blood; I would guess it was a line Shakespeare inserted to play to Queen Elizabeth’s Welsh ancestry].  Henry Tudor became Henry VII and he married Elizabeth of York (remember, Edward IV’s eldest daughter) and uniting the Lancastrians and Yorkists and ending the War of the Roses  From here, we should know how things go from there for a bit.

This is the sort of stuff that fascinates me as a historian; how the different lines come together and play out.  And I understand Shakespeare’s language a bit better watching it performed, more of a dialogue rather than verse.

On a different note: I highly recommend Netflix’s Enola Holmes film.  Millie Bobby Brown is precisely the female heroine we need; smart and not afraid of action.  Henry Cavill is a calmer Sherlock Holmes, but I greatly desire to see more of these characters.  I may just check out the novels the film was based on.

“Anything and everything/ a chap can unload/ is sold off the barrow/ in Portabello Road”

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

A Disney live-action film from 1971 that mixes in animation like Mary Poppins did.  It is based on a book by Mary Norton and is a beloved movie from my childhood.  It stars Angela Landsbury (the original Mrs. Potts and star of Murder, She Wrote) as Miss Eglantine Price, David Tomlinson (the father in Mary Poppins) as Professor Emelius Browne, and another Mary Poppins‘ alum is Reginale Owen; he played Admiral Boom in Poppins and General Teagler in Bedknobs.  The Sherman brothers also wrote the music for this film.  The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD release runs longer than the theatrical version; some songs had been cut and were now restored.  Oddly, the most recent Blu-ray release goes back to the theatrical version.  Sadly, there is no good soundtrack for the musical available; the most noticeable difference being in Portobello Road.

The opening credits run against a medieval tapestry backdrop, similar to the Bayeux Tapestry.  It takes place in 1940, during WWII, near the White Cliffs of Dover.  “Again – A time for valor.  A time of whispered events.  Now faded with the passing years.”  A town stands in the shadow of an old castle; they are currently taking care of the children evacuated from London due to the bombings (similar to the main characters in C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).  We’re briefly introduced to the Soldiers of the Old Home Guard, led by General Teagler.  Miss Price shows up for her package and is forced to take three children.  She’s very busy with important work and does not traditionally get on well with children, but she’ll do her duty until more suitable arrangements can be made.  The local preacher fawns over Miss Price, though he flounces off when the postmistress points out he’s making moves because he admires Miss Price’s nice house and land.

Miss Price lives alone, aside from a black cat that came with the name Cosmic Creepers.  When the children are asleep, she takes her package to her workshop and unwraps a broom, from Professor Emelius Browne’s Correspondence College of Witchcraft.  She manages to successfully fly for a bit with a spell, until she topples over.  The children see her when they attempt to sneak out back to London.  Charlie thinks it is a wise idea to blackmail Miss Price, but he goes a little too far and she turns him into a white rabbit.  But her spells never last very long and he quickly turns back, after being pursued by Cosmic Creepers.  Miss Price lets them in on her secret; she plans to use magic to help the war effort.  And to win over the children, she charms a bedknob with a traveling spell.  Then persuades the children to go to London so she can get the last lesson from Professor Browne himself when he stops the course.  Charlie initially doesn’t think the bed will work and Miss Price remarks he is at the Age of Not Believing.

But the bed works.  Except they discover that Professor Browne is a street magician and self-admitted fraud and charlatan, though he does everything With a Flair.  Miss Price ends up turning Professor Browne into a white rabbit when she confronts him.  He is surprised that one of his spells worked; he simply put together words out of an old book.  He then takes Miss Price and the children to the abandoned home he is squatting in (it’s abandoned because there is an unexploded bomb in the front yard).  The children explore the nursery while he shows Miss Price the library.  Except, instead of getting the desired book for Miss Price, he wants her to join him in a stage show.  She’d be an assistant who could really do magic.  But Miss Price, who reveals her first name is Eglantine is determined to find the book.  She turns Browne into a rabbit again and he finally shows her the book, The Spells of Astoroth; of which he only has half.  And the five magic words for the substitutiary locomotion spell; an “ancient and mystic art of causing objects to take on a life force of their own” are missing.

Miss Price demands they find the other half of the book and Browne takes them to Portobello Road, “street where the riches/ of ages are stowed.”  This is one of my favorite parts of the film.  An impromptu dance party breaks out and features several music and dance styles from around the British empire.  They don’t have much luck finding the other half of the book until a slightly scary man leads them to the “Bookman.”  He in fact has the other half of the book and is looking for the same spell.  Except the book only states that the five words are written on the Star of Astoroth, worn by the sorcerer.  The Star is now on the fabled Isle of Namboobu.  The adults don’t believe such a place exists, but young Paul found a children’s book on it.  So the children, Miss Price, and Professor Browne are able to use the bed to escape the Bookman and travel to the Isle of Namboombu.  Well, the lagoon first and they are “bobbing along/ on the bottom/ of the Beautiful Briny sea.”  This is where the animation comes in, for the animals dress and talk like humans.  A bear catches the bed, but wants to throw the five humans back into the lagoon because the king has issued a “No Peopling Allowed” law.  Well, they want to see the king.

Professor Browne manages to ingratiate himself to the king (a lion; in fact, the animation is very similar to Robin Hood) when he offers to referee the soccer match [note how they refer to is as “soccer,” rather than “football” as Europeans call it.  You can tell it was produced by Americans despite most of the cast being English and the story taking place in England.]  My brother and I loved the soccer match as kids, Browne getting trampled by the animals throughout the game.  And they discover that the king wears the star.  Browne manages to pocket the star and they’re chased off the island.  Sadly, the star is of another world and cannot be brought back to ours; it simply disappears.  But Paul saves the day again; his book has an illustration of the star and the words for the spell (technically, would have been helpful to know that before, but, kids love the animation).  Browne suggests that Miss Price use the words “Tregura Mekoides Trecoru Satis Dee” with a flair.  And she’s got it!  She’s managed Substitutiary Locomotion!  This is another beloved part of the film.

The little domestic scene is broken when news arrives that another family has offered to take the children.  Miss Price has changed her mind and the children start to think of Professor Browne as a father figure.  That scares him off a bit and he starts to head back to London, but the trains are finished for the day.  Miss Price sings of Nobody’s Problems; she has it in her mind that she doesn’t want or need anyone else around, she’s quite comfortable with her life.  But we all know she misses Browne [this part was cut from the theatrical release].  Except there are more important things to worry about now; the Germans have made a landing.  They enter Miss Price’s house and stage their minor raid to induce panic and spread mischief.  Miss Price’s memory fails her and she can’t turn the commander into a rabbit, but Browne manages to get away and sneaks into the house.  He finds the spell and uses it on himself so he can get away again and find Miss Price and the children.  They’re being held in the old castle.

sub loc battle

Once he transforms back, he and the children convince Miss Price to use the substitutiary locomotion spell again.  And this is my brother’s and mine absolute favorite part.  The spell starts small, just the banners waving, but then a drums and horns start and the whole castle comes alive!  The knights and Redcoats are reanimated and join together.  Miss Price flies at the head of the army and they chant the spell.  The Germans don’t know what to make of the phenomenon in front of them; Scotsmen and bagpipes stretching across the cliff.  Their bullets only go through the empty suits of armor; they keep marching.  A few minutes later, the Germans start retreating.  The commotion has also woken the Home Guard and they rush to the coast.  But the Germans manage to blow up Miss Price’s workshop as she flies over; the army falls, un-animated now.  The Guard fires a few shots to warn the Germans and Miss Price is relatively unharmed.  She’s pleased she did her part of the war effort, but has always known she could never be a proper witch with the way she feels about poisoned dragon’s liver.

They are now all a family; the children will remain with Miss Price and Professor Browne has decided to join the Army.  The Soldiers of the Old Home Guard give him an escort to the station and he gives Miss Price a kiss farewell.  The children at first fear that the rest of the time will be boring now, but Paul still has the bedknob.

This is the first film I ever saw Angela Landsbury in.  I loved the children’s adventures and of course wanted to visit an island where the animals talk and play soccer.  And even as a child, I was excited to see these reanimated knights face off against the Germans.  And the budding dancer in me was fascinated by all the dancing in Portobello Road.  I think the movie is now a forgotten gem; overshadowed by Mary Poppins (though I absolutely adore that movie as well).

Next Time: Another beloved childhood favorite of mine, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

It’s Called a Lance

A Knight’s Tale

A 2001 film set in medieval Europe featuring jousting…and rock music. It’s a fun movie that’s good to throw on when bored with TV. It stars Heath Ledger (later to reinvent the role of Joker in Dark Knight; he also features in Brokeback Mountain, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Patriot [haven’t seen those], Brothers Grimm [saw it once, don’t remember liking it], and Ned Kelly [eh, all star cast, the plot confused me] as peasant squire William Thatcher. This is the first role I saw Rufus Sewell in, playing the antagonist Count Adhemar (he’s an antagonist in Legend of Zorro, good guy Marke in Tristan and Isolde, decent guy in Amazing Grace, bit of a jerk in The Holiday, and lately was Lord Melbourne in the show Victoria). Paul Bettany (voice of Jarvis in the first Marvel movies, then became Vision in Age of Ultron. He was Lord Melbourne in the movie Young Victoria, bit ironic. Also featured in as the albino in The Da Vinci Code, and surgeon Dr. Stephen Maturin, best friend of Russell Crowe’s Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander: Far Side of the World) is Geoffrey Chaucer, yes, that writer. Alan Tudyk (now known for his voice acting abilities in Frozen and Star Wars, but would later play pilot Wash in Firefly) is fellow peasant Wat alongside Roland, played by Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones and Friar Tuck in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood). And if Sir Ector in the flashback looks familiar, he’s played by Nick Brimble, who was Little John in Prince of Thieves.

The film opens with the death of Sir Ector, master of Wat, Roland, and William. He’s due to joust again in a few minutes, or else they forfeit and the young lads haven’t eaten in three days. William gets the idea to wear Ector’s armor and finish the match, with Queen’s We Will Rock You occurring in the stands. Then, when he wins, this could be their chance to change their stars. He takes the name Sir Ulrich von Lichenstein from Gelderland (and apparently, a real knight and real place; though not as used in the movie). They come across as naked Chaucer trudging the road. Being peasants, no, they have not read any of his works (takes place before The Canterbury Tales), but they do have use of a writer to forge papers of nobility. He also becomes Sir Ulrich’s herald, to announce him at tournaments.

William discovers a beautiful woman, Lady Jocelyn and decides to woo her. He’s…somewhat successful. He starts following her, on horseback, into a church. And doesn’t even get her name. Count Adhemar also discovers Jocelyn and helpfully explains the rules of jousting for the audience while Taking Care of Business plays in the background. William faces Sir Thomas Coleville (another historical character, but not from this time) and mercifully draws on the last pass so they both retain honor.

Will continues to compete and pines after Jocelyn. She sends him a token to wear at the next tourney. William faces Adhemar, who proves why he has never been unhorsed. They break lances on each other on their first pass. The second pass, Will scores and avoids Adhemar’s lance. But on the third pass, Adhemar knocks William’s helm off, causing a flashback to when Will was a child and seeing knights with his father. Adhemar returns Jocleyn’s favor to her and tells “Ulrich” “see me when you’re worthy.” William loses the jousting portion, but wins the sword. He now had enough to pay Kate the blacksmith, who fixed his armor. She wants to join his crew and even offers to make new armor for him. He dismisses her first, until he finds out he needs to attend the ball in order to see Jocelyn. Chaucer, does not do the best job of teaching Will to dance, so Roland makes Will politely ask Kate (since he’s going through the trouble of making a new tunic for his friend). Chaucer and Wat are not boon companions, but they’re funny. And we’re treated to Golden Years, and modern dancing. Knight’s Tale does not try to be wholly accurate (most certainly in their female costumes. Which is disappointing, because some of the gowns from that period can be gorgeous).
knights tale armor

Some of the heralds’ introductions are hilarious; Adhemar’s messes up at one point and declares his master “a shining example of chivalry and champagne” and “defender of his enormous manhood.” Chaucer certainly has a way with words and whips the crowds into a frenzy for Sir Ulrich. When Adhemar is about to face Coleville, he withdraws when he finds out that the other knight is actually Prince Edward in disguise. Chaucer in turns reports this to William, but he still jousts. The royal endangers himself and has obviously disguised himself so he can truly compete. Coleville appreciates the gesture. William wins the tournament, but his victory his hollow since he did not defeat Adhemar.

William goes on to win the next slew of tournaments, aided by Prince Edward sending Adhemar back to the front and the Battle of Poitiers. In the meantime, Will has Chaucer help him write a rather romantic letter to Jocelyn, aided by all his friends. The couple meets for the Paris tournament and William unfortunately cannot produce poetry on demand. Jocelyn insists that if “Ulrich” truly loves her, he will lose the tournament, rather than win it in her name. She’s got a point. But, Will has to take a pounding first (this is also after his friends have made a substantial bet with a group of Frenchmen). Still loves her. Mercifully, she sends word that he is to win the tournament, which he does. Chaucer sees Jocelyn enter William’s tent after the tournament and remarks “as Guinevere comes to Lancelot. Bed him well, m’lady. Bed him well.” (By this age, I knew what he meant). She discovers what exactly Will went through to prove his love, and has noted that his friends slip call him “William” instead of “Ulrich.” His name matters not, only that she can call him hers, and the good that comes with the bad will be of her doing as well.

William and his friends return to England, bring about another flashback of when they left. They enter London for the World Championships to The Boys Are Back in Town (and now I cannot hear that song and not think of that scene). Adhemar will compete; Prince Edward has recalled him for his company’s behavior in France. Will takes the opportunity to visit Cheapside, where he grew up and finds his father still alive, though blind. Unfortunately, Adhemar manages to spy on him and uses the information to prove the lie William has been leading. The next day, Jocelyn and Chaucer bring word that guards will arrest Will if he competes. His friends all urge him to run. He refuses. He is a knight. (Only those of noble birth can become knights; but Will points out in the beginning that many became noble by taking the title at the point of a sword).

Adhemar visits Will in jail, declaring “you have been weighed; you have been measured; and you have been found wanting.” Will is put in the stocks the next day; his friends stand alongside him. The crowd easily turns on their champion; earlier chanting his name, now throwing food. Prince Edward emerges from the crowd and declares that his own research has proven that William is descended from an ancient royal line; and as prince, his word is above contestation. He frees Will and knights him. William will face Adhemar.

Knowing he stands a chance of losing, Adhemar cheats and tips his lance. On the first pass, he embeds it in William’s shoulder. On the second pass, William drops his lance. Adhemar murmurs to his opponent, “in what world can you ever have beaten me? Such a place does not exist.” William can’t breathe and has his friends remove his armor. Neither can he hold a lance, they must strap it to his arm. To buy time, Chaucer has missed his introduction. “Here he is! One of your own! Born a stone’s throw from this very stadium and here before you now. The son, of John Thatcher…Sir William Thatcher!” Will’s father is in the stands; he heard that. He sits near Prince Edward. Revitalized, William unseats Adhemar. We pause, as the group tells Adhemar “you have been weighed; you have been measured; and you absolutely have been found wanting. Welcome to the new world.” The crowd goes nuts as the action picks back up. Edward kisses his wife. Jocelyn races down to see William, who dismounts and removes his gloves and such so they can share an epic kiss. The film closes as Chaucer decides he needs to write this tale down and we go to black on Shook Me All Night Long.

As I stated, it’s a fun movie. I like the music they feature for the most part. I understand some of the costuming choices; I believe one feature states that they were going for a rock ‘n’ roll look with the knights, since they held that sort of status in medieval times; a more modern fit pant, lots of leather. It’s the women’s costumes that drive me nuts. The exotic hair styles that you know could not have been done at that time. Sheer fabric on display, an Audrey Hepburn hat. Now, after being blown away by other films, the romance falls a bit flat. Will sees that Jocelyn is pretty and that’s why he loves her. Not because he sees her do anything particularly good or special. Jocelyn likes Will because he’s not like other nobles who have courted her.

Up Next: Princess Bride

“We eat ham and jam and spam a lot”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Because Terry Jones is an Arthurian scholar, not only is it the funniest re-telling, it is also the most accurate re-telling of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (I’ve read the book, not my favorite, but yes, this film is very accurate). About the most famous of Monty Python’s repertoire; it’s also the only one I can stand. I’ve tried watching their other films and I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, or I just simply don’t get their humor, but I do not like them. Took me several years to talk myself into watching this film and I do find it funny. In 2006, it was adapted into a Broadway show, Spamalot. The main characters are all played by about six main cast members: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and John Cleese (who I first knew as R then Q in Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond; he’s also narrated Winnie the Pooh).

The opening credits are…odd to say the least. At one point, there is a title card signed by Richard Nixon, there are subtitles that may be Swedish discussing moose – they end up sacked – multiple times. Then there’s crazy music and a bit about llamas. Finally, we reach the movie, set in England 932 AD (filmed largely in Scotland). We hear galloping…turns out, they’re coconuts (apparently a gag developed since the movie didn’t have the budge for horses). Arthur, King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England, is looking for knights to join him at his court in Camelot. The first castle he comes to discusses swallows and coconuts. Then he rides by someone calling “Bring out yer dead!” He comes upon Dennis the peasant shortly afterwards, who goes on about systems of governments [I would not want to learn all of his lines] and points out “strange women lying is ponds distributing swords is no basis of government,” annoying Arthur, who “represses” him.

Arthur comes upon the Black Knight next, battling the Green Knight. Arthur must face him and cuts off an arm. “‘Tis but a scratch,” the knight states, carrying on with the fight. Arthur chops off the other arm. “Only a flesh wound.” Next it’s a leg and Arthur mocks, “what are you going to do, bleed on me?” when the Black Knight insists he can fight. Finally, when Arthur removes the other leg, the knight calls it a draw. A brief view of monks intoning “Pie Jesu” and whacking themselves in the face with boards, and we come across Sir Bedevere educating peasants on how to test if a woman is a witch. From there, Arthur gathers Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and “Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film.” They ride to Camelot! (It’s only a model). On second thought, they better not, it is a silly place (after a song-and-dance number rhyming with Camelot).
Monty-Python

God appears and gives Arthur the quest for the Holy Grail. They come across a group of taunting Frenchmen next (giving us the line “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” which I heard in high school from my boyfriend at one point; not that I had any clue what he was talking about). They try a variation of the Trojan Horse, except with a rabbit, that they have forgotten to get inside. They run away, and as a modern history professor announces, separate. The professor is killed.

First: Brave Sir Robin (and his minstrels)…runs away from a three-headed knight. Next: Sir Galahad, the Chaste, sees a Grail in the mist and comes upon the Castle Anthrax, filled with young women. Lancelot rescues him from the peril; Galahad would not have minded facing the peril. Arthur and Bedevere face the Knights Who Say “Nee,” who demand a shrubbery. In the midst, we have the Tale of Sir Lancelot, who receives a note to rescue someone from a horrible wedding. Turns out it’s a young man. Lancelot gets carried away and starts hacking at guards and guests. The boy’s father lets him drop out a window, except he’s not dead. As he starts to sing a song, Lancelot beats a hasty escape. Arthur and Bedevere acquire the required shrubbery, but now the Knights want more. Except they cannot stand the word “it.” Robin joins the pair and they ride away.

Animation shows that they meet up with Lancelot and Galahad. A year passes as they search for the grail (they eat the minstrels and “there was much rejoicing”). They discover Tim the Enchanter (sounding very Scottish) who leads them to a cave, guarded by killer rabbit. Yep, killer rabbit; only defeated by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (after some more running away). They discover a note inside in Aramaic, telling them where to find the Holy Grail. An animated monster, the Black Beast, chases them, but is taken out when the animator suddenly dies (lots of fourth wall breaking). Then, they’re on to the Bridge of Death, where they must answer three questions in order to cross. Typically, it’s name, their quest, and Lancelot passes when he answers with his favorite color. Robin perishes at “what is the capitol of Assyria?” Galahad messes up his favorite color. The old man falls when he asks Arthur about the “airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.” Arthur specifies which one. On the other side (from a brief intermission), Lancelot is nowhere to be found. The modern police inspectors arrested him. amidst holy music, a Viking-like ship (it has a huge dragon head prow) appears and carries Arthur and Bedevere to a castle (looks like Eileen Donan a bit). Except the French have gotten there first.

An army appears at Arthur’s request and they get ready to charge. Only for the police to stop them and arrest the two knights. The camera falls…and that is the sudden end to the movie. Apparently, budge had a hand in the affair.

It is a funny re-telling, but I have to be in the mood to watch it. I prefer more dramatic interpretations. There’s a short Merlin fanfic that intertwines with Monty Python: The Trouble with Legends by slightlytookish.

Up Next: Mists of Avalon

Another Tale of Tragic Love

Tristan and Isolde

This tale quite possibly influences elements of Arthurian legend, such as a love triangle. (Well, it’s French). The movie came out while I was in high school and my interest in Arthurian legend and Irish legends were already growing, though the marketing touted it as “before Romeo and Juliet.” Lots of recognizable faces. James Franco is the titular Tristan and Sophia Myles (she would later be Renette aka Madame de Pompador in Doctor Who) is Isolde. They’re joined by Rufus Sewell (Count Adhemar in A Knight’s Tale) as Marke, Mark Strong (Godfrey in Robin Hood and Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes) as Wictred, Henry Cavill (Charles Brandon in The Tudors series and Clark Kent/Superman in the latest DC movies) as Mellot, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (if his name isn’t familiar, his face is; he’s in Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner, and Nanny McPhee) as the young Tristan.

The scene is set, telling us that Britain in the Dark Ages after the Roman Empire left is divided amongst its tribes, leaving it vulnerable to Irish incursion. The Irish king fears Britain uniting. The scenery is gorgeous as the film opens, showing a young Tristan and his father, preparing for a tribe meeting. They are betrayed and both of Tristan’s parents are killed. He’s saved by Marke, who loses a hand. On the other side of the sea, young Isolde buries her mother and already doesn’t trust her father.

Nine years later, both are young adults. Tristan faithfully serves Marke and they are hoping to work out a treaty once again with the other tribes. He is friend with Marke’s nephew, Mellot and they have discovered a secret tunnel that comes up in the castle’s keep. In Ireland, the Irish king Donnchadh agrees to give his daughter, Isolde to the warrior Morholt in reward for his loyalty; she will be his bride once he returns from Britain. Morholt leads Irish soldiers in collecting tribute. Tristan confronts Marke; they must do something to rescue the young people that were taken as slaves. Marke agrees, but they must be smart and act together. Tristan leads a group in their rescue, but he receives a cut when fighting Morholt. He kills the Irish leader, but passes out a few minutes later; the blade was poisoned (we already know what befalls the victims from Morholt showing it to Isolde. She counters that there is an antidote.) Mellot lays his friend to rest in a boat, set to sea then lit with flaming arrows.

The boat comes ashore near Isolde as she prepares to run away from her father and Morholt. Isolde chooses to save the young man. The young couple eventually falls in tristan and isoldelove…Until Tristan’s boat is found and Donnchadh begins searching for the slayer of Morhot (his sword had been found with the boat); Tristan must flee, but Isolde cannot follow. Tristan returns to Marke’s warm welcome and informed that Donnchadh has been scheming. He has set a tournament, with his daughter’s hand in marriage as the prize, along with a healthy dowry; it is an effort to divide the tribes. Marke hopes that if he wins, he will hold the support of the other tribes. Tristan volunteers to fight for him. (Isolde had told him her name was Bragnae to keep her identity secret; he does not know she is the king’s daughter).

Tristan ultimately wins the tournament (after a vicious fight with Wictred, the main opponent to Marke’s treaty) and Isolde gladly says she will be his, but is disappointed to learn Tristan won her for Marke. Marke is a kind husband, but Isolde is still in love with Tristan. At first, Tristan insists that they cannot have anything to do with each other and avoids his adoptive father and new bride. But Isolde pleads and he eventually agrees to secret meetings. Marke manages to get the other barons to sign his treaty and he will be crowned king. He names Tristan his second, passing over his nephew, Mellot. Which does not endear Mellot to Tristan, who has also been favored as a leader. Wictred, who has begun to notice the attention Tristan pays Isolde, suggests to Donnchadh that the coronation would be a good time to attack. Marke even begins to suspect that Isolde may not be entirely faithful and asks Tristan. Tristan assures his adoptive father that his wife is loyal and tries to break it off with Isolde, burning their meeting place. She still insists that they love each other and must be together somehow.

The coronation arrives and the men ride out, as an old tradition. Wictred leads them to Tristan and Isolde. The barons abandon Marke and he’s forced to arrest the young couple. Isolde comes clean. Just as the Irish are at the castle’s gates, Marke lets them go. Tristan has Isolde get in the boat, then pushes it away. He stays and helps fight. Mellot, hoping that Wictred will show him more respect, shows the traitor the secret tunnel. He’s cut down for his trouble and realizes his error. Tristan uses the same tunnel to sneak behind the Irish, rallying Marke and his men with his timely arrival. Another fight with Wictred, Wictred landing mortal blows, but Wictred falls to Tristan’s sword first. Marke confronts the barons: “there is no middle ground! Slay us, or slay him [Donnachdh].” Fights break out among the opposition. Tristan has Marke take him to the river and Isolde brought. The movie ends with Tristan’s death; Isolde apparently buried him then disappeared. Their love did not bring down a kingdom, like they feared. Legend says that Marke was victorious and reigned in peace until the end of his days.

For being so excited for this movie in high school, it’s fallen on my list. I see the definite influence for the Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur triangle (which is about my least favorite aspect of Arthurian legend). The movie drags. I connect more with the emotions of Marke than either Tristan or Isolde. It took me several viewings for me to completely understand the storyline. It’s a dark film; as in, there aren’t many sunny scenes. Those that are sunny have a layer of clouds. At the end of this last viewing, I found myself craving a return to Musketeers.

In 2009, Great Lakes Medieval Faire’s theme was the court of Arthur. It was probably the second year I had gone and I remember hearing all the characters on cast and happen to mention “I wonder if they have Tristan and Isolde?”…within hearing of Merlin. Merlin brought the woman playing Isolde over to me. (A few years later, they did Romeo and Juliet and being early to the dance, I was ensured a partner: Puck. I had a wonderful time and that was when I decided I wanted to be on cast someday). It’s funny to watch some of the older videos; because now I recognize people. Oh, hey, I know Morholt (who shouts “For Ireland!” at the end of the match. Arthur says he owns that too…no you don’t). I actually know Puck. And Mordred. And Guinevere.

Next Time: The Last Legion

Sword Fights Can be Dangerous

The Three Musketeers (2011)

Some familiar faces are featured in this slightly modernized version of Dumas’ tale. Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson) stars as D’Artagnan at the age he was originally written, Matthew Macfadyen (we just covered him in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood) is Athos, Luke Evans (he’ll go on to be Bard in the Hobbit trilogy) is Aramis, Mads Mikkelsen (we’ll see him in King Arthur [and we’ll see Ray Stevenson, who plays Porthos in that movie as well], he was the bad guy in Casino Royale and Doctor Strange, and was the father in Rogue One) is Rochefort, James Corden is Plantchet, and Orlando Bloom is Buckingham. Matthew Macfadyen voices the opening narration overlaid little figures depicting that at the dawn of the seventeenth century, after the assassination of his father, young Louis XIII took the throne, surrounded by enemies, most particularly Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal plotted to seize power; all of Europe was a powder keg, ready to explode into a war that would engulf the whole continent. Only a few men could prevent the coming apocalypse: the Three Musketeers.

The film actually opens in Venice, highlighting the skills of each Musketeer. Athos is a ninja in the water, aided by Milady. Aramis is standing on a roof a la Assassin’s Creed [all I know are the video game trailers] and flies down on his prey. Porthos is the big bruiser, the bait to catch their opponent. They retrieve three keys to open Leonardo da Vinci’s fault, on a mission to find plans. Being da Vinci, there is a further booby trap; Milady takes it out by sliding and bending backwards underneath the ammunition (um, how do you do that in a corset?) When the guards arrive, they break out of the vault by blowing a hole in one of the canals, flooding everything. The four cheer their victory, but are interrupted when Buckingham enters, Milady having poisoned their cups. She claims that it’s nothing personal, just good business (where have we heard that before?) Buckingham had a better offer. He looks at the plans; they’re for a war machine, a flying ship.

One year later, father and son are sparing. The father has one thing left to teach his son; his adversary may not always be as noble as D’Artagnan. He and his wife wish their son well and send him off to Paris. On the way, D’Artagnan encounters a man in red with an eye patch who will not apologize after insulting D’Artagnan’s horse. D’Artagnan challenges the man to a duel, but when he turns around, sword drawn, Rochefort shoots him – proving his father’s point. His shot grazes the young man’s arm, but Rochefort is intent on finishing the job, until a carriage stops. Milady comments that the young man is too pretty to kill. They leave him; they have business in Paris.

D’Artagnan makes his way to Paris as well. He spots Rochefort in the crowd and chases after him, running into Athos. They set a duel. He runs into Porthos next, and another duel. He misses Rochefort and finds Aramis next to his horse, issuing a citation. Young D’Artagnan argues with Aramis and sets another duel. At the palace, Milady visits the Cardinal. She informs him that Buckingham has built the war machine and is coming to visit Paris. Louis stops in and asks what Buckingham is wearing, so he’ll be fashionable.

D’Artagnan is waiting for his opponents and when they introduce themselves, realizes that they are the famous three Musketeers. He’s still willing to fight them, but the Cardinal’s guards show up. They outnumber the Musketeers, but when D’Artagnan spots Rochefort, he steps into the fight. He handles himself well, but the other three decide to join, due to the number of opponents. The crowd cheers. In the midst of the spectacular fight, D’Artagnan stops to flirt with a pretty girl. She inquires whether he is always this cocky. Only on Tuesday, he responds, or whenever there are beautiful women. He and the Musketeers are victorious; the three older men have forgotten what it feels like. Constance cautions D’Artagnan that people are not as simple in Paris, then leaves. D’Artagnan informs the Musketeers that Rochefort had tried to kill him, that’s why he was fighting. Any enemy of Rochefort is a friend of the Musketeers. They call the young man reckless, arrogant, and impetuous. He shall stay with them.

At the Musketeers’ home, D’Artagnan meets Plantchet, their servant. He is also a little disappointed to discover that his idols are not as heroic as he imagined. They’re obsolete. They’re warriors with no war to fight. Athos doesn’t believe in much anymore (the result of Milady’s betrayal). They need a great cause to fight for again. They are summoned to the palace to be reprimanded for their actions. Louis is actually quite impressed by their fight; even Anne compliments them for dueling for against forty, as she was told by Constance. She asks her husband to not be too harsh with the Musketeers, after all, boys will be boys. Louis rewards them for their courage, a purse of gold and new clothes. When the Cardinal asks for harsher punishment, Anne speaks up for Louis; the Musketeers are his guard. Louis does ask them to stop fighting, or there will be none of the Cardinal’s guards left.

Richelieu plots with Milady to create a scandal. They’ll plant love letters from Buckingham in Queen Anne’s drawers and steal her prized diamond necklace and plant with Buckingham. Buckingham will be humiliated, King Louis will be outraged, the queen will be executed and war will be declared between England and France. In France’s time of need, the Cardinal will assume the throne.

Buckingham arrives in Paris in his airship, insults the king, implies that he intimately knows the queen, and insults the Musketeers. He speaks to Cardinal regarding peace between England and France while Milady breaks into the queen’s chambers (in a action sequence that is more modern than historically likely) to plant the letters and steal the diamonds (which are guarded by a maze of wires, of course revealed using powder. Again…how do you do that twirl in a corset?) Outside, D’Artagnan speaks to Constance; she keeps turning him down. Louis asks for advice from the young man; the young king is unsure how to speak to his beautiful wife. D’Artagnan counsels the monarch to speak from his heart and show that he cares. Once her mission is complete, Milady reports to Richelieu; she is to accompany Buckingham back to the Tower of London with the diamonds. But she wants an insurance policy, both parties know the other can turn on them. The Cardinal writes a letter, giving his permission for whatever actions are necessary.

One of Anne’s ladies finds the letters and takes them to the king. The Cardinal counsels the monarch to throw a party and ask Anne to wear the diamonds to test whether the letters are real or not. Constance discovers the diamonds missing; the queen goes to the Cardinal (who is in the midst of fencing, skilled where other Cardinals are not), who lies, they both know, but she wanted to see it. Constance goes to D’Artagnan. When he needs a little further convincing to agree to the insane circumstances, she kisses him. He asks who is with him; the three agree. Rochefort calls for them outside, intent to burn the house down. They ride out.

Orlando-Bloom-Duke-BuckinghamThe guards are waiting at the port of Calais. Constance volunteers to be the distraction; she can help here. On the ride to England, the four plot how they will enter the Tower of London. Milady knows they’re on their way; she surmises what the Musketeers will do to Buckingham. The Musketeers know that she knows, so they must do the unexpected. D’Artagnan is their wildcard. He gets caught, but his task is to stall Buckingham. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis arrive with Buckingham’s war balloon and blows the wall apart. D’Artagnan leaps to join his friends. They pick up Milady on the way, thanks to Plantchat. She has the diamonds; she would not trust them anywhere else. Athos forces her to hand over the diamonds and is ready to shoot her. She drops off the ship.

dart roche duel

But their adventure isn’t over yet. The Cardinal had commissioned another war machine built, much larger than Buckingham’s. This one is captained by Rochefort, and he has Constance as his prisoner. Athos urges D’Artagnan to save the girl; at the end of the day, duty to country will not keep you warm at night. France will take care of itself. They’ll do an exchange, the diamonds for Constance. But Rochefort takes D’Artagnan prisoner. The Musketeers fire on the other airship, which gives D’Artagnan the opportunity to take the diamonds. He doesn’t get far. Another explosion knocks him out, allowing Rochefort to take the diamonds again. The Cardinal’s ship lands on Notre Dame and when it seems to be rising again, the Musketeers crash their ship into it. D’Artagnan gets up and chases after Rochefort. They duel intensely on Notre Dame, Rochefort landing several strikes on D’Artagnan, but when Rochefort was getting cocky, D’Artagnan catches his sword and stabs the villain. The diamonds are back in his possession.

They limp the airship back to the palace, crashing into the gardens. The Cardinal is ready to arrest them, but Louis comes out. They spin the tale of Rochefort being a traitor and give credit to the Cardinal, so he can’t speak out against them without revealing his intentions. Anne emerges, wearing the diamonds and all is right in Louis’s world. He intends to make more changes and thanks D’Artagnan for his help. Richelieu tries to recruit the Musketeers, but they’re happy with their jobs. D’Artagnan and Constance kiss and he salutes with the Musketeers.

The film closes on Milady on Buckingham’s ship; they had fished her out of the channel. He has an entire armada behind him and a fleet of airships, bound for France to retrieve what is his. And vengeance on Athos.

It’s a slightly modern take on the classic tale. The fights are wonderful, as to be expected with a Musketeer film. As pointed out, several aspects are unlikely for that time period (like that whole sequence in the beginning and in da Vinci’s vault). D’Artagnan is filled with youthful impetuosity, true to character. Anne and Louis are a happier couple, and younger. Orlando seemed to enjoy playing the bad guy. Mikkelson was devious as he tends to be. I did enjoy his duel with D’Artagnan.

The Musketeer tale holds a special place in my heart; it was the storyline of my local faire the year I was on cast. I was a humble peasant (well, wise woman…translation, witch). Our D’Artagnan was excellent and will probably always be my favorite. Energetic and youthful and he threw himself completely into the action. Watching the duels reminded me of some of the matches at the chess game; like grabbing a sword. Kids, not recommended. (In our case, it was the Duke of Buckingham who did the stunt).

 

I do like this version; high energy and full of adventure, like a swashbuckling movie should be.

 

If you have any questions about faire, let me know!  It’s full of wonderful people and I have lots of good memories!

 

Up Next: We start BBC’s The Musketeers series