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Aella, Henry II and John are some of the kings that ruled medieval England. These kings are depicted more negatively than positively in most English language and American films. Rather than heroize the holders of institutional administrative power, these films tend to celebrate adventurers, opponents of central authority and outlaws. The way these rulers are portrayed in films clearly tells more about the attitudes towards the kings and the government among a part of the mid century American and English society. Some of these films include The Vikings," "Becket," "Lion in winter," and "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Why do these films fail to idolize these medieval kings? Why do they view them in a negative light yet they tend to idolize outlaws and those who were against the government of the day? Medieval English kings were loathed by the people because of their excesses in the face of poverty, their incompetence and abuse of power.
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One of the films that negatively Portrays the English royalty negatively is the Lion in the winter which starts with a sword fight between a father and the son. This is a lively match of jostling led by Geoffrey, the son of King Henry II of Brittany. All the scenes in the movie are typical of the 12th century when King Henry reigned. The greatest historical accuracy in this movie lies in the depiction of the royal families especially the king of England. The royal family of England is depicted as utterly dysfunctional. The sons of King Henry are always fighting over the throne and are constantly plotting with the enemy. On the other hand, Queen Eleanor, the wife of Henry II is constantly involved in arguments with the king over mistresses, the children and marital issues. Henry's son is notorious for their rebellion and misconduct and after the death of his firstborn, the rest of the sons fight aggressively to be the heir to the thrown(William, 2004).
This film focuses on some weaknesses of King Henry the second instead of idolizing him. The king has a very interesting relationship with each of his three sons. King Henry loves one of his sons John, whom he believes cannot do any wrong, however, John does not think the same about the father especially when he discovers that his father Has been sleeping with his own fiancé. The second son is Richard whose relationship with his father is quite distant. Richard was raised by the queen who is loathed by King Henry. Richard is his eldest son and the king does not think much of him and would rather have John be his successor rather than Richard. This may not be enough reason to deny him the chance to the throne, but when he discovers that Richad was sodomised by King Phillip of France he gets a very good reason to detest him because his image had been destroyed. The lion in the winter never focuses on anything positive about King Henry and his family. The movie focuses on his dysfunctional family and his inability to control his sons. It also focuses on some other inadequacies of the king such as sleeping with a potential daughter in law. The statement that the movie wants to make is that if a king cannot control and run his country, how he is expected to run an entire nation. If a king is not relating well with his wife and children, how is he expected to relate with the larger populace. If a king is cheap enough to sleep with a fiancé of his son, can he be trusted with safeguarding the morality of the entire nation. The film wants to make a statement that King Henry II had few qualities that could be idolised and that is why you find that those people that rose against him are the ones that are given attention in the movie (William, 2004).
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The movie titled the Adventures of Robin Hood is another movie that portrays the English royalties in a negative light. During the thirteenth century in England, there was a forest called Sherwood that provided a safe haven for outlaws and this is where Robin Hood operated. In this movie, Robin Hood is contrasted with the kings of England. The kings of England were wealthy and lived in excess largesse though there were very many people languishing in poverty. There were huge class differences in the country with some people very rich and others living in poverty. Robin Hood would therefore steal from the rich and give whatever he stole to the less fortunate and there came a time when King Richard went away and king John filled in. King John instructed the Sherriff of Nottingham to enforce laws within the Sherwood Forest area (Roger 2003). The story of Robin Hood captures the tensions that were present in England during the medieval times and this story can translate to any setting where there is oppression and where oppression leads people to look for a resourceful and courageous people to protect them. The maker of this film chose to make a film about Robin Hood an outlaw and not the young King John of England.
The maker of the film builds the character of Robin Hood more than he builds that of King John. This is because Robin Hood was the man of the people. He is the person the people identified with more. He is the person who tried to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor by stealing from the rich and giving it to the less fortunate. Robin Hood may be performing criminal acts but his crimes are courageous and resourcefful crimes that are meant to help the people. What did King John do to help the people apart from maintaining the oppressive status quo? He is one of the people that lived in excess largesse in the face of poverty yet he did nothing to save the poor from poverty. He was one of the oppressive forces in the country while Robin Hood, though an outlaw was one of the liberating forces in the country. By giving an outlaw more prominence than a king in this movie, the maker of this film tends to make a statement that this outlaw is of greater social benefit than the king. By portraying an outlaw positively, the maker of the film ends up ridiculing the King. Shifting the focus of the movie from the King to an outlaw portrays the king in a very negative light because it tends to make him pale in significance as compared to the outlaw.
Becket is another English movie that portrays the king of England in a very negative light. The king in question in this movie is King Henry. Henry wanted to be the only power in England, so he appoints Becket as the archbishop of Canterbury. He thought that Becket would keep his loyalty to the king and the government would not face much resistance from the church with Becket at the help. King Henry was so power hungry that he felt that he should be above God and the entire church. He only wanted what is best for him and had no regards for other people and that is why he had the quest for a supreme rule in the country. In this movie, he does not show care for anyone apart from Becket (NY Times, 2000). He did not get concerned about his won family. He cheated on his wife and hated his children. The moment Becket turns to God signals the end of King Henry because the moment the king received the news that Becket is devoted to the church completely the friendship between him and the King was shaken. His loyalty and trust dissolved and this quietly contributed to King Henry's mental instability. The sudden political change by Becket sends the King tumbling down losing all what he had gained. This movie therefore illustrates a very vulnerable king who rules with the help of a friend and the moment this friend turns against him, he becomes incapacitated. This movie therefore makes a parody of King Henry of England, highlighting how vulnerable he was despite the assumption that he held absolute and supreme power.
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In conclusion, a look at the above English movies highlights the attitudes that the people had about the kings and the entire governance system. The movies portray these kings as people who are gullible, vulnerable, irresponsible and oppressive and that is why they paint a very negative portrait of these kings.
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