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 (ca. 1143–93).
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 was released on May 6, 2005, by 20th Century Fox in North America and United Kingdom and by Warner Bros. Pictures in Germany and received mixed reviews upon theatrical release. It grossed $218 million worldwide. 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.
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 (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 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 in a fight for his horse. Balian is forced to slay the cavalier but spares the man’s servant, and the man tells Balian 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 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 his earlier mercy. Saladin arrives with his army to besiege Kerak, and Baldwin meets the army 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, knowing they have affection for each other, but Balian refuses 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. In 1186, she is devastated when she finds out that her son, like his uncle before him, has begun to develop leprosy. Driven by the common belief of eternal damnation for lepers, she 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 her son.
Guy, now king, releases Raynald, who 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 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 in exchange for Jerusalem. 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 was. 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 toward the unknown. An epilogue notes that “nearly a thousand years later, peace in the Kingdom of Heaven still remains elusive.”
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 fictionalized; 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.
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