Contact:
Dr. Shelley Wolbrink
Director, Medieval & Renaissance Studies Program
Professor of History
Office: (417) 873-7387
swolbrin@drury.edu

The Best Medieval Films

The Lion in Winter, Becket, El Cid: The list goes on and on

Best Medieval Movies (by historical accuracy [Halsall]) These are not necessarily completely accurate, but do try to stick to the period and known facts:

Mohammad, Messenger of God/The Message (1977)
Lebanon-UK, Religious, 180, Rated PG, Color
Director: Moustapha Akkad; Cast includes: Anthony Quinn, Irene Pappas
-In accordance with Islamic law, Muhammad is not actually shown on screen.

Becket (1964)
US, Historical/Drama, 148, No rating, Color
Director: Peter Glenville; Cast includes: Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton
-Based on Jean Anouilh's play about Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket and his English King, Henry II. Although there is no historical data to support the suggestion, Anouilh sees a homosexual relationship. Superb film.

The Lion in Winter
(1968)
UK, Historical/Drama, 135, No rating, Color
Director: Anthony Harvey: Cast includes: Katherine Hepburn (Eleanor), Peter O'Toole (Henry II), Anthony Hopkins (Richard the Lionheart)
-Probably the greatest of all "medieval movies." For sheer enjoyment.

A Man for All Seasons (1966)
UK, Drama, 120, No rating, Color
Director: Fred Zinnemann: Cast includes: Paul Scofield
-The story of St. Thomas More as a man of conscience. Won six Oscars.

The Return of Martin Guerre (1982) [Alt: La Retour de Martin Guerre]
France, Historical, 111, No rating, Color
Director: Daniel Vigne, Jean Claude Carrierè: Cast includes: Gerard Depardieu
-Based on trial records about an impostor in 16th century Southern France. An excellent movie, with solid historical advice given by Natalie Zemon Davis to the film makers. Try to see subtitled version, not the dubbed one.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) [Alt: La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc]
France, Historical, 77, No rating B&W
Director: Carl Dreyer; Cast includes: Renée Maria Falconetti
-held by Pauline Kael to be the greatest performance ever captured on film. The film was so powerful that it was initially banned in England. Based on actual trial transcripts.

The Mission (1986)
UK, Drama, 125, Rated PG, Color
Director: Roland Joffe; Cast includes: Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson
-The story of the Jesuit mission in Paraguay. Screenwriter Robert Bolt.

  Best Medieval Movies (as films) [Halsall - In no particular order]:

Ben-Hur (1959)
US, Religious/Historical, 212, No rating, Color
Director: William Wyler: Cast includes: Charleton Heston, Stephen Boyd
-Based on Lew Wallace's book. The story of Judah Ben-Hur and his boyhood friend Messala.

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Russia, War/Historical, 107, No rating B&W
Director: Sergei Eisenstein, D.I. Vassillev; Cast includes: Nikolai Cherkassov
-The repelling of a German invasion in the 13th century. Score by Prokofiev. One of the great movies.

Andrei Rublev (1966)
Russia, Historical, 185, No rating, Color, B&W
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
-about the 15th-century icon painter.
-[From Mediev-l List "Worst Medieval Films" Discussion] On the other side of the ledger, has anyone else seen Tarkowski's Andrei Rublev? I don't know enough about Medieval Russia to judge it. It seemed to do a reasonable job portraying the period, and is cinematically outstanding, although Rublev's character struck me as a bit too modern.

The War Lord (1965)
US, War/Historical/Drama, 123, No rating, Color
Director: Franklin Schaffner; Cast includes: Charlton Heston
-Based on Leslie Stevens' The Lovers. Heston is a knight invoking the "right" to sleep with another man's bride on their wedding night. (See Braveheart for the same myth)
-[From Mediev-l List "Worst Medieval Films" Discussion] -I must protest at the inclusion of The Warlord in this discussion. it is a very interesting film which Heston made after his success with Ben Hur and chose to do things like wear a bowl-cut hairdo which his PR men told him would ruin his reputation as a sex-symbol. Aside from the ius primae noctis, for which an interesting rationale is provided, the film is really quite realistic (the claustrophobic quarters of a dungeon fortress) and very interesting. recently re-released and worth a look.

The Seventh Seal (1957)
Sweden, Drama, 96, No rating B&W
Director: Ingmar Bergman: Cast includes: Max Von Sydow
-Set in 14th-century Sweden, about a knight returning from a crusade playing a chess game with death. The film made Bergman famous.

Becket (1964)
US, Historical/Drama, 148, No rating, Color
Director: Peter Glenville; Cast includes: Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton
-Based on Jean Anouilh's play about Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket and his English King, Henry II. Although there is no historical data to support the suggestion, Anouilh sees a homosexual relationship. Superb film.

The Lion in Winter (1968)
UK, Historical/Drama, 135, No rating, Color
Director: Anthony Harvey: Cast includes: Katherine Hepburn (Eleanor), Peter O'Toole (Henry II), Anthony Hopkins (Richard the Lionheart)
-Probably the greatest of all "medieval movies" for sheer enjoyment.

A Man for All Seasons (1966)
UK, Drama, 120, No rating, Color
Director: Fred Zinnemann: Cast includes: Paul Scofield
-The story of St. Thomas More as a man of conscience. Won six Oscars.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
US, Adventure, 102, No rating, Color
Director: Michael Curtiz, Willim Keighley ; Cast includes: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains

The Advocate [Alt: The Hour of the Pig]
US (1994): Historical/Drama/Crime
Director: David Thompson: Cast includes: Colin Firth
-A 15th-century lawyer defends a pig put on trial for murder.

The Return of Martin Guerre (1982) [Alt: La Retour de Martin Guerre]
France, Historical, 111, No rating, Color
Director: Daniel Vigne, Jean Claude Carrierè: Cast includes: Gerard Depardieu
-Based on trial records about an impostor in 16th century Southern France. An excellent movie, with solid historical advice given by Natalie Zemon Davis to the film makers. Try to see subtitled version, not the dubbed one.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) [Alt: La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc]
France, Historical, 77, No rating B&W
Director: Carl Dreyer; Cast includes: Renée Maria Falconetti
-held by Pauline Kael to be the greatest performance ever captured on film. The film was so powerful that it was initially banned in England. Based on actual trial transcripts.

El Cid (1961)
US, War/Biography, 184, No rating, Color
Director: Anthony Mann; Cast includes: Sophia Loren (Chimene), Charlton Heston (Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar El Cid), John Fraser (King Alfonso).
-Quite good, in fact.

The Name of the Rose
(1986)
France-Germany-Italy, Mystery/Historical, 130, Rated R, Color
Director: Cast includes: Sean Connery
-Based on the novel by Umberto Eco.

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)
New Zealand, Fantasy/Adventure, 92, Rated PG, Color, B&W
Director: Vincent Ward; Cast includes: Bruce Lyons, Chris Hayward
-An odd story, but a good film. About an English boy who leads a group of villagers into a tunnel to escape the plague, and emerges in a modern city (Auckland?)

The Virgin Spring (1959)
Sweden, Drama, 88, No rating B&W
Director: Ingmar Bergman: Cast includes: Max Von Sydow
Story of religious medieval Swedish family whose daughter is raped by vagrants. Oscar for best foreign movie.

The Mission (1986)
UK, Drama, 125, Rated PG, Color
Director: Roland Joffe; Cast includes: Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson
-The story of the Jesuit mission in Paraguay. Screenwriter Robert Bolt.

Related Links:
Worst Medieval Films List