Kingdom of Heaven is a 2005 epic historical drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by William Monahan.
It stars Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Ghassan Massoud, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Iain Glen, Marton Csokas, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Michael Sheen, Velibor Topić and Alexander Siddig.
The story is set during the Crusades of the 12th century. A French village blacksmith goes to the aid of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in its defence against the Ayyubid Muslim Sultan, Saladin, who is fighting to claim the city from the Christians; this leads to the Battle of Hattin.
The screenplay is a heavily fictionalised portrayal of the life of Balian of Ibelin (ca. 1143-1193).
In 1184 France, Balian, a blacksmith, is haunted by his wife’s recent suicide. A Crusader passing through the village introduces himself as Balian’s father, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin, and asks him to return with him to the Holy Land, but Balian declines. After the town priest reveals that he ordered Balian’s wife beheaded before burial, Balian kills him and flees the village.
Balian joins his father, hoping to gain forgiveness and redemption for himself and his wife in Jerusalem. Soldiers sent by the bishop arrive to arrest Balian, but Godfrey refuses to surrender him, and in the ensuing attack, Godfrey is struck by an arrow that breaks off in his body, leaving a wound that would prove fatal days later.
In Messina, they have a contentious encounter with Guy de Lusignan, a Templar Knight and prospective future king of Jerusalem. Godfrey knights Balian, names him the new Baron of Ibelin, and orders him to serve the King of Jerusalem and protect the helpless, then succumbs to his injuries. During Balian’s journey to Jerusalem his ship runs aground in a storm, leaving him as the only survivor. Balian is confronted by a Muslim cavalier, who attacks him over his horse. Balian is forced to slay the cavalier but spares the man’s servant, and the man tells Balian that his deed will gain him fame and respect among the Saracens.
Balian becomes acquainted with Jerusalem’s political arena: the leper King Baldwin IV; Tiberias, the Marshal of Jerusalem; the King’s sister, Princess Sibylla, who is wife of Guy. Guy supports the anti-Muslim brutalities of the Knights Templar, and intends to break the fragile truce between the King and the sultan Saladin to make war on the Muslims. Balian travels to his inherited estate at Ibelin, and irrigates the dry and dusty lands using his knowledge of engineering to the joy of its residents. Sibylla visits him and the two become lovers.
Guy and his ally, the cruel Raynald of Châtillon, attack a Saracen caravan, and Saladin advances on Raynald’s castle Kerak in retaliation. At the request of the king, Balian defends the villagers, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered. Captured, Balian encounters the servant he freed, who he learns is actually Saladin’s chancellor Imad ad-Din. Imad ad-Din releases Balian in repayment of the earlier debt. Saladin arrives with his army to besiege Kerak, and Baldwin meets it with his. They negotiate a Muslim retreat, and Baldwin swears to punish Raynald, though the exertion of these events weakens him.
Baldwin asks Balian to marry Sibylla and take control of the army, knowing they have affection for each other, but Balian refuses because it will require the execution of Guy and the Templars. Baldwin is soon succeeded by Sibylla, and Guy becomes king. Raynald is released, and gives Guy the war he desires by murdering Saladin’s sister. Sending the heads of Saladin’s emissaries back to him, Guy declares war on the Saracens and attempts to assassinate Balian, who barely survives.
Guy marches to war with the army, despite Balian’s advice to remain near water. Saracens annihilate the tired and dehydrated Crusaders in the ensuing desert battle. Saladin executes Raynald, and marches on Jerusalem. Tiberias leaves for Cyprus, believing Jerusalem lost, but Balian remains to protect the people in the city, and knights every fighting man to inspire them. After an assault that lasts three days, a frustrated Saladin parleys with Balian. When Balian reaffirms that he will destroy the city if Saladin does not accept his surrender, Saladin agrees to allow the Christians to leave safely in exchange for Jerusalem. They ponder if it would be better if there were nothing left to fight over.
In the marching column of citizens, Balian finds Sibylla, who has renounced her claim as Queen. After they return to France, English knights en route to retake Jerusalem ride through the town to enlist Balian, now the famed defender of Jerusalem. Balian tells the crusader that he is merely a blacksmith again, and they depart. Balian is joined by Sibylla, and they pass by the grave of Balian’s wife as they ride towards the unknown. An epilogue notes that “nearly a thousand years later, peace in the Holy Land still remains elusive.”
- Orlando Bloom as Balian of Ibelin.
- Eva Green as Sibylla of Jerusalem.
- Jeremy Irons as Raymond III of Tripoli (“Tiberias”).
- David Thewlis as The Hospitaller.
- Brendan Gleeson as Raynald of Châtillon (“Reynald”).
- Marton Csokas as Guy de Lusignan.
- Edward Norton as King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.
- Michael Sheen as Priest.
- Liam Neeson as Barisan of Ibelin (“Godfrey”).
- Velibor Topić as Almaric.
- Ghassan Massoud as Saladin.
- Alexander Siddig as Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani.
- Khaled Nabawy as Mullah.
- Kevin McKidd as English Sergeant.
- Michael Shaeffer as Young Sergeant.
- Jon Finch as Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem.
- Ulrich Thomsen as Gerard de Ridefort (“Templar Master”).
- Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Village Sheriff.
- Martin Hancock as Gravedigger.
- Nathalie Cox as Balian’s Wife.
- Eriq Ebouaney as Firuz.
- Jouko Ahola as Odo.
- Giannina Facio as Saladin’s sister.
- Philip Glenister as Squire.
- Bronson Webb as Apprentice.
- Steven Robertson as Angelic Priest.
- Iain Glen as Richard I of England (Richard Coeur de Lion).
- Angus Wright as Richard’s Knight.
Many of the characters in the film are fictionalised versions of historical figures.
The visual style of Kingdom of Heaven emphasises set design and impressive cinematography in almost every scene. It is notable for its “visually stunning cinematography and haunting music”.[ Cinematographer John Mathieson created many large, sweeping landscapes, where the cinematography, supporting performances, and battle sequences are meticulously mounted. The cinematography and scenes of set-pieces have been described as “ballets of light and color”, drawing comparisons to Akira Kurosawa. Director Ridley Scott’s visual acumen was described as the main draw of Kingdom of Heaven, with the “stellar” and “stunning” cinematography and “jaw-dropping combat sequences” based on the production design of Arthur Max.
British visual effects firm Moving Picture Company completed 440 effects shots for the film. Additionally, Double Negative also contributed to complete the CGI work on the film.
The music differs in style and content from the soundtrack of Scott’s earlier 2000 film Gladiator and many other subsequent films depicting historical events. A combination of medieval, Middle Eastern, contemporary classical, and popular influences, the soundtrack is largely the work of British film-score composer Harry Gregson-Williams. Jerry Goldsmith’s “Valhalla” theme from The 13th Warrior (1999) and “Vide Cor Meum” (originally used by Scott in Hannibal and composed by Patrick Cassidy and Hans Zimmer), sung by Danielle de Niese and Bruno Lazzaretti, were used as replacements for original music by Gregson-Williams.
Bloom’s character, Balian of Ibelin, was a close ally of Raymond III of Tripoli, the film’s Tiberias, and a member of that faction which sought a place within the patchwork of the Near East and opposed the aggressive policy of Raynald of Châtillon, the Templars, and “fanatics newly from Europe”, who refused to come to terms of peace with the Muslims. Balian was a mature gentleman, just a year or two younger than Raymond, and one of the most important nobles in the kingdom, not a French blacksmith. His father, Barisan (the French “Balian”), founded the Ibelin family in the east, and probably came from Italy. Balian and Sibylla were indeed united in the defence of Jerusalem but no romantic relationship existed between the two. Balian married Sibylla’s stepmother Maria Comnena, Dowager Queen of Jerusalem and Lady of Nablus. Nablus, rather than Ibelin, was Balian’s fief at the time of Jerusalem’s fall.
The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre (the so-called Chronicle of Ernoul) claimed that Sibylla had been infatuated with Balian’s older brother Baldwin of Ibelin, a widower over twice her age, but this is doubtful; instead, it seems that Raymond of Tripoli attempted a coup to marry her off to him to strengthen the position of his faction. This legend seems to have been behind the film’s creation of a romance between Sibylla and a member of the Ibelin family.
King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, who reigned from 1174 to 1185, was a leper, and his sister Sibylla did marry Guy of Lusignan, though on her own initiative. Baldwin IV had a falling out with Guy, and so Guy did not succeed Baldwin IV immediately. Baldwin crowned Sibylla’s son from her previous marriage to William of Montferrat, five-year-old Baldwin V, co-king in 1183. The little boy reigned as sole king for one year, dying in 1186 at nine years of age. After her son’s death, Sibylla and Guy (to whom she was devoted) garrisoned the city, and she claimed the throne. The coronation scene in the movie was – in real life – more of a shock: Sibylla had been forced to promise to divorce Guy before becoming queen, with the assurance that she would be permitted to pick her own consort. After being crowned by Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem (who is unnamed until late in the movie), she chose to crown Guy as her consort. Raymond of Tripoli was not present, but was in Nablus attempting a coup, with Balian of Ibelin, to raise Sibylla’s half-sister (Balian’s stepdaughter), Princess Isabella of Jerusalem, to the throne. Isabella’s husband, Humphrey IV of Toron, refused to precipitate a civil war and swore allegiance to Guy.
Raymond of Tripoli was a cousin of Amalric I of Jerusalem, one of the Kingdom’s most powerful nobles, and sometime regent. He had a claim to the throne himself, but, being childless, instead tried to advance his allies in the Ibelin family. He was often in conflict with Guy and Raynald of Châtillon, who had risen to their positions by marrying wealthy heiresses and through the king’s favour. The film’s portrayal of Raynald of Châtillon as insane is not supported by contemporary sources, though the same sources do portray Raynald as a reckless, aggressive freebooting warlord who frequently violated truces between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Sultanate of Egypt. The film’s picture of Guy encouraging Raynald of Châtillon to attack Muslim pilgrimage convoys on their way to Mecca to provoke a war with Saladin is false. Guy was a weak, indecisive king who wanted to avoid a war with Saladin and who was simply unable to control the reckless Raynald.
Saladin’s abortive march on Kerak followed Raynald’s raid on the Red Sea, which shocked the Muslim world by its proximity to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Guy and Raynald also harassed Muslim caravans and herders, and the claim that Raynald captured Saladin’s sister is based on the account given in the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre. This claim, unsupported by any other account, is generally believed to be false. In actuality, after Raynald’s attack on one caravan, Saladin made sure that the next one, in which his sister was travelling, was properly guarded: the lady came to no harm. The depiction in the film of the Battle of Hattin, where the Crusader force wandered around the desert for three days without water before being ambushed, is consistent with the known facts. The scene in the film where Saladin hands Guy a cup of iced water (which in the Muslim world was a sign that the victor intended to spare the life of his prisoner), and then notes that he did not hand Raynald the cup (indicating that Raynald was to be executed) is supported by the Persian historian Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani who was present with Saladin after the Battle of Hattin.
Balian was present at the Battle of Hattin, but escaped and fled to Tyre and then Jerusalem, to retrieve his wife and children. The defenders of the city, including the military orders and the Patriarch Heraclius, named him the leader of the city’s defence. On the ninth day of the siege of Jerusalem, Saladin’s forces breached the wall, but the defenders held out until the tenth day, when Balian surrendered the city to Saladin. The Christians of the city were made to ransom themselves, and Balian was unable to raise the funds to ransom all the city’s poor; thousands marched out into safety and thousands into slavery.
Balian and Sibylla remained in the Holy Land during the events of the Third Crusade. Sibylla was a victim of an epidemic during the Siege of Acre. Balian’s relations with Richard I of England were far from amicable, because he supported the claim to kingship of Conrad of Montferrat against Richard’s vassal Guy. He and his wife Maria arranged her daughter Isabella’s forcible divorce from Humphrey of Toron so she could marry Conrad. Ambroise, who wrote a poetic account of the crusade, called Balian “more false than a goblin” and said he “should be hunted with dogs”.
An episode of The History Channel’s series History vs. Hollywood analysed the historical accuracy of the film. This programme and a Movie Real (a series by A&E Network) episode about Kingdom of Heaven were both included on the DVD release.
Upon its release it was met with a mixed reception, with many critics being divided on the film. Critics such as Roger Ebert found the film’s message to be deeper than that of Scott’s Gladiator (2000).
The film was a box office disappointment in the US and Canada, earning $47.4 million against a budget of around $130 million, but did better in Europe and the rest of the world, earning $164.3 million, with the worldwide box office earnings totalling at $211,643,158. It was also a big success in Arabic-speaking countries, especially Egypt. Scott insinuated that the US failure of the film was the result of bad advertising, which presented the film as an adventure with a love story rather than as an examination of religious conflict. It has also been noted that the film was altered from its original version to be shorter and follow a simpler plot line. This “less sophisticated” version is what hit theatres, although Scott and some of his crew felt it was watered down, explaining that by editing, “You’ve gone in there and taken little bits from everything”.
Extended Director’s Cut
Unhappy with the theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven (which he blamed on paying too much attention to the opinions of preview audiences, and acceding to Fox’s request to shorten the film by 45 minutes), Ridley Scott supervised a director’s cut of the film, which was released on 23 December 2005 at the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Unlike the mixed critical reception of the film’s theatrical version, the Director’s Cut received overwhelmingly positive reviews from film critics, including a four-star review in the British magazine Total Film and a ten out of ten from IGN DVD. Empire magazine called the reedited film an “epic”, adding, “The added 45 minutes in the director’s cut are like pieces missing from a beautiful but incomplete puzzle.” One reviewer suggested it is the most substantial director’s cut of all time and James Berardinelli wrote that it offers a much greater insight into the story and the motivations of individual characters. “This is the one that should have gone out,” reflected Scott.
The DVD of the extended director’s cut was released on 23 May 2006. It comprises a four-disc box set with a runtime of 194 minutes, and is shown as a roadshow presentation with an overture and intermission in the vein of traditional Hollywood epic films. The first Blu-ray release omitted the roadshow elements, running at 189 minutes, but they were restored for the 2014 Ultimate Edition release.
Scott gave an interview to STV on the occasion of the extended edition’s UK release, when he discussed the motives and thinking behind the new version. Asked if he was against previewing in general in 2006, Scott stated: “It depends who’s in the driving seat. If you’ve got a lunatic doing my job, then you need to preview. But a good director should be experienced enough to judge what he thinks is the correct version to go out into the cinema.”
Significant subplots were added as well as enhanced character relationships. The priest Balian kills at the beginning of the film is revealed to be his brother, while the bishop presiding over Balian’s hometown is revealed to be Godfrey’s brother. Battle scenes are depicted with more violence than in the theatrical cut. More scenes with the Hospitaller offering guidance to Balian were added back in. The most significant addition was the subplot involving Sybilla’s son Baldwin V, who becomes the first to inherit the throne of Jerusalem following the passing of Baldwin IV, but is shown to be afflicted with leprosy just like his uncle before him, so Sybilla peacefully poisons him to prevent him from suffering as his predecessor did. The gravedigger from Balian’s hometown is given more attention: he is shown to be philosophical at the beginning of the film, and is shown to follow Balian to Jerusalem to seek salvation like Balian, who acknowledges his presence and personally knights him before the final siege. Finally, a final fight is shown between Balian and Guy, where Balian wins but spares Guy, leaving him dishonoured.
- Filming took place in Ouarzazate, Morocco, where Scott had previously filmed Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, and in Spain, at the Loarre Castle (Huesca), Segovia, Ávila, Palma del Río, and Seville’s Casa de Pilatos and Alcázar.
- The film received mixed reviews upon theatrical release.
- On 23 December 2005, Scott released a director’s cut, which received critical acclaim, with many reviewers calling it the definitive version of the film.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Ridley Scott.
- Producer(s): Ridley Scott.
- Writer(s): William Monahan.
- Music: Harry Gregson-Williams.
- Cinematography: John Mathieson.
- Editor(s): Dody Dorn.
- Production: Scott Free Productions, Inside Track, and Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures GmbH.
- Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox.
- Release Date: 02 May 2005 (London Premiere), 05 May 2005 (Germany), and 06 May 2005 (UK and US).
- Running Time: 144 minutes (theatrical) and 194 minutes (director’s cut).
- Rating: 15.
- Country: UK, US and Germany.
- Language: English, Arabic, Italian, and Latin.