Kingdom of Heaven is a 2005 epic historical fiction 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, Edward Norton, Marton Csokas, Liam Neeson, 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 back 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 (c. 1143-1193).
In 1184 France, Balian, a blacksmith, is haunted by his wife’s recent suicide, after the death of their unborn child. 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 (Balian’s half-brother) reveals that he ordered Balian’s wife’s body beheaded before burial, Balian inspects the priest thoroughly, noticing the priest had stolen his wife’s necklace and kills him before fleeing 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.
In Messina, they have a contentious encounter with Guy de Lusignan, 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 arrow wound and dies. During the journey to Jerusalem, Balian’s ship runs aground in a storm, leaving him as the only survivor. Balian is confronted by a Muslim cavalier, who attacks in a fight for his horse. Balian is forced to slay the cavalier but spares his servant, who tells him that this mercy 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 Guy’s wife and also mother to a little boy from an earlier marriage. 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 finds the residents struggling and the land almost barren from lack of water. He quickly gets to work, using his knowledge of engineering to irrigate the dry and dusty lands, while working right alongside the workers. The land quickly turns into lush farmland which both improves the residents’ lives and earns Balian the love and respect of his people. During that time Sibylla visits him and watches him as he interacts with his tenants, and they become lovers.
In 1185 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 king’s request, Balian defends the villagers, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered. Captured, Balian encounters the servant he had freed, who he learns is actually Saladin’s chancellor Imad ad-Din. Imad ad-Din releases Balian in repayment of his earlier mercy. Saladin arrives with a massive army to besiege Kerak, and Baldwin meets them with his own. 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, but Balian refuses, much to Sybilla’s & Tiberius’ dismay, because it will require the execution of Guy and the Templars. Baldwin soon dies and is succeeded by his nephew, Sybilla’s son, now Baldwin V. Sybilla, as regent, intends to maintain her brother’s peace with Saladin. Shortly, her son, like his uncle before him, begins to develop leprosy. Devastated and driven by the common belief of eternal damnation for lepers, Sybilla makes the heartrending decision to end her son’s life by pouring poison into his ear while he sleeps in her arms; she then hands the crown to her husband Guy and withdraws in private to mourn.
As King of Jerusalem, Guy releases Raynald, who gives him the war he desires by murdering Saladin’s sister. Sending the severed heads of Saladin’s emissaries back to him, Guy declares war on the Saracens in 1187 and attempts to assassinate Balian, who barely survives. Guy marches to war with the army, despite Balian’s advice to remain near Jerusalem’s water sources. The Saracens later annihilate the tired and dehydrated Crusaders in the ensuing desert battle. Saladin takes Guy captive, 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. They ponder if it would be better if the city were destroyed, as there would be nothing left to fight over.
In the city, Balian is confronted by the humiliated Guy, and defeats him in a sword fight, though he spares Guy’s life, telling him to “rise a knight” as if he never were. 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 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 toward the unknown. An epilogue notes that “nearly a thousand years later, peace in the Kingdom of Heaven still remains elusive”.
Many of the characters in the film are fictionalised versions of historical figures:
- 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 Amalric.
- 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.
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.
Upon its release it was met with a mixed reception, with many critics being divided on the film.
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 success in Arabic-speaking countries, especially Egypt. Scott insinuated that the US failure of the film was the result of poor 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 half-brother, while the lord 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.
Scott, possibly anticipating criticism of historical accuracy, said: “Story books are what we base our movies on, and what we base our characters on.” The story of Balian of Ibelin was heavily fictionalised; the historical Balian was not a French artisan but a prominent lord in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The characters of Godfrey of Ibelin and the Hospitaller were wholly invented, while the stories of others were “tweaked”; for example, Raynald of Châtillon’s responsibility for the Christian defeat is downplayed in order to make Guy “more of an autonomous villain”.
The historical Sibylla was devoted to Guy, but the filmmakers wanted the character to be “stronger and wiser”. Some have said that the character of Sibylla was reimagined to fit the trope of exotic Middle Eastern woman, whereas historically Sibylla and Baldwin belonged to a distinctly Western class that sought to set themselves apart from Middle Eastern culture. Moreover, while described in contemporary accounts as a young man vigorous in spite of his leprosy, King Baldwin is portrayed in the film as passive, androgynous, and bound to his chamber.
- Ridley Scott disowned the theatrical cut, he claims that the Director’s Cut is the definitive version.
- Edward Norton was briefly considered for the role of Guy, but upon reading the script he lobbied for the role of King Baldwin.
- Because the King appears behind a mask, he requested not to be credited. However, his name was put back in the video releases of the film.
- Three 60-foot siege towers were built for the film, using the technology of the period. Each one weighed 25 tons.
- To accomplish the scene where a number of siege towers collapse, one of the real towers was knocked over on set and filmed from 11 different positions and locations.
- Various shots of the single tower falling were then composited together to give the impression that several towers had collapsed in different ways and in different directions.
- To create both the theatrical cut and the Director’s Cut, editor Dody Dorn worked for fifteen months straight.
- The average film takes, at most, four or five months to edit.
- Director Ridley Scott and writer William Monahan felt that the unnamed character played by David Thewlis was an embodiment of God, or at the very least, an angel on a mission from God.
- This is not at all apparent in the theatrical cut, but in the Director’s Cut, there are two scenes which strongly hint at it – one where the character seemingly disappears after a conversation with Balian (Orlando Bloom), the other where he seems to “resurrect” Balian after he is attacked and injured by three assassins.
- After being cast in the role of Godfrey, Liam Neeson realized he knew nothing about the Crusades and began his research with “The Complete Idiots Guide to the Crusades” by Paul L. Williams, a book Neeson calls “extremely informative”.
- Roughly 12,000-15,000 costumes were made for the film, each with 13 to 15 separate components (helmets, boots, gloves, several pieces of chainmail, belts, scabbards, etc.).
- King Mohamed VI of Morocco is a friend of Ridley Scott, and personally provided the production with a detachment of 1,500 military personnel and equipment.
- Often these personnel depicted both Christian and Muslim armies, with a change of costume and location between scenes.
- The flag budget for the film was $250,000.
- In total, 1,200 flags, comprising 650 separate designs, were made in Spain, England, Morocco, and India.
- The French village at the start and end of the film was built near Huesca, a small city in northern Spain.
- The castle seen in these scenes is a real crusader castle built in 1076, Castillo de Loarre.
- As he would do in Morocco when building Ibelin, production designer Arthur Max decided to use traditional building techniques and local craftsmen.
- In Galicia, he found craftsmen who still did slate roofs, thatching, and stone dry-walling, and these men were employed to build the village set.
- Orlando Bloom had just completed filming Troy (2004) when he received the screenplay for Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and was initially reluctant to even read the script for another historical epic.
- Knowing it was being put together by Ridley Scott convinced him to give it a chance.
- The filming of the siege of Jerusalem took twenty-one days.
- In real life, the siege itself lasted only thirteen days.
Production & Filming Details
- Ridley Scott.
- Karim Abouobayd … line producer: Morocco.
- Mark Albela … co-producer.
- Bruce Devan … co-producer.
- Lisa Ellzey … executive producer.
- José Luis Escolar … line producer: Spain.
- Teresa Kelly … associate producer.
- Branko Lustig … executive producer.
- Henning Molfenter … co-producer.
- Terry Needham … executive producer.
- Denise O’Dell … co-producer.
- Thierry Potok … co-producer.
- Ridley Scott … producer.
- Ty Warren … associate producer.
- William Monahan.
- Harry Gregson-Williams.
- John Mathieson.
- Dody Dorn.
- Twentieth Century Fox (presents).
- Scott Free Productions (production).
- BK (co-production).
- KOH (co-production).
- Reino del Cielo (co-production).
- Studio Babelsberg (co-production) (as Babelsberg Film).
- Inside Track 3 (in association with).
- Calle Cruzada.
- Dune Films.
- Medusa Film.
- StudioCanal (uncredited).
- Kanzaman (uncredited).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (USA) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (UK) (theatrical).
- FS Film (2005) (Finland) (DVD) (theatrical) (VHS).
- Fox-Warner (2005) (Switzerland) (theatrical).
- Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E. (2005) (Spain) (theatrical).
- Medusa Distribuzione (2005) (Italy) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (France) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (Germany) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros Pictures (2005) (India) (theatrical).
- 20th Century Fox Argentina (2005) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- Bontonfilm (2005) (Czechia) (theatrical).
- Gemini Film (2005) (Russia) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Twentieth Century Fox (2005) (Singapore) (theatrical).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2005) (Germany) (DVD).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2005) (USA) (DVD).
- Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (2005) (Netherlands) (DVD).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2006) (Germany) (DVD).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2006) (USA) (Blu-ray).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2006) (USA) (DVD).
- FS Film (2006) (Finland) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Svensk Filmindustri (SF) (2006) (Sweden) (Blu-ray) (director’s cut).
- Svensk Filmindustri (SF) (2006) (Sweden) (DVD).
- Svensk Filmindustri (SF) (2006) (Sweden) (DVD) (director’s cut).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2007) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (2007) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray).
- RTL Entertainment (2008) (Netherlands) (TV) (RTL4).
- Mainostelevisio (MTV3) (2009) (Finland) (TV).
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2010) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- Release Date: 02 May 2005 (Premiere, London, UK).
- Rating: 15.
- Running Time: 144 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.