Strange eventful histories: the Middle Ages in the cinema

Airlie, S. (2018) Strange eventful histories: the Middle Ages in the cinema. In: Linehan, P., Nelson, J. L. and Costambeys, M. (eds.) The Medieval World: Second Edition. Series: Routledge worlds. Routledge: Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY, pp. 195-219. ISBN 9781138848689

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Movies can be dangerous for medievalists. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) no sooner has a crusty tweed-jacketed professor of medieval history begun his lecture on the film’s lack of historical accuracy than he is cut down by a mounted knight in armour who gallops off, leaving the professor’s distraught wife to call the police to track down the villain from the age of chivalry. In The Fisher King (1991), the Robin Williams character finds that his obsession with the Middle Ages leads to him living rough on the streets of New York, streets filled with hallucinatory visions of medieval knights. Yet movies remain strangely seductive. No less a figure than Georges Duby hoped to see his book on the battle of Bouvines filmed and fretted on the problems of representing the daily lived reality of the distant past on the big screen. How would he be able to answer Gerard Depardieu’s questions on the horse-riding, eating and dating habits of Philip Augustus? How one relishes the prospect of the dapper professor encountering the great figure of Depardieu or the svelte Nastassja Kinski, whom Duby’s musings led him to see as Joan, countess of Flanders. Sadly, these encounters never took place; Bouvines remained unfilmed and Duby concluded that film did not yet possess a form or a language capable of transmitting historians’ ideas of past societies (Duby 1991: 185–6).

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Airlie, Dr Stuart
Authors: Airlie, S.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History

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