The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England and the Movies that Should Come From Them

I recently finished the book, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, by Dan Jones. I’m now reading his follow-up book on The War of the Roses. Jones is an engaging writer, who mixes a type of informal academic content with a informal narrative style. This combination of formality and informality makes for an informative and engaging read. I’d recommend this book. The book starts around 1066 and continues to 1399, spanning the length of the Plantagenet reign of England. This reign started with William the Conqueror (or Stephen or Henry II–it’s a bit confusing) and continues to Richard II.

I learned so much reading this book about English history and the monarchs of England and Europe. For instance, all of these royals are basically murderous gangsters. Also, there’s no drama like family drama, even when family drama includes armies, castles, and treasures.

However, as I read, I couldn’t help but think of all the historical moments that could make interesting films. Period pieces, action films, romances, or something else. Here’s a list of some possible historical moments from English history and Dan Jones’ book, which might make a good film. I’ve listed a few films here and there connected to these figures and historical moments.

Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine

Eleanor is the most interesting historical figure in this book that I didn’t know much about before reading it–or, if I did, I had forgotten. She is so interesting and led such a fascinating life that I can’t believe there isn’t more cinematic representation of her. Apparently, there is some, notably, the film, The Lion in Winter (1968), starring Katherine Hepburn. If I had the funds to make a period piece about the middle ages, I might very well make it about her, and have her as a central character.

She was married to two different kings of Europe. She was first the wife of Louis VII and then later the wife of Henry II. Her sons included King Richard, the Lionheart and King John (of the Magna Carta). Author Dan Jones describes her as “almost impossibly glamorous, famous across Christendom for her unconventional beauty, her outspokenness, and her headstrong political views. When she was thirteen, she inherited a great fortune of land.

Eleanor’s second marriage–to Henry II–happened covertly as she travelled across France to meet Henry, about a decade her junior and marry him. The marriage had to be secret because as a single woman in possession of a great fortune, there were many suitors who would want to marry her, with the medieval equivalent of a shotgun wedding.

Earlier, when she was married to Louis VII, her personality clashed with those around her: “[t]he fiesty southern child queen quickly proved out of place in the frost Parisian court” (31). Her marriage to Henry II wasn’t perfect either. Later in their union, she and three of their sons tried to usurp Henry II. They lead a war against his rule that involved those within and without his kingdom. The usurpation failed, but she continued on in her life to influence international affairs, including being a diplomat. She died at the age of eighty, which was exceptional for the time. Jones writes of her, “Eleanor had been a magnificent queen whose influence had straddled three important reigns and who had loved and guided her sons even when they behaved unwisely” (152).

Movie Possibilities

Movie Rating: R or PG 13
Genres: Historical Epic, Period Piece, War, Romance, Possible Action—big, big budget with big, big scenes.
Other Notes: I’m seeing this one as a magnum opus. Budget of a minimum 100 million dollars.

Edward III

There are any number of moments from Edward III’s reign that would make an interesting movie. Here’s three.

Taking Command: When Edward III was young, his mother and the usurper, Roger Mortimer, the Queen’s lover and de-facto but illegitimate ruler of England, held him captive. By right of inheritance, the kingdom should have been run by Edward, but Mortimer had murdered his father and perhaps had designs on appointing himself King as well. Edward was locked up in a Castle where Mortimer controlled the keys, doors, and guards. He knew too that it was only a matter of time before he was deposed or killed.

Edward, along with many of his allies, all of them young men, sneaked through the hidden passageways of the Castle and stormed Mortimer’s room. An interesting observation from this palace coup, “According to the Brut chronicler, Bishop Burghersh forgot his ecclesiastical dignity completely. He made a bid to flee by running to the lavatory and trying to throw himself down the chute that evacuated human waste to the moat outside” (364). He was nevertheless caught by Edward’s men.

Movie Possibilities

Movie Rating: R or PG 13
Genres: Action, Historical Epic, Period Piece, War, Romance. Lots of close action fighting, suspense, and intrigue.

Other Notes: Bishop Burghersh played for laughs like the lawyer in Jurassic Park (1992).

Pageantry and Propaganda: Edward III was, along with Henry III, one of the most skillful Plantagenet kings in terms of pageantry and propaganda. Edward would fight in tournaments in disguise as an everyday knight, he played up imagery of Arthur and his roundtable, and he was “fascinated from his youth by the great heroes of history and mythology, and he was especially taken with a popular fourteenth-century literary staple, the lives of the Nine Worthies” (369).

Movie Possibilities

Movie Rating: R or PG 13
Genres: Historical Epic, Period Piece, Artistic Film, Flashbacks.

Other Notes: You could go expressionist or surrealist with this one, playing up connections between Edward III and past kings through innovative editing.

The Battle of Crécy and Edward the Black Prince: A movie about Edward the Black Prince, Edward the III’s son, would be very interesting. Of especial note is Battle of Crécy. Edward III has a wonderful line during this battle, that should be put to film. Legend has it his son, the Black Prince, was fighting in the heart of the battle and requested help from his father, who was watching from a distance.

After first asking if the Black Prince was dead, Edward III responded with this line, “Return to him and to them that sent you here, and say that they send no more to me for any adventure . . . as long as my son is alive . . . they suffer him this day to win his spurs” (396). Suffice it to day, good ol’ King Eddie was not a helicopter parent. A couple of films about The Black Prince include The Warriors (1955) and A Knight’s Tale (2001)

Movie Possibilities

Movie Rating: R or PG 13
Genres: Action Historical Epic, Period Piece, War, Action.

Other Notes: Either the film is basically the battle itself, or that is the central part of the plot.

Drunk Driving

Dan Jones’ book begins with what may have been history’s first drunk driving accident: “The prince was drunk. So too were the crew and passengers of the ship he had borrowed. On the evening of November 25, 1120, nearly two hundred young and beautiful members of England’s and Normandy’s elite families were enjoying themselves aboard a magnificent white longship.” The prince described in this passage was William the Aetheling, son of Henry the I.

He died on that boat due to waves and beer, and his poor judgement to mix them. William’s cousin, Stephen, stayed off the boat, either sick or feigning sickness. Either way, that choice saved Stephen’s life, and he later became King of England. Has anyone made a movie about history’s possible first drunk driving accident?

Movie Possibilities

Movie Rating: R or PG 13
Genres: Action Historical Epic, Period Piece, Drama.

Other Notes: You could play with time with this one, starting the film at the end, and then moving forward from earlier in time back to the end. Big scene with waves the ship sinking.

Richard II and Henry IV

Hiding in the Cupboard: The Peasants rebellion during Richard the II’s reign has all the makings for drama. Three particular moments. First, Henry of Bolingbrook, who would later become Henry IV and depose his cousin Richard II, barely escaped being killed by the revolters: he “escaped capture and death at the rebels’ hands only when a resourceful soldier hid him in a cupboard, a fateful decision that was to have have a profound impact on the kingdom’s future” (451).

The second moment involved the King (Richard the II) riding straight toward the peasant rebels and convincing them with his bravado that he was on their side and they should let down their arms. It worked, although they shouldn’t have believed him.

The third moment illustrates why they shouldn’t have trusted him: “His famous words on tearing up charters in front of rebels who had come to him pleading for restitution were: “Villeins you are, and villeins you will remain; in permanent bondage, not as it was before, but incomparably harsher” (455). Richard II didn’t make many friends that day, which would haunt him later on when his cousin led a revolt against him.

Movie Possibilities

Movie Rating: R or PG 13
Genres: Action Historical Epic, Period Piece, War, Action, Duel.

Other Notes: There’s other stories about Richard II and Henry IV, but this one would focus on their early lives, their youth. Key scene: Henry hiding in the cupboard. This somehow motivates his resentment of his cousin.

Which moments from 1066 to 1399 in English history would you make a film about?

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