2008-12-21 22:11:06 UTC
December 21, 2008
Go for your bows: rivals race to film 1066
The historic turning point has been ignored by cinema -
Hastings until now
Almost 1,000 years after King Harold took an arrow in the
eye, one of the most dramatic turning points in English history
is finally to receive the cinema treatment.
Three feature films, with big-name backers and creative teams,
are preparing to refight the battle of Hastings.
They all plan to show the clash between Harold and William
as the falling out of two comrades, using the trusted cinema
combination of violence and contrasting love lives.
Other key battles in English history — such as Agincourt,
Waterloo, Trafalgar, the Spanish Armada and countless fights
from the two world wars — have been filmed, but Hastings
has been ignored.
“It has everything — a big-scale event, a turning point in
European history and great human stories,” said Tom Holland,
the historian and author of Millennium. At the core of all three
films will be the friendship of two “buddies” in which Harold
goes to help William, Duke of Normandy, in battles against
the Bretons before they fall out and come to blows at Hastings
The English king was killed just months after coming to the
throne, opening the way to the Norman conquest.
The companies planning the films include veterans of Holly-
wood historical epics as well as the producer of ER, the
American television medical drama.
“It’s [about] the friendship and trust between two men who
then became great rivals,” said Michael Kuhn, of the British
company Qwerty Films — producer of The Duchess,
starring Keira Knightley — which is working on one of the
The screenwriter on the second version is William Nicholson,
whose numerous film scripts have included Shadowlands and
last year’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
“In Hollywood terms it is a ‘buddy’ movie about two men
which ended in tears,” said Nicholson, whose other work
has included the Roman epic Gladiator, starring Russell
Crowe, with its grandiose opening battle. But Nicholson
added: “I don’t see this primarily as a battle movie.”
Nicholson is writing his Hastings script for the newly formed
film production arm of Shine, a television company whose
hits include Spooks and Merlin.
The third film, which has a working title of William the
Conqueror, has an equally strong pedigree. With a $100m
(£67m) budget, it will be co-produced for Killer Films by
Pamela Koffler, who made the Oscar-winning Boys Don’t
The other co–producer is John Wells, who made ER.
“I know a lot of people in the US might not have heard
of William and 1066, but he was a dynamic and charismatic
figure while the battle was a defining moment in history,”
Many in Britain also have little awareness of the battle in
Sussex beyond knowing of Harold’s unpleasant death
although even the arrow is disputed by many historians.
The comic history book 1066 and All That describes the
Norman conquest as a “Good Thing, as from this time
onwards England stopped being conquered and thus was
able to become top nation”.
Saul Dibb, maker of the films Bullet Boy and The Duchess,
will be Kuhn’s writer and director. The story will centre
partly on the love lives of William and Harold, two warriors
at the height of their powers.
Kuhn said: “Harold was a dashing figure who had numerous
girlfriends — notably Edith Swan-neck. He also had many
children before he eventually married, while William had
this very happy marriage to Matilda who came from Flanders.”
Nicholson said he had not yet established exactly what
caused the rift between the two men. “Something happened
when they were together in France,” he said.
One theory is that Harold was sent to France in 1064 by
his predecessor, Edward the Confessor. According to one
version, his ship ran aground. He was captured by a local
nobleman and William paid his ransom. They then fought
the Bretons together and Harold is said to have sworn an
oath to support the Norman claim to the English throne.
When he returned to England, however, he became king
an act seen as gross betrayal by William, who plotted his
invasion as revenge.
The three combatants
Writer - William Nicholson
(Gladiator, Shadowlands, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Co-producer - Pamela Koffler
(Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven)
Producer - Michael Kuhn
(Notting Hill, Trainspotting)