The Best Medieval Screen Drama
By a customer
, 04 Nov 2010
In the eleventh century Europe was a patchwork of feudal states extending from the Mediterranean to the shores of the North Sea. Powerful Dukes exerted life and death control over their primitive subjects. One such, Duke William of Ghent, held a coastal area in Normandy. To protect the fens and marshes of a troubled corner of his domain the Duke sent a troop of warriors led by his most trusted knight, Chrysagon de La Crux. This Norman War Lord was charged to impose the Dukes will on his vassals and to protect their settlements from Frisian raiders who crossed the waters to plunder and pillage. (Prologue) I first saw this film on its release in 1965 and the impression it made on me way back then still remains to this day. Based on the 1956 stage play, The Lovers, by Leslie Stevens, it is in my opinion one of Charlton Heston's most impressive screen appearances and also one of the best, most literate, medieval dramas ever to be seen on film. The battle sequences, costumes, settings, and period ambience are all amazingly realistic. Inexplicably, it has taken forty five years for it to be released in the UK for home viewing, well after the decease of most of the principal cast members. The production was available some years ago in the USA on VHS and later DVD, but was soon discontinued. Also, most surprisingly, the film has hardly ever been shown on British television either. The BBC initially screened it in November 1973 and then again in December 1993. Channel 5 aired it (late night) in May 2002. To the best of my knowledge these have been the only UK TV broadcasts. Directed by the late Franklin Schaffner, the production is moody and magnificent, despite interference from studio executives. The subdued, brooding colour photography by Russell Metty and Jerome Moross' superbly evocative orchestral score are delights to be savoured. Who could ever forget the powerful depiction of the pagan, sacred wedding, ritual procession as Bronwyn (the beautiful Rosemary Forsyth) is carried, crowned with moon daisies, on a ceremonial litter to the bedchamber of Lord Chrysagon (Charlton Heston) in order for him to exercise his feudal, 'droit de seigneur.' There are sterling performances too from the other cast members, particularly, Guy Stockwell as Chrysagon's jealous and vindictive younger brother Draco; Richard Boone as Bors the doughty and faithful henchman to his liege lord (Heston), and the veteran Welsh stage actor Maurice Evans as the local priest who is not altogether unwilling to turn a blind eye (and indeed even to indulge himself]) in some of the time honoured pre-Christian practices of the villagers. These are superbly recreated with an authentic (almost Frazerian) attention to the minutiae of Pagan belief and custom. This DVD release (from Eureka Entertainment) would appear to be a straight transfer from VHS tape, so might not be of the highest audio/visual quality. In 2008 a completely re-mastered version was released in Germany by Koch Media. Entitled, Die Normannen Kommen, this DVD restored the wide screen Panavision effect for the small screen and included bonus material plus the original cinematic trailer. It can be purchased from amazon de. Nevertheless, this new DVD release is very much to be welcomed and will now make a (hitherto) sadly neglected film available to the wider public. Highly recommended viewing for all Charlton Heston fans.
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