The one nice thing about liking Period Drama is that the older it gets doesn’t matter. Because I have been viewing and collecting period drama films for over 40 years, I know I just love them all. I do not consider myself a good reviewer (I’m too biased) and believe I find something good in all of them. The following list is in no particular order. In essence, this is the bucket list of medieval films for you to see. I will add to this list as I find or view them. Here, at least, are the Top Medieval Films and Television. These are not necessarily the best for pure historical value but entertainment, with a dash of truth or legend. Courtesy Period Drama .com
Best Medieval Films or Series
Last Knights 2015
Synopsis by Daniel Gelb
A corrupt medieval emperor exploits his citizens and rules his kingdom with impunity. When the nobleman and mentor Bartok (Morgan Freeman) refuses to pay a bribe to one of the emperor’s cronies, a death sentence is placed upon him. Bartok’s loyal followers are lead by Raiden (Clive Owen), a highly skilled warrior who is deeply affected by Bartok’s murder. Raiden and his clan band together to fight back against the oppressive emperor in this medieval action thriller.
This series wasn’t rated very highly by the critics, but I found it entertaining, and great story and cast. It was a “buy” for me. *** Violence “R”
Synopsis by Jeremy Beday
Mel Gibson, long-time heartthrob of the silver screen, came into his own as a director with Braveheart, an account of the life and times of medieval Scottish patriot William Wallace and, to a lesser degree, Robert the Bruce’s struggle to unify his nation against its English oppressors. The story begins with young Wallace, whose father and brother have been killed fighting the English, being taken into the custody of his uncle, a nationalist and pre-Renaissance renaissance man. He returns twenty years later, a man educated both in the classics and in the art of war. There he finds his childhood sweetheart Murron (Catherine McCormack), and the two quickly fall in love. There are murmurs of revolt against the English throughout the village, but Wallace remains aloof, wishing simply to tend to his crops and live in peace. However, when his love is killed by English soldiers the day after their secret marriage (held secretly so as to prevent the local English lord from exercising the repulsive right of prima noctae, the privilege of sleeping with the bride on the first night of the marriage), he springs into action and single-handedly slays an entire platoon of foot soldiers. The other villagers join him in destroying the English garrison, and thus begins the revolt against the English in what will eventually become a full-fledged war. Wallace eventually leads his fellow Scots in a series of bloody battles that prove a serious threat to English domination and, along the way, has a hushed affair with the Princess of Wales (the breathtaking Sophie Marceau) before his imminent demise. For his efforts, Gibson won the honor of Best Director from the Academy; the movie also took home statuettes for Best Picture, Cinematography, Makeup, and Sound Effects.
*** freedom, Scotland, English [nationality], king, rebel, hero, princess, war, Brief Nudity, Graphic Violence, War Violence Rated “R”
Genie: Although it’s old and cheesy, it is still a cult favorite and primer film for most of us. This is surely a “bucket-list” film. “R”. Reading the trivia and goofs on this film is whimsy
Synopsis by Robert Firsching
John Boorman directed this gloriously savage interpretation of Arthurian legend loosely based on Thomas Malory’s novel Le Morte d’Arthur. By turns gleaming and filthy, tender and bloody, the film is a visually stunning epic which is never less than compelling. Nigel Terry is perfectly cast as Arthur, whose unwavering trust and faith are shown to be both quietly heroic and achingly naïve. Interestingly, the quest for the Grail is the least effective part of the film, despite bold cinematography by Alex Thomson (who was nominated for an Oscar) and a fine performance by Paul Geoffrey as Perceval, whose greatest desire is attained in his dying sight. It is the scenes of Camelot in which Boorman is at his most effective, as Arthur is betrayed by the burning passions of Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), whose boiling internal forces cannot be denied, whatever the cost. The wicked Mordred (Robert Addie) and Morgana (Helen Mirren) are commanding when onscreen, and Nicol Williamson’s performance as the grandiosely self-sacrificing Merlin is outstanding. Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart also appear in this dense, passionate, and stirring triumph featuring a marvelous Trevor Jones score. The gruesome effects by Peter Hutchinson and Alan Whibley, however, and sights such as a knight having sex in full body armor make this a fairy tale strictly for adults.
House of Flying Daggers 2004
Genie: This has been one of my favorites of all time. A beautiful love story, that needs to be on your bucket list.
Synopsis by Mark Deming
Chinese director Zhang Yimou fuses a martial arts action-drama with a tragic romance in this elegant period piece. In the year 859 A.D., as the Tang dynasty is beset by rebellion, Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are a pair of lawmen who have been given the task of ferreting out the leaders of a revolutionary faction known as the Flying Daggers. Working on a tip that members of the group are working out of a brothel called the Peony Pavilion, Jin arrives there in disguise and is introduced to a beautiful blind dancer named Mei (Zhang Ziyi). After watching Mei’s performance following several drinks, Jin drunkenly attempts to have his way with her, and Leo is forced to intervene. After gaining Mei’s trust in a game of skill, Leo arrests her and informs her that she’ll be tortured if she doesn’t tell all she knows about the Flying Daggers. Jin responds by helping Mei break out of prison, but he has an ulterior motive — by following her, Leo and Jin are certain she’ll lead them to the Flying Daggers. However, as he helps the blind girl find her way back home, Jin finds himself falling in love with Mei, and isn’t certain if he’s willing to betray her again. PG-13 ||Action, Adventure, Drama
Kingdom of Heaven 2005
Synopsis by Mark Deming
Ridley Scott directed this epic-scale historical drama inspired by the events of the Crusades of the 12th century. Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a humble French blacksmith who is searching for a reason to go on after the death of his wife and children. Balian is approached by Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), a fabled knight who has briefly returned home after serving in the East. Godfrey informs Balian that he is his true father, and urges the blacksmith to join him as he and his forces journey to Jerusalem to help defend the holy city. Balian accepts, and he and Godfrey arrive during the lull between the Second and Third Crusades, in which the city is enjoying a fragile peace. Both Christian and Muslim forces are temporarily in retreat, thanks to the wisdom of the Christian monarch King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), his second-in-command Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), and Muslim potentate Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). Violent agitators on both sides are foolishly eager to end the peace in a bid for greater power, and Saladin bows to pressures from Muslim factions; Godfrey is one of a handful of brave knights who has thrown his allegiance behind Baldwin IV and his community of diversity, and Balian joins him as they use their skills as warriors in a bid to build a lasting peace. Kingdom of Heaven also stars Eva Green as the princess Sibylla, David Thewlis as Hospitaler the priest, and Brendan Gleeson as Reynald.
Robin Hood 2010
Synopsis by Jason Buchanan
Director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe reunite for their fifth big-screen outing, a retelling of the Robin Hood legend featuring the Gladiator star in the titular role. A bowman in the army of Richard Coeur de Lion, virtuous rogue Robin Hood rises from an unlikely background to become a hero to the impoverished people of Nottingham and lover to the beautiful Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett)
Lion in Winter 1968
Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The year is 1183. Like many a modern-day politician, Britain’s King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) finds it occasionally useful to take his wife out of mothballs and parade her before the public. Henry’s Queen Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), long exiled to a faraway castle, is “invited” to join Henry and their three sons for a family reunion. In this way, Henry hopes to maintain a stronghold on his empire and prevent the balance of power from shifting to Eleanor or one of his sons: Richard the Lion-Hearted (Anthony Hopkins in his movie debut), Prince Geoffrey (John Castle), or Prince John (Nigel Terry). Also on hand for the get-together is Henry’s mistress Princess Alais (Jane Merrow) — who covets the King’s influence — and the Princess’ brother, King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton). Despite Henry’s efforts to keep his wife and offspring at arms’ length (and away from the throne), Eleanor successfully reunites the brood, assuring that her power will not only be restored but will last long after her death.
Merlin 2008-2012 (completed series)
Genie: Although this is a cheaply made fanciful series, it stood the test of time in five seasons. The interaction between Merlin (Colin Morgan) and Arthur (Bradley James) is infectious. You almost embarrass yourself realizing how addicted you are to the series. There are a lot of heavy-hitters in the Small Screen category, but this is enjoyable.
This family-oriented retelling of the popular King Arthur legend finds Merlin arriving in Camelot, where magic is banned. There, he secretly hones his sorcery skills with the help of his uncle, the court physician.
The Last Kingdom 2015 – (active series)
The year is 872, and many of the separate kingdoms of what we now know as England have fallen to the invading Danes, leaving the great kingdom of Wessex standing alone and defiant under the command of King Alfred. Against this turbulent backdrop lives our hero, Uhtred. Born the son of a Saxon nobleman, he is captured by the Danes and raised as one of their own. Forced to choose between the country of his birth and the people of his upbringing, his loyalties are ever tested. What is he? Saxon or Dane? On a quest to reclaim his birthright, Uhtred must tread a dangerous path between both sides if he is to play his part in the birth of a new nation and, ultimately, recapture his ancestral lands.
Vikings 2013 – current
The series is inspired by the tales of the raiding, trading, and exploring Norsemen of early medieval Scandinavia. It follows the exploits of the legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok and his crew and family, as notably laid down in the 13th century sagas Ragnars saga Loðbrókar and Ragnarssona þáttr, as well as in Saxo Grammaticus’s 12th century work Gesta Danorum. Norse legendary sagas were partially fictional tales based in Norse oral tradition, written down about 200 to 400 years after the events they describe. Further inspiration is taken from historical sources of the period, such as records of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne depicted in the second episode, or Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s 10th-century account of the Volga Vikings. The series is set at the beginning of the Viking Age, marked by the Lindisfarne raid in 793.
The White Queen 2013
The White Queen is a British television drama series in ten parts, based on Philippa Gregory’s historical novel series The Cousins’ War (The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter). The first episode was premiered on BBC One on 16 June 2013 in the United Kingdom.It was first broadcast in the United States on Starz on 9 August 2013.
The series is set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses and presents the story of the women involved in the protracted conflict for the throne of England. It starts in 1464; the nation has been at war for nine years fighting over who is the rightful King of England, as two sides of the same family, the House of York and the House of Lancaster, are in violent conflict over the throne. The story focuses on three women in their quest for power, as they manipulate events behind the scenes of history: Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, and Anne Neville. Elizabeth Woodville is the central character in the novel The White Queen, while Margaret Beaufort and Anne Neville are the focus of the novels The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter, respectively. However, all three characters appear in all three novels that went to make up the television series.
The Borgias 2013-2015
The series follows the rise of the Borgia family to the pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church and their struggles to maintain their grip on power. The beginning of the first season depicts the election of Rodrigo Borgia to the papacy through simony and bribery, with the help of his sons, Cesare and Juan. Upon winning the election, Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI, which then thrusts him and his family deep into the murky heart of politics in fifteenth-century Europe: from shifting loyalties within the College of Cardinals to the ambitions of the kings of Europe to the venomous rivalries between the noble families of Italy at the time. Meanwhile, enraged by his loss of the election to Borgia, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere travels across Italy and France, seeking allies to depose or kill Alexander: this would force another papal conclave and race for Pope which della Rovere is convinced he would win without Borgia to oppose him.
The Tudors 2011-2015 (medieval)
Chronicles the period of Henry VIII’s reign in which his effectiveness as King is tested by international conflicts as well as political intrigue in his own court. Cardinal Wolsey plays a major part in the series, acting as Henry’s trusted advisor.
In Episode 1, Wolsey persuades his King to keep the peace with France and the two Kings meet at Calais to agree a pact of friendship, while the pressure of fathering a male heir compels him to question his marriage to his Queen, Katherine of Aragon. He also has a string of affairs and, in Episode 2, fathers an illegitimate son with his mistress, Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount, who is also one of Queen Katherine’s ladies-in-waiting (the son, Henry FitzRoy, later dies).
Anne Boleyn catches Henry’s eye — she has been attending the French court — and she is encouraged by her father and uncle to seduce the King, though she also falls in love with Henry as the season unfolds. Her shrewd refusal to his open invitation to become his mistress unless he will marry her pushes him to use Cardinal Wolsey to take action against the Queen, the King instructing his trusted advisor to get papal dispensation for his divorce on the grounds that his wife did indeed consummate her marriage to his brother, Arthur. In Episode 6, Wolsey’s increasingly desperate efforts to persuade the Catholic Church to grant a royal divorce, primarily as a result of Emperor Charles V’s influence over the Pope as Katherine’s nephew, starts to weaken his position.