This is my second year participating in the Rule, Britannia Blogathon. In 2020, I reviewed the 2002 adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, a movie I ended up liking so much, I now want to read the source material. For the 8th annual event, I chose to write about another film from the 2000s; 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven. This is a movie I have heard about, but never got around to seeing. Until this blogathon, it had sat on my DVR for three years. Since the movie stars Orlando Bloom, a British actor, the Rule, Britannia Blogathon seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally check the film out. One of the few things I knew about this movie was that it had something to do with the Crusades. This is a time period I know very little about. However, this didn’t stop me from giving the film a fair chance. What did I think of this 2005 title? Keep reading if you want to find out!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: As I said in the introduction, Orlando Bloom’s involvement in this project is one of the reasons why I chose to review Kingdom of Heaven. Prior to watching the film, I had seen the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, where Orlando consistently portrayed Will Turner. While the character of Balian is similar to Will, each role is distinct. To an extent, Orlando’s performance in Kingdom of Heaven reminded me of Vincent Perez’s portrayal of Yanko from Swept from the Sea. While Balian is a masculine character, he also displayed a gentle charm. A good example is when Balian arrives in Jerusalem. He gives his prize horse to the servant of his opponent. When the servant asks why Balian would make this decision, Balian replies how he doesn’t want the horse to suffer.
In Kingdom of Heaven, Eva Green portrayed a queen named Sibylla. Despite appearing in the movie for a limited amount of time, I did enjoy watching her performance! I noticed how fluid Eva’s emotions were. This allowed her to adapt to any situation her character faced. It also helps that she was able to excel, acting wise, alongside her co-stars. Another character I wish appeared in the film more was King Baldwin IV. Portrayed by Edward Norton, this character was a leper. Therefore, he was completely covered and wore a mask. Edward’s use of body movement and expressive eyes make up for the lack of facial expressions. His approach to his role made King Baldwin IV a compelling character to watch!
The scenery: “Sword and sandal” movies are known for featuring breath-taking scenery. Kingdom of Heaven also brings beautiful scenery to the table, showcasing desert, oceanic, and forest landscapes. Toward the beginning of the movie, Balian resided in the French countryside. This area was surrounded by deep green forestry, the ground and trees lightly covered in snow. As Balian travels to Messina, the city is met with a clear, blue ocean. The hue of the water beautifully complimented the warm sandstone of the nearby buildings. While Jerusalem is in the middle of a desert, palm trees brought a pop of color to the environment. These plants helped make Jerusalem appear as an oasis.
The historical accuracy: I’m not familiar with this particular period in history. But based on the limited information I do know, the movie appeared to be historically accurate. Throughout the film, knight’s armor could be seen. Helmets, swords, and other related gear adopted an older style. Some of the swords boasted jewels, with Balian’s sword displaying a giant ruby. Even the attack towers from one of the film’s battles looked as if it came directly from the time of the Crusades. As I’ve said about other period films, details like the ones I mentioned show how much the creative team cared about the presentation of their project!
What I didn’t like about film:
Sibylla’s unclear motives: During Balian’s time in Jerusalem, Sibylla becomes romantically interested in him. But she’s already married, a fact that Balian himself is aware of. Balian’s reason for going to Jerusalem was to seek forgiveness for his and his deceased wife’s sins. After meeting Sibylla, he, more often than not, doesn’t object to Sibylla’s romantic interest for him. I was left confused on what her motives were for wanting to be with Balian. At times, I wondered if Sibylla’s situation was similar to Rose’s from Titanic, simply stuck in a loveless relationship and desperately looking for a way out. Other times, I thought Sibylla was attempting to seduce Balian toward sin. I wish these motives were clarified in the script.
A limited incorporation of religion/faith: Because Kingdom of Heaven takes place around the time of the Crusades, I was expecting religion/faith to be one of the cornerstones of this story. While the topic is included in the film, its incorporation is very limited. Before watching this movie, I thought the story was going to be similar to 1959’s Ben-Hur, with the protagonist trying to live his life as a man of the people and of faith. But we never get to see Balian’s internal struggle with these responsibilities. Instead, the audience sees Balian resolve smaller non-religious conflicts which lead to a much bigger conflict. Even though people can be seen praying, there is more to religion/faith than prayer. The script relied more on who would rule Jerusalem than how religion/faith played a role within that world.
A more episodic story: When it comes to “sword and sandal” movies, there is usually an overarching conflict the characters work to resolve over the course of the story. But in Kingdom of Heaven, most of the story is episodic. As I said earlier, Balian wants to go to Jerusalem to seek forgiveness for his and his deceased wife’s sins. Once he has achieved his goal, he moves on to another conflict that is resolved within a short amount of time. This is how the story plays out for about the first half of the movie. There is a major conflict that receives a lot of attention in the film’s second half. However, it feels more like a climax than an event the characters are working towards.
My overall impression:
Two years ago, I reviewed 1959’s Ben-Hur, a classic “sword and sandal” film. Despite seeing it for the first time, I was over the moon by the strength of the movie’s quality. With Kingdom of Heaven, I didn’t feel the same way. Yes, the 2005 title is a fine, well-made production. But there were times I was confused as I followed along with the story. Like I mentioned in my review, Sibylla’s motives for being romantically interested in Balian were not made clear. However, this is one example of my confusion. Even though this movie was released over ten years ago, I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But I will say that something happens toward the end of the film that left me wondering if everything the characters worked for was worth it. As someone who knows very little about the Crusades, I was hoping to use my movie viewing experience as a learning opportunity. While I did learn some information, I feel there’s far more I need to discovery. I’ve heard there is a director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. If this information is true, maybe I’ll check it out and see which version I like more.
Overall score: 7.2 out of 10
Have you seen Kingdom of Heaven? What is your favorite “sword and sandal” film? Tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!