How historically accurate is the movie the Kingdom of Heaven?

Kingdom of Heaven

The Kingdom of Heaven is a 2005 historical epic directed by Ridley Scott, who directed some of the most memorable movies of recent decades such as Gladiator. The historical epic was produced in Spain and Morocco. The movie starred Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons, among others. Academy Award winner William Monahan scripted the movie. It was one of the most anticipated releases in 2005, but the theatrical release did not meet expectations. The motion picture was something of a box-office flop and was not liked by the critics who complained that it felt incomplete and fragmentary.

Most of the movie's problems were a result of studio meddling in the film's final cut. Ridley Scott was forced to cut his original version of the film to satisfy the studio. He did this against his will, and these cuts gutted the movie. Later, Scott was allowed to release a director's cut of the movie on Blu-ray and DVD. The new cut included many scenes that Scott was forced to delete and is fifty minutes longer than the theatrical release. The director's cut was a dramatic improvement and was widely praised by the critics. It is now regarded as the definitive version of the movie. This article evaluates the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven and its historical accuracy instead of the dramatically inferior theatrical version.

What is the real story that Kingdom of Heaven is based on?

The aftermath of the Battle of Hattin from a medieval manuscript

The British director’s movie's followed the decline and fall of the First Kingdom of Jerusalem (1091-1087). The Crusaders established this kingdom after they had captured the city in 1081. The kingdom was created by Christian knights and soldiers who took a religious vow to recapture the Holy Land's sacred sites (modern Israel). The Kingdom of Jerusalem had been under near-constant attack from the Arabs and Muslims. Jerusalem is significant to three religious: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.[1]

The movie captures the constant and brutal conflict between the Christians and the Muslims in the Holy Land. The Crusaders were motivated to fight in the Holy Land out of religious fervor. They genuinely believed that they could save their souls from eternal damnation by fighting the Muslims. The movie concentrates on the growing threat posed to the Kingdom of Jerusalem by the Ayyubid Sultanate's rise. This was a kingdom founded by Saladin, who deposed the last Fatimid Caliph in Egypt and later captured Syria. He was the most powerful Islamic ruler in the region in a century. The movie captures the threat posed by Saladin to the Crusaders because he was often regarded as a military genius.

Scott’s movie accurately depicts the lead up to the Battle of Hattin (1187). While the Battle of Hattin is one of the most significant battles in world history, it was a one-sided slaughter. Scott does not spend much time on the Hattin, and the movie's climax focuses on Jerusalem's defense. Scott's decision makes a lot of sense because Jerusalem's defense is a far more compelling story.[2]

Scott's depiction of the Crusaders near-annihilation at Hattin, and Saladin's siege of Jerusalem and Scott's are fairly accurate. The capture of Jerusalem was a complete disaster for the Crusaders, and they lost most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the movie, this is shown as leading to the start of the Third Crusade and an attempt by mainly English and French Crusaders to recapture Jerusalem.[3] This is also historically accurate. In general, the movie's historical background and its portrayal of major events such as sieges and battles are not only accurate but extraordinarily well done.

How realistic is the portrayal of Balian of Ibelin in Kingdom of Heaven?

Balian of Ibelin surrendering Jerusalem to Saladin from a 15th-century manuscript

The main character of the Balian who is played by the English actor Orlando Bloom. The screenwriter loosely based this character on a real-life character. In the movie, Balian is a young blacksmith who decides to go on Crusade when he meets his natural father, a knight, and plays by Liam Neeson. Balian is shown as both an illegitimate and a humble young man who goes on a Crusade to help to secure his wife’s salvation after her suicide. The character played by Bloom was based on Balian of Ibelin's. Unlike the movie version, he was a member of the nobility and the legitimate son of his father, Barisan of Ibelin. He also was not a blacksmith.[4]

Instead of using Bailin's birth father, the movie created a character, Godfrey of Ibelin, played by Liam Neeson. Neeson has played this role (the father-like mentor who dies in the movie) several times. In the movie, Neeson's character knights his son right before his death. By recognizing Bailian as his son, Bloom's character inherits his father's holding in the Holy Land. In reality, an illegitimate son's knighting would not have been legally possible in the Middle Ages without some dispensation from a monarch or the Catholic Church. Ridley Scott introduces Balian as living in France, but his origins are unknown, and his family may have been Italian.

The character is also shown as making his way to the Holy Land, and he did make this journey at some time. His father in the motion picture is shown to be a crusader, and this was indeed the case. The motion picture shows Godfrey of Ibelin as a noble knight who went on Crusade for religious reasons. Balian's father was one of the most powerful lords in the Crusader States. He ruled the County of Jaffa (modern Israel). He was a vassal of the King of Jerusalem .[5] In the movie, we see Balian going on crusade with his father, who died before arriving in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Balian had likely been living in the Crusader kingdom since he was a young man. He was not the only son of Barisan of Ibelin and was, in reality, his youngest son. His father gave Balian a large land area and a castle, and he too became a vassal of the King of Jerusalem. [6] He would have been very familiar with the region's culture and politics. Scott's depiction makes sense from a storytelling perspective. Most viewers would have been unfamiliar with the Crusader Nation. Balian provides a window into this world for the audience. While it is inaccurate from a historical perspective, Scott can introduce this bizarre world to a modern audience.

Balian is portrayed as a young man in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the real Balian was already a mature man by this time period. The movie does correctly show that in the 1180s, Balian was a major figure in the Kingdom of Jerusalem's politics. He was very involved in the power struggles that greatly weakened the realm. In the movie, the hero struggles to save the Kingdom from various factions interested in power. In reality, Balian was quite Machiavellian and sought to increase his own power and influence at his rivals' expense. However, the movie accurately shows that Bloom's character was a great and brave knight.

The movie's credit does a good job accurately portraying Jerusalem's defense by Balian and his forces. Balian was an outstanding swordsman, a brave leader, and an outstanding tactician in the movie. Bloom's character became the commander of the Christian garrison of Jerusalem before the Battle of Hattin. He devised the defense of Jerusalem that effectively beat off countless attacks by the Muslims. Balian was the commander, but the movie diminishes the importance of other leaders who were also pivotal in Jerusalem's defense. Balian is essentially a composite character for this battle.

Balian and Saladin reached a negotiated settlement that ended the bloody siege. This is accurate. The Christians did agree to surrender the city on terms in 1187. In one of the most memorable scenes, we see the main character leading the Christians safely out of Jerusalem as he hands it over to Saladin. This actually happened, and the Muslims did allow the garrison and the Christian population to leave the city unmolested. After Jerusalem's surrender to the Muslim Sultan, he returns to Europe with Sybilla in the movie. He is shown as living happily as a blacksmith in his native village and refusing English knights' entreaties to go on the Third Crusade in one scene.

After the fall of Jerusalem, Balian stayed in the region and became one of the Crusader states' leaders. He actually participated in the Third Crusades and was a key advisor to the legendary Richard the Lionheart. Scott shows the main character as having good relations with Muslims, and indeed, in real-life, Balian of Ibelin had a good relationship with Saladin.

Who was Sibylla of Jerusalem?

In Kingdom of Heaven, Balian has a passionate affair with Sibylla of Jerusalem. She was a real-life character and a King of Jerusalem and later became Queen of the Kingdom after she married Guy Lusignan.[7] She was a potent woman and had an extraordinary amount of influence among the Crusaders. I

In real life, she was married to Guy de Lusignan (1150-1194), but Sibylla did not have an affair with Balian. Additionally, Sybilla did not return to Europe and live in a remote village, as shown in the movie's climax. Balian was married to a Byzantine Princess, and Sibylla remained married to Guy and never left him. Ultimately, she succumbed to an epidemic while campaigning with Guy in 1190, dying at thirty.[8] The love affair between Sibylla of Jerusalem and Balian, while an important part of the movie, was complete fiction.

Did Kingdom of Heaven accurately depict Guy de Lusignan?

Ridley Scott in 2015

One of the key characters in the Kingdom of Heaven is Guy de Lusignan. He was a real-life historical character and critical in the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He is the villain in Kingdom of Heaven. He had been expelled from France for murder, and he had fled to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Guy later married Sibylla and became King of Jerusalem after the death of Sibylla's brother. He is shown as a radical anti-Muslim in the motion picture and is closely aligned with the Knights Templars.[9] In the movie, Guy repeatedly made horrible decisions. Each of the decisions was driven by his hatred of Muslims and his desire to expel them from the Holy Land. Essentially, his choices led to the Battle of Hattin, the slaughter of Jerusalem's army, and the Crusaders' expulsion from Jerusalem.

In one of the movie's key scenes, Guy and his allies attack a Muslim caravan. They then kill every man, woman, and child in the caravan to violate their agreement with Saladin. This attack forced Saladin to invade the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was a disaster for the Crusaders. This attack occurred, and Guy’s massacre of innocent Muslims provoked Saladin. This incident precipitated the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslims.[10]

The movie shows Balian and Guy as implacable enemies, and this is only partially true. The men in real life had a complicated relationship. Occasionally, they were enemies and, other times, allies. In the movie, there is a duel between Balian and Guy. Balian easily defeats Guy and utterly humiliates him. Balian's victory elevated him and disgraced Guy. While it's enjoyable to watch Balian school Guy, it is unlikely that the duel ever took place. There are no records of Balian and Guy engaging in hand to hand combat.

Moreover, after the fall of Jerusalem, Guy still had a claim on the Crusader states' kingship through his wife, Sybilla. He remained in the former Kingdom of Jerusalem and began a civil war in a desperate bid to become king but was defeated. Ultimately, he was forced to flee from the Holy Land. Despite his repeated failures, he was able, after he fled, to seize control of the island of Cyprus and become its lord. He even established a dynasty, and his successors ruled the islands as kings until the Ottomans took control in 1476.[11]

Is the Kingdom of Heaven realistic?

Despite its rocky start, Kingdom of Heaven after the Director’s Cut release has been hailed by critics and discovered by audiences. Remarkably, the movie does a good job balancing historical accuracy and telling a story. The historical background and major events such as the Battle of Hattin are portrayed fairly. It does a good explaining the decline and fall of the First Kingdom of Jerusalem. The nature of warfare at the time is shown very well. Moreover, it does present a realistic portrait of Saladin. In essence, this the type of historical accuracy most movies should strive for.

The Kingdom of Heaven does take substantial liberties with the historical figures involved in the Fall of Jerusalem, but these choices made a lot of sense for a movie. Balian, Sibylla, and Neeson's character were either heavily fictionalized or created specifically for the movie, but each of them is critical to tell the story. Balian, in addition to being the hero, serves as a guide for the viewer. Through his eyes, the viewers are introduced to the Crusades, learn about the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and are shown the divisions with the Kingdom that lead to its destruction. Sibylla also helps the viewer see the decaying Kingdom and humanizes the King of Jerusalem, played by Edward Norton.

Critical opinions of Kingdom of Heaven are pretty mixed. Whatever you do, avoid the theatrical release version and watch the longer edition released on blu-ray.

Further Reading

Bernard Hamilton, "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem," in Medieval Women, edited by Derek Baker. (London, Ecclesiastical History Society, 1978).

Hindley, Geoffrey. Saladin: Hero of Islam (London, Pen & Sword, 2007).

Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (London, Routledge, 2000).

References

  1. Runciman, Steve. A History of the Crusades, vol. II: The Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1952), p 167
  2. Runciman, p 189
  3. Runciman, p 189
  4. William of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea. E. A. Babcock and A. C. Krey, trans (Columbia, Columbia University Press, 1943), p 114
  5. William of Tyre, p 201
  6. William of Tyre, p 212
  7. Bernard Hamilton, "Women in the Crusader States: The Queens of Jerusalem," in Medieval Women, edited by Derek Baker. (London, Ecclesiastical History Society, 1978), p 17
  8. William of Tyre, p. 178
  9. Runciman, p 212
  10. Runciman, p 213
  11. Edbury, Peter. The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191–1374 (Cambridge, 1991), p 22