Blood and gore wise this is Braveheart on crack. Its the first time I've seen a movie show the result of a two handed sword cleaving a man from shoulder to waist. It does not pull any punches on the carnage bladed weapons wreck on the human body. The middle age version of Saving Private Ryan's opening minutes.
Okay that said I liked that this movie is about the actual reign of England's Bad King John. Hollywood loves to make movies like Robin Hood and Ivanhoe where King Richard comes home from being held for ransom and saves the day for England sparing them his terrible younger brother. The Lion In Winter gives a good idea of how this royal family was really really messed up.
The setting of this movie takes place after John was forced to sign the Magna Charta. He gets the Pope, not mentioned in the movie, but it was Innocent III, who nullified the Charta. He hires an army of Danes and starts tracking down all the Barons who forced him to sign the document and hang them. Much is made in the movie that the Knights Templar were instrumental in the rebellion, but that's nonsense. It gives the reason for Purejoy, who's a Knight's Templar to lead the fight along with the Duke of Albany against Bad King John by taking a hand full of men and defending a vital castle protecting London waiting for a French army to cross the channel and relieve them. There are numerous assaults and the movie shows just how brutal siege warfare is.
The historian side of me laments what this movie leaves out of a crucial and fascinating time in history that is very often overlooked. High school and even college history texts which is what most of the population knows of history; mention the Barons forcing Bad King John to sign the Magna Charta, but nothing about the fight to keep it valid. This movie attempts it, but is too simplistic. So history teacher decides to set the record straight in a simplified summation.
- Yes the Pope nullifies the Magna Charta and John does raise an army.
- The Barons appeal to King Phillip who sends an army.
- While the fighting is going on John's baggage train with all the crown jewels is caught in a flood while crossing a river and washed into the North Sea, only a couple of items have ever been recovered. When you go to the Tower of London and view the crown jewels they all start from the reign of Henry III.
- John dies. This is where the movie ends and the crown jewels are mentioned, but not the flood.
- John's Queen, Isabella rallies the English people around the infant Henry III against the Barons and the French. She declares that her son will honor the Magna Charta.
- Phillip of France, who the barons would put on the throne of England states openly that there is no way he would abide by the Charta. Big irony here that the barons who forced John to sign the Charta are now fighting against it.
- Phillip decides that the little island isn't worth the cost and pulls his men home. The barons left alive leave for France.
So remember there are three GOOD things that come from the reign of Bad King John:
- He loses all land in France uniting the crown with the island. From William the Conqueror through Richard the Lion Heart they are all buried in France, not England. You will find all kings of England from this time buried on the island.
- Trying to retake his lost lands on the mainland he creates the English navy. Hard to think that Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves starts with John.
- The Magna Charta, he was so bad that the barons forced him to sign a document placing the crown under the rule of law and not above it.
footnote: Richard's queen Berengaria, is the only queen of England that never in her lifetime set foot on the island.
Sometimes good thing come from failures. Don't get me started about Cardinal Wolsey.