Top history movie turkeys

Hollywood has tackled many historical themes over the last hundred years with mixed results. From the Oscar laden 1959 classic Ben Hur to the almost unwatchable Enemy at the Gates. Let’s have a look at the movies that got it terribly wrong – the history movie turkeys!

HISTORY MOVIE TURKEYS: Alexander (2004)

Gosh, how can you make the story of a young Greek king who conquered the world utterly tedious? Well, take about US$155m and bore your audience to tears.

The worst thing about this movie was the total lack of empathy that Alexander exuded. I couldn’t give a damn about poor old Colin Farrell and his peroxide-blonde locks charging round the Middle East.

Unsurprisingly, this turkey was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards in 2005. The notorious Razzies! Poor Oliver Stone set about a Director’s Cut and a “Final Unrated Cut”. But in the end of the day, when the source material is as unwatchable as this – just stop cutting.

One critic called it an “excruciating disaster for the ages”. Quite!

HISTORY MOVIE TURKEYS: Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Seriously, let the enemy in!

Anything to put this movie out of its misery. I remember going to see this at a west London cinema in 2001 and I was just so furious. The Battle of Stalingrad is truly one of the most gripping and appalling conflicts of World War Two. How can you wrong with this?

The casting for me was the big no-no. Jude Law as Soviet farm worker turned Red Army super-sniper Vasily Zaytsev – I didn’t buy it. And I like Jude Law normally. But this was not his part. Thankfully he went on to showcase his undoubted talent in better movies.

HISTORY MOVIE TURKEYS: Braveheart (1995)

OK – here’s the thing. I have to make a confession. When it came out, like most people, I enjoyed this movie. Unlike Alexander or Enemy at the Gates, which I detested from five minutes after the opening credits, Braveheart was a good romp.

But over the years, the varnish has worn off. The historical inaccuracies and the heavy-handed and cartoonish portrayal of the English. And I’m half-Irish (which is part of the reason I did like it to start with). It’s now completely unwatchable.

HISTORY MOVIE TURKEYS: King Arthur (2004)

When I was a teenager, I saw the amazing John Boorman directed movie Excalibur – released in 1981. It was a slightly trippy, hallucinogenic take on the Arthurian legend. But then if you read the medieval tales, they are pretty out there.

Then along clunks this turkey proclaiming that it’s a “realistic” version of the story. I went with nothing except trepidation to view this movie. All my worst fears were realised in a film that plods drearily to a leaden conclusion.

DISCOVER: Movies that feature the Knights Templar

By the way – King Arthur was a Roman soldier. Yeah – it’s a fact apparently…

HISTORY MOVIE TURKEYS: Gone with the Wind (1939)

OK – I’m being a bit provocative now. 1939 has been called the greatest year in Hollywood history. The studios churned out some of the great movies ever that year. And Gone with the Wind was, for many decades, in real terms the biggest grossing movie of all time.

But – it’s overlong, ponderous and a bit racist. It’s based on a book that glorified the Confederacy presenting it as some kind of long lost chivalrous civilisation. And I’m afraid it’s symptomatic of a long Hollywood tradition of getting it wrong on race.

More than anything though – rather like Liz Taylor in the 1963 mega-turkey Cleopatra – it’s just too much and not satisfying enough. I know 99% of you will heartily disagree. But I’ve never been able to sit through this to the bitter end. And I’m a big fan of vintage movies.

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Victorian movies from the 19th century!

The idea of Victorian movies may seem weird – people in the 19th century able to watch films – and yet it actually happened!

We’ve grown up with TV and film so the idea of living in a world were there are no recorded motion pictures would seem bizarre – even more so with our smart phones and social media.

But up until the 1880s, film had never been experienced. There had been crude motion pictures using a series of slides projected on to a screen but movies were unknown. However, once the Victorians discovered the technology – there was no going back!

The dawn of Victorian movies!

Victorian movies became a staple of popular entertainment by the turn of the 20th century.

DISCOVER: Victorian slang for beginners!

Documentary and drama in primitive form developed pretty quickly. Many of the Victorian movies were purely observational – pointing a camera at people and just marvelling in the ability to capture them moving.

Here is a heap of footage of industrial workers leaving factories and mills at the turn of the 20th century, which I find fascinating. Note the youngsters who just stare at the camera as if they’re about to experience something.

London traffic seems to have mesmerised film makers with its hustle and bustle. As a Londoner myself, the presence of so many horses and what seems to be smog (fossil fuel pollution) is really striking.

Royalty got in the act and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was the subject of a very long film circulated around the empire. Here is Victoria attending a garden party. She loved being the obvious star of Victorian movies.

Ten facts about Queen Anne you didn’t learn from The Favourite

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Anne with the only one of her seventeen babies who survived beyond infancy – but died aged eleven

The Favourite is set to pick up some major movie prizes this year. The film depicts Queen Anne – a monarch who ruled Britain at the very start of the 18th century. But does it tell us the full story and who was the real Anne?

READ MORE: Movies that feature the Knights Templar

Queen Anne – subject of The Favourite – ten facts:

  1. Anne’s father was James II who had been forced off the throne because he had tried to restore the Roman Catholic faith and rule as a dictatorial autocrat
  2. James was succeeded by William III, Anne’s uncle, who was rumoured in his own lifetime to be gay. Anne even said on one occasion that his heart did not belong to women….a rather big hint!
  3. William’s wife, Queen Mary, was Anne’s sister. William was their first cousin.
  4. Anne became queen on William’s death and made it very clear that even though her father had been a Roman Catholic – she detested them
  5. The British South Sea Company conducted a shameful trade in African slaves with Spanish ruled South America. Anne owned nearly a quarter of the shares in the company
  6. Shortly after her marriage in 1683, Anne began to have one tragic pregnancy after another. As the babies died, she went to a spa town called Tunbridge Wells to recover and hide her grief
  7. Anne had very poor health even before she was queen. Modern commentators have pointed to lupus, diabetes, listeriosis, Hughes syndrome, etc. Her seventeen pregnancies in the same number of years wrecked her body
  8. The falling out with Sarah Churchill portrayed in the movie The Favourite may have been in part caused by Sarah’s insensitive reaction to the death of Anne’s husband, Prince George (he was not a king)
  9. Her statue is still outside St Paul’s Cathedral. During her life, one critic said it was appropriate that she was showing her backside to the church while her eyes gazed longingly at a local wine shop (Anne suffered from gout, a common ailment of those who drank port)
  10. Anne is buried in Westminster Abbey in London

DISCOVER MORE: Robin Hood at the movies!

Her death ended the Stuart dynasty that stretched back over a century to James I, the king who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I – she of the Spanish Armada and quite a few movies.

Robin Hood at the movies!

How medieval hero Robin Hood has been portrayed by Hollywood!

2018 has seen the release of a new Robin Hood movie – the latest in a long line of films about this medieval hero. It stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx and Jamie Dornan. This version of a tale long loved by Hollywood borrows from the look and feel of Game of Thrones and Assassins Creed. It couldn’t be more different from previous Robin Hood movies going back to the silent era.

Who was Robin Hood?

So, who was Robin Hood? Did he even exist? Let’s get the basics sorted out. Robin Hood was allegedly a young, dashing aristocrat who had fallen from grace and become an outlaw. He was a hero to the poor – robbing from the rich to give to those with nothing.

The earliest accounts of Robin Hood are from around 1377 and claim he came from a place called Lockersley. That’s most like the town of Loxley in the English county of Yorkshire. But later accounts have him coming from different places in the north. He has a band of “merry men” and hangs out in Sherwood Forest. His enemy is the Sheriff of Nottingham and in some accounts, King John of England.

Robin dies, in old versions of the tale, at the hands of his own aunt. This wicked woman is the Prioress of Kirklees Priory near Huddersfield and he goes to her to be treated for an illness. Little does Robin know that his aunt has been bribed to bleed him to death. Bleeding was a treatment at that time. With little energy left towards the end, he fires one last arrow and that is where he is buried. All very sad!

Hollywood and TV have long enjoyed the Robin Hood story. But it’s had some very different treatments.

Errol Flynn – the classic Robin Hood

The earliest Robin Hood movie I could find was Robin Hood Outlawed made in 1912 by the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company. There’s also a film short made in 1908 called Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Or how about this silent movie epic version from 1922 starring Douglas Fairbanks.

But the actor who took a grip of the role and made it Hollywood gold was Errol Flynn. The Adventures of Robin Hood takes the usual line that Robin is a Saxon noble forced to rebel against a brutal Norman aristocracy.

He forms his band of Merry Men including Friar Tuck and Little John and takes on the Normans. And what a bunch of evil-doers the Normans are! There’s the Sheriff, of course, but also Sir Guy of Gisbourne – played by Basil Rathbone who more famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes – and bad King John – a part taken by Claude Rains who you might also know as the French police officer in the movie Casablanca.

Kevin Costner as Robin Hood

Over the decades, we had serious and comic portrayals of Robin Hood and a full length cartoon feature from Walt Disney. I suppose the most notable contribution in recent times was Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – a film I find largely unwatchable now apart from the hilariously camp portrayal of the Sheriff by Alan Rickman. There’s also the interesting addition of a Moorish outlaw, depicted by Morgan Freeman. This movie gave rise to the spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights – a depressing two hours of ‘comedy’ that didn’t raise a laugh here.

Russell Crowe creates a darker Robin Hood

More recently, Russell Crowe was directed by Ridley Scott in a version of the tale that captured our modern feelings about war as dirty and bloody. Unusually – and bravely – it took on historical themes never touched previously like the attempted French invasion of England under King John. There’s a tendency to delve into the darker side of fictional characters these days but I’m not sure this experiment worked and the end of the movie felt distinctly anti-climactic.

Robin Hood in 2018

The 2018 Robin Hood movie with Taron Egerton is an all action movie with CGI laden fight scenes. It’s way less concerned with historical accuracy than the Ridley Scott film. Instead we get lots of crash, bang, wallop action – with a video game quality in parts.

The First World War – through the eyes of Peter Jackson

The inspiration behind They Shall Not Grow Old 

Every day, I walk past the Imperial War Museum on my way to work. I was aware that in its vaults, the museum was sitting on huge amounts of black and white World War One footage. You know the kind of thing. Silent movie films where the troops look like extras in a Charlie Chaplin comedy only there are bombs going off and millions losing their lives.

To mark the centenary of the end of WW1 – or The Great War as it was called until WW2 came along – the Imperial War Museum asked film director Peter Jackson to do something amazing with all this footage. Jackson, as you all know, was the man who brought us The Lord of the Rings trilogy and some very interesting art house movies before that.

Jackson, it turns out, has a massive interest in the 1914-1918 conflict that engulfed Europe and drew in the United States from 1917. His grandfather fought in WW1 and he’s always wanted to know what it was really like. So, Jackson has taken the footage and done more than just colourise it. He’s used his technical production facilities in New Zealand to bring the soldiers back to life.

He also got access to masses of tapes from the BBC of interviews conducted with WW1 soldiers in the early 1960s for a documentary series that aired fifty years ago. Jackson used some of that audio to give us first hand testimonies from those who lived in the trenches and fought for King and Country (or the Kaiser for that matter).

How Peter Jackson made They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old is for those of us who ever met WW1 veterans (and I did as a much younger man) a very moving experience. There is something about the First World War that touches my generation much more than the story of WW2, even though it was closer to us. That’s unfair on those who fought Hitler but WW1 has its own very unique atmospheric. It’s no good denying it – we feel very deeply about those soldiers.

That said, Jackson found that the audio testimonies presented a surprisingly different picture to the one he expected. Many men (and they were men mainly) who enlisted to fight, were only too happy to get away from miserable lives back home. And when the war ended, it was like being fired from a job. Of course, there were also those whose lives were wrecked or ended by the war – but it’s an interesting perspective. Go see if you can!

A new Netflix drama about notorious killer Anders Breivik

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Director Paul Greengrass (past movies include United 93) has turned his hand to a three part harrowing drama covering the appalling massacre carried out by Anders Breivik in Norway on 22 July, 2011.

22 July is now on Netflix and I recommend you watch.

On that day, the extreme right wing terrorist detonated a bomb in downtown Oslo, the Norwegian capital. That killed eight people and would have been bad enough. But what happened next horrified Europe and the world. Because Breivik then made his way to Utoya island.

He knew that a large group of teenage political activists from the country’s main left wing party were at a Workers Youth League event holding discussions and seminars. Breivik disembarked from his boat dressed as a police officer, pretending he had come to protect the teens. When challenged by an adult for an ID, he began his killing spree.

Terrified youngsters ran to hide from the fanatic and his array of weapons. But in the end, sixty nine people were slain. Most of them were youths and one just fourteen years of age.

Breivik

Face of a murderer

As Europe witnesses a surge in extreme Right activity, it’s worth recalling what one neo-fascist was capable of doing in just a single day.

On YouTube, Breivik posted a rambling so-called Templar manifesto – that actually had nothing to do with the real Knights Templar. He excused his murders on the grounds of fighting “cultural Marxism”, “Islam”, “feminism”, etc.

He is now serving a very long jail sentence but has appeared to whine about how unfair it is to be incarcerated. I doubt the families of his victims are overly concerned about his welfare and mental state.

Thankfully, the Netflix drama does not try to pluck heart strings with back stories galore at the front of the movie, but goes straight into the gruesome action. All the facts about Breivik and his victims are revealed as we go along.

I think that’s important because these victims don’t need to have their innocence proven – it should be a given. Their deaths were a callous and brutal act with no justifiable reason.

 

Were the lunar landings really faked?

Growing up as a child in the 60s and early 70s, the Apollo missions to the moon captured my imagination – and that of millions of kids. Watching the rockets heave out of their launch pads then ditch their component parts leaving the module to soar through space was thrilling. It was a triumph of the human spirit and modern technology.

Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin – definitely on the moon

While the Americans were sending astronauts into orbit, the Soviet Union was launching its cosmonauts. Two years ago, I visited an exhibition at London’s Science Museum on the Soviet space missions and marvelled at how these incredibly brave cosmonauts returned to Earth in a small metal ball with less technology than you have in your iPhone.

On occasions, they were killed on impact. In one grim instance, the cosmonaut’s final scream could be heard as he knew this was his end. In 1967, all the Apollo 1 astronauts were incinerated on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy during a training exercise. Space travel came at a high human cost.

But…what if this was all faked?

Well, that’s been a persistent conspiracy theory since the space missions. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, our childhood heroes, never set foot on the moon. The whole thing was done on a Hollywood studio set. Or maybe at the infamous Area 51. Some conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the late movie director Stanley Kubrick was involved because….he directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. That proves it!

There’s an array of bizarre arguments put forward. A hardy perennial is that the US flag is seen to be fluttering on the moon – inconsistent with the moon having no atmosphere. Answer: There’s a wire running along the top of the flag so it sticks out and the flapping is the what the astronauts were doing as they tried to get the flagpole stuck in the ground.

Why are there no stars in the sky behind the astronauts? Answer: The light bouncing off the surface of the moon blanks them out. You’d have to be on the dark side to see the stars.

But why would NASA and the US administration have gone to such curious lengths to stage a moon landing? The conspiracy guys believe they have the answer. It was to fool the Soviets.

The US didn’t have enough money or resources to get to the moon. So they faked it. The Americans had been embarrassed by Soviet success in the so-called “space race” between the superpowers and needed a success story for the American public and to demoralise the Russians. After all, communism had to be defeated here on planet Earth and in outer space.

The faked lunar landing theories took off at the same time as the Apollo missions. Maybe it just seemed too fantastical that we had sent men – and they were all men – on to the surface of the moon. I would suggest that those who doubt the veracity of the moon landings suffer from a serious lack of imagination and grasp of what science can achieve.

In 1978, Hollywood cashed in on the paranoia with a movie called Capricorn One. The plot brought the nutty theory to life. Only this time, it was a faked mission to Mars. The whole thing was done on a movie set and afterwards, the astronauts had to be killed.

One of the astronauts in the movie was none other than OJ Simpson..subsequently jailed in real life. And yes, there are those online who link the movie to Simpson’s trial. I’m not going there – Google it for yourself.

Here’s the 1978 trailer for Capricorn One.

Why Henry VIII ended up with no mates

At the end of his life, the bloated and vindictive Henry VIII found himself without any friends. But you can hardly be surprised when he’d executed so many of them. Even showering admiration and homage on this volatile monarch was no guarantee that your head would remain attached to your shoulders. Take Thomas More for example or Thomas Cromwell – two men who faithfully served the king and ended up facing an axe when they fell out of favour.

Here I am on Yesterday TV’s Private Lives of the Monarchs explaining what a wretched figure Henry VIII was at the end.