The ten films below were selected by your Guide for their rare ability to blend effective drama with a realistic sense of medieval times. Some are more accurate than others, but watching any one will take you on an eye-opening journey to the Middle Ages.
Do you have a favorite "realistic" medieval film not listed here? Come to the forum and recommend it!
1957; directed by Ingmar Bergman; stars Max von Sydow. Returning to Sweden during the plague, a Crusader plays chess with Death in order to buy time to find answers to his questions about life, the soul, and the nature of faith. An extraordinary film that offers both a realistic representation of plague-ridden Scandinavia and a fantastic exploration of the medieval psyche.
1928; Directed by Carl-Theodor Dreyer; stars Maria Falconetti. Disturbing and powerful, this silent masterpiece focuses on the trial of Joan in what is unmistakably the most compelling film about the Maid ever produced. A must-see for anyone interested in Joan, the path of conscience, or classic cinema. The Criterion Collection version includes a breathtaking score by Richard Einhorn and the Voices of Light.
1986; directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud; stars Sean Connery and Christian Slater. Based on Umberto Eco's surprisingly successful book, the film focuses on a Franciscan friar (loosely based on William of Occam) and his investigation into a series of murders at a monastery in 14th century Italy. Connery is excellent as Brother William.
1984; directed by Daniel Vigne; stars Nathalie Baye and Gerard Depardieu. The true story of a callow peasant who abandons his family and returns years later a changed man. But is he really Martin Guerre? This French classic realistically portrays late medieval Europe in atmosphere and detail.
1989; directed by Kenneth Branagh; stars Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm and Paul Scofield. While the Olivier version is preferred by many fans, I find Branagh's interpretation cinematically superior, particularly with regards to the overwhelming battle sequence. A superb cast and moving score increase its impact.
1938; directed by Sergei Eisenstein; stars Andrei Abrikosov, Nikolai Cherkasov and Nikolai Okhlopkov. This significant film is just as interesting for its anti-Nazi propaganda as it is for its stunning battle sequence on the frozen lake. A marvelous piece of cinema from a great Russian film-maker. (See it in Russian on YouTube
1968; directed by Anthony Harvey; stars Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins. In spite of a few notable errors, this intense dynastic drama is generally accurate in detail and, more importantly, perfectly captures the tension and turmoil of Britain's greatest dysfunctional family. Hepburn's Oscar for her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine was well-deserved.
1966; directed by Fred Zinneman; stars Paul Scofield, Leo McKern and Wendy Hiller. Scofield won an Academy Award for his profound study of Thomas More in this fascinating and forceful examination of integrity and politics.
1970; directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini; stars Franco Citti. Some have found Pasolini's earthy interpretation of Boccaccio's masterpiece a little too realistic, but its presentation of medieval Italy and its tribute to a great medieval author make it hard to ignore. There is more in the message than mere eroticism and shock value for anyone willing to look for it.
1990; directed by Franco Zeffirelli; stars Mel Gibson, Alan Bates, Glenn Close and Helena Bonham-Carter. Although both Branagh's and Olivier's versions may be superior films, neither offers as medieval an interpretation as Zeffirelli's. Gibson is solidly believable, and Bonham-Carter turns in a shattering performance as Ophelia.