Middle Ages in film  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Medieval films imagine and portray the Middle Ages through the visual, audio and thematic forms of cinema.



The 20th century is not the first to create images of life during medieval times. The Middle Ages ended over five centuries ago and each century has imagined, portrayed and depicted the Middle Ages through painting, architecture, poetry, music and novel. In the 20th century, film has defined Medieval history perhaps more so than any other medium. While the conclusions of academic research and findings of archeology have advanced knowledge of the Middle Ages, nothing has had more widespread influence on more people than the images created by film. Just as most peoples perceptions of the American Wild West were drawn from cinema, versus source material or academic research, so too most peoples perceptions of the Middle Ages were influenced by the powerful narratives and images of film.

If film was the most influential medium, Hollywood was the most influential image maker. Hollywood films reached a global audience through big budget productions, and equally big distribution and advertising channels. Hollywood adapted works of the Romanticism movement to the screen, seamlessly forging a bridge between Romanticized historical novels, operas, paintings, and music of the 19th century onto film in the 20th. The ideals of the Romantics were fully realized on the screen in such influential works as Ivanhoe (1952) and El Cid (1961) which belong to the same late Romantic culture in their music, imagery and themes.

Strong cinematic images of the Middle Ages can be found in European films. Influential European films included Fritz Lang's two-film series Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (1924), Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), while in France there were many versions of the story of Joan of Arc.

The first Medieval film was also one of the earliest films ever made, Jeanne d'Arc released in 1899. The first Robin Hood film dates to 1907 and was called Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages (5th to 11th centuries)

Middle Ages (1000-1453)

West Europe


East Europe

Select films

At over 900 films listed by Harty in 1999, it is beyond the scope of this article to create a complete list. Listed here are some of the best and most significant films in both quality and historical accuracy as determined by a consensus poll of medieval students and teachers.<ref>The Best Medieval Films, from Mediev-l List and Paul Halsall</ref>

Date Era Title IMDB Country Reviews Notes
1928 1431 The Passion of Joan of Arc [1] France [2] Joan of Arc. The film was so powerful that it was initially banned in Britain.
1938 13th c. The Adventures of Robin Hood [3] USA [4] Prince John and the Norman Lords begin oppressing the Saxon masses in King Richard's absence, a Saxon lord fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla army.
1938 13th c. Alexander Nevsky [5] USSR [6] Russians defend against invading German Teutonic Knights during the Northern Crusades of the 13th century.
1957 13th / 14th c. The Seventh Seal [7] Sweden [8] About a knight returning from a crusade who plays a chess game with Death during the Black Plague.
1960 13th c. The Virgin Spring [9] Sweden [10] Story of Christian medieval Swedish family whose daughter is raped by vagabonds. Directed by Ingmar Bergman.
1961 11th c. El Cid [11] USA [12] Epic film of the legendary Spanish hero.
1964 12th c. Becket [13] UK [14] Based on Jean Anouilh's play about Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket and King Henry II of England.
1965 11th c. The War Lord [15] USA [16] Based on Leslie Stevens' The Lovers. Charlton Heston is a knight invoking the "right" to sleep with another man's bride on their wedding night.
1966 16th c. A Man for All Seasons [17] UK [18] The story of St. Thomas More.
1966 15th c. Andrei Rublev [19] USSR [20] Life of Andrei Rublev the great 15th century Russian icon painter (Andrey Tarkovsky).
1968 12th c. The Lion in Winter [21] UK [22] King Henry II's three sons all want to inherit the throne. His sons and wife Eleanor of Aquitaine variously plot. Based ten years after the events of the Revolt of 1173-1174.
1976 7th c. Mohammad, Messenger of God [23] UK/Syria [24] Also known as The Message. Tagline: The Story of Islam.
1982 16th c. The Return of Martin Guerre [25] France [26] Fictional story, based on actual trial records about an impostor in 16th century Southern France.
1986 14th c. The Name of the Rose [27] France/Italy/Germany [28] Based on the novel by Umberto Eco.
1988 14th c. The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey [29] New Zealand [30] Seeking relief from the Black Death, guided by a boy's vision, people dig a tunnel from 14th century England to 20th century New Zealand.

See also

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