The Middle Ages and the Movies: Eight Key Films

Reaktion. Jul. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9781789145526. $22.50. FILM
Many people have constructed their personal ideas of the past through what they’ve seen on film, and this poses the question, is the historical content of such films accurate? Bartlett (emeritus, medieval history, Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland) has chosen eight stylistically diverse films set in the Middle Ages to explore this issue, including The Seventh Seal, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Braveheart, and Alexander Nevsky. One of his main questions is whether historical accuracy is important or even possible in films. Although this is clearly a work of history rather than film commentary, Bartlett offers a fair amount of informed criticism where these films inevitably fall factually short. He also provides multiple examples of how these films frequently mirror the morals of their own time, as much as they try to recreate the past, leading to even more divergence from any given source material. Bartlett’s writing is often rather dry and academic, yet his knowledge of the Middle Ages is beyond reproach. He focuses on one film at a time, though deftly interlacing and comparing them when it reinforces his point.
VERDICT An intriguing and detailed discussion best left to historians and devoted film buffs.
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