Despite earlier promises to pass his crown to one of his Flemish, Viking or Norman relatives, English king Edward The Confessor dies in 1066, leaving his crown to Anglo-Saxon Harold Godwinson, causing a bloody succession war.
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In 1066, King Edward The Confessor of England dies leaving his crown to Anglo-Saxon Harold Godwinson. In doing this, King Edward disregards his earlier promises to give the throne of England to one of his legitimate successors from among his Flemish, Viking or Norman relatives.As a result of this unwise decision, a contest for the English crown begins. While an Armada of Viking ships under Viking King Hardrada invades the north of England, a Norman invasion, led by William Duke of Normandy, strikes the south. Caught in a giant pincer movement, the new English king Harold Godwinson and his small army must rush to the north to deal with the Viking invasion while planning an eventual mad dash to the south to face the Normans. The fate of Anglo-Saxon England hangs into balance. Written by
1066: THE BATTLE FOR MIDDLE EARTH is a two-part Channel 4 miniseries that unwisely likens the situation of that year to Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS, undoubtedly in a bid to draw in more viewers. My question is: why? There are, I suppose, superficial similarities between the stories, in that rural shires are invaded by enemies, but the effect in whole is to lessen the experience. Why does the film bang on about elves in the wood and orcs when it should really be getting on with telling the story of the three battles of that year?
There are some good aspects to be found here. The costumes are authentic and the locales are good too, even if it does look like the whole miniseries was shot in the same forest. The (brief) glimpses we get of Saxon life are intriguing and the recreation of a Saxon village at the opening is promising. Sadly, the film then descends into a load of blokes larking around in the woods, complete with dodgy shaky-cam choreography that really DOESN'T work and a script aimed at the level of soap fans rather than a historical epic.
The main problem is the lack of budget, which makes any attempt at depicting the battles of Stamford Bridge or Hastings hopeless; there's no way they can get across the scale and violence of these battles when they're reduced to a few chaps fighting on the edge of a field. Take a classic scene in point: the sole Viking holding the bridge and slaughtering any enemy who approaches him. This is the stuff of legends, yet it's reduced to a fat bloke standing on some wooden planks getting speared by a bad actor. Not good! The frequent quotes and captions that are used to authenticate the story are good, as is Ian Holm's narration. But when they start using maps at the climax to show how the battle at Hastings fared, you wonder whether they'd have been better off making a documentary with staged inserts instead. Certainly the acting is poor, and the use of TV actors explains this. There's no characterisation and no real depth or feeling to what's going on.
The tone seems to go all over the place. The Vikings attack, rape and pillage loads of people in the North and are defeated, then one leading Saxon warrior has a crisis of conscience and almost cries when an enemy he's fighting gets impaled. Would he really have acted like this, or would he have hacked his enemy's head off in revenge for the barbarity he's inflicted? I know which one would have really happened. The same goes for the surviving Viking unexplainably joining the Saxons to fight at Hastings.
Attempts at humour are lamentable and the efforts to show the battle from all sides only serve to lessen the experience. Sure, the idea of showing epic stuff like this from the 'soldier's eye' view is a good one, but almost everything is done wrongly. The worst bit, for me, is when one group of soldiers form into a 'wedge' to attack the other's shield wall before the shield wall has even been created! This so-called 'attack' then consists of a group of blokes charging into the others, who instantly break their defensive wall to fight individually. It all turns into a messy scrum, and you wonder if anyone involved had any idea of what they were trying to depict. For a truly authentic account of Saxon warfare, try reading Bernard Cornwell's excellent Saxon stories, beginning with The Last Kingdom. They're set a couple of hundred years before this, but the depiction of Saxon vs. Viking combat far exceeds anything on display here.
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