Part 55 - Maille and Hollywood II
by Lord Thomas the Black



Maille in Hollywood II

            Welcome back to another edition of everyone’s favorite maille-related monthly: “Blackmaille”!

            This month, we’re taking another look at Hollywood’s successes (few!) and failures (many!) in depicting the Middle Ages in general, and maille in particular. Unlike last time (Blackmaille #32), I won’t be discussing the history of maille research this time around. It’s been done. This will just be a straight review of these films, based on the maille depicted therein. So get your popcorn and Milk Duds, and find your seats. "Blackmaille" is going back to the movies!

            Having covered nine examples of Hollywood’s take on the Middle Ages the first time around, I decided nine was a nice, round number. This month, the movies we’ll be reviewing will be:

                        Alexander Nevsky (1938)

                        El Cid  (1961)

                        Gawain and the Green Knight (1973)

                        Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

                        Knightriders (1981)

                        Henry V (1989)

                        The 13th Warrior (1999)

                        Joan of Arc (1999)

                        Beowolf and Grendel (2005)

            On with the show!


Alexander Nevsky (1938)

Text Box: Stars:  N. Cherkasov
            D. Orlov
            A. Abikosov
Directed by:   Sergei M. Eisenstein
                        D.I. Vassiliev
Black and white, subtitled


            “Alexander Nevsky” is a WWII propaganda film, meant as a parable of Russia’s resistance to the Third Reich. It was successful enough that Sergei Eisenstein was awarded one of Russia’s top medals of honor for his directing work here. “Nevsky” is the story of a 13th Century Russian prince fighting invading Teutonic Knights. Russian clothing and armor is not my field of expertise, so I can’t comment on that. I will say, however, that the Teutonic Knights’ helms looked like buckets with eye slits cut in them. One even had horns! He looked like the head of the serpent cult from “Conan the Barbarian”! The maille is knit-maille throughout, with the exception of one maille shirt, worn by the blacksmith in Novgorod, which looked like an actual museum piece that was brought out for the film!

            Overall, a decent film, but if you’re not into Russian history, it may be kind of hard to sit through.  


El Cid  (1961)

Text Box: Stars:  Charlton Heston
            Sophia Loren
            Raf Valione
Directed by:  Anthony Mann
Won 3 academy Awards in 1962 (Best Art Direction, Best Music Score, Best Music Song)

            “El Cid” is the dramatic tale of Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, AKA El Cid, an 11th Century warrior who united Spain against the muslims. As is usual for films from the early 60’s, the sets and costumes look amazing, but the armor needs work, and the maille is knit-maille. Some of the weaponry is suspect (movie is set in the 11th Century, but El Cid carries a swept-hilt rapier). The battle scenes are epic. This was back in the days when if you wanted 10,000 people on-screen, you had to hire 10,000 extras, not four guys who’d be copied by the computer later!

            A good movie, but the armor is rubbish.


Gawain and the Green Knight (1973)

<No Picture Available>

            I had intended to review this movie, but alas, the gentleman I’d intended on borrowing it from had taped over it, and it is as yet unavailable from Netflix. No big loss, really. Filmed two years prior to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, “Gawain” was an obvious influence on “Monty Python”. Same low budget, same crap armor (knit-maille throughout). Same “illuminated manuscript” scene changes, even! “Gawain” can be unintentionally hilarious if viewed after “Monty Python”, as we did. Look for the “Bowling Trophy of Doom”!

            Utter crap, but funny if watched alongside “Monty Python”.


Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) 

Text Box: Stars: Terry Jones
            Michael Palin
            John Cleese
Directed by: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

            Shot two years after “Gawain and the Green Knight”, “Holy Grail” mimics the style of “Gawain” perfectly. “Holy Grail” is one of Monty Python’s classics, and has become a “must-see” film among members of the SCA. Everyone has seen it, everyone quotes from it (sometimes at great length!). Ask anyone in the SCA what their favorite scene is, and you’re sure to get an answer. Not everyone notices the armor in it, though. Often lost in the hilarity is the fact that Terry Jones is a scholar of the Middle Ages, and the armor in “Holy Grail” looks better than most efforts from this same time period (I’m looking at you, “Gawain”!). King Arthur has real maille hanging from his helm, and most of the other cast members appear to be wearing the real thing, as well. Amazing!

            Why are you still reading this? Go watch “Holy Grail”!


Knightriders (1981)

Text Box: Stars:   Ed Harris
            Tom Savini
            Patricia Tallman
Directed by:  George Romero


            One of George Romero’s non-zombie films, this tale of jousting motorcyclists (yes, you read that right: Jousting. Motorcyles.) is said to be a thinly-veiled parable of the Adrian Empire, and their split from the SCA. Since the Adrian Empire was founded in 1987, I’d have to doubt that. The armor in “Knightriders” looks like a mish-mash of motocross armor, “Mad Max”, and renfest fantasy garbage. Oddly enough, the garb all looks really good! “Knightriders” is a fun movie, but as an accurate portrayal of the SCA, the renfest life, or hell, even of motorcyclists, it falls way short. There’s no maille at all, so I guess it didn’t really belong on this list.


Henry V (1989)

Text Box: Stars:  Kenneth Brannaugh
            Derek Jacobi
            Emma Thompson
Directed by:  Kenneth Brannaugh


            Kenneth Brannaugh is well-known for adapting the works of Shakespeare to film. Fortunately, he’s able to do so without completely mangling The Bard’s work (although I still don’t agree with casting Keanu Reeves in “Much Ado About Nothing”, but I digress…). Shakespeare’s tale of King Henry V at the battle of Agincort comes alive under Brannaugh’s skillfull directing, and his grasp of The Bard’s writings shows in his acting. The armor throughout “Henry V” looks amazing, and much of the maille (when clearly visible) looks like the real thing. This movie deserves to be in the collection of anyone with even a passing interest in the Middle Ages.

            A classic film, worth of being the yardstick by which all others are measured.


The 13th Warrior (1999)

Text Box: Stars:  Antonio Banderas
            Diane Venora
            Omar Sharif
Directed by:  John McTiernan


            Based on Michael Chrichton’s bestseller “Eaters of the Dead”, “13th Warrior” is a thinly-veiled retelling of the epic poem “Beowolf”, which attempts to put the events of the poem into a semi-historical context, wherein one can see how the telling would change over the years to become the literary work we know today. The armor is a mish-mash of several different times. One Viking wears a Roman gladiator’s helm into battle, while their leader is decked out in what looks like 16th century plate harness, decorated with Celtic knot-work! Still, the maille worn by Antonio Banderas’ Ibn Fadlan is very nicely done, with hook closures and integral coif, and is even blackened!


Joan of Arc (1999)

Text Box: Stars:  Leelee Sobiesky
            Shirley MacLane
            Robert Loggia
Directed by:   Christian Duguay
Originally a CBS miniseries


            This movie manages to get so much right, and yet still falls short in many places. Unlike “The Messenger”, “Joan of Arc”s Leelee Sobiesky was only 16 when she took this role, putting her at the right age for Joan of Arc. Milla Jovovich was 24 in “The Messenger”. The armor throughout “Joan of Arc” was made by an Italian company called Ranbati, which has been making armor for 150 years. The armor was completely done by hand, and took about as long to complete as The historical Joan of Arc’s harness! The plate harnesses throughout look good, but sadly, the maille appears to be a mix of real and knit-maille (disappointing to see in newer movies).

            A somewhat different take on Joan of Arc than “The Messenger”, but good nonetheless.


Beowolf and Grendel (2005)


Stars:  Gerard Butler

            Stellan Skaarsgaard

            Steinder Andersen


Directed by:  Sturla Gunnarson


            This movie takes the “Grendel-as-caveman” premise from “The 13th Warrior” (one of the Viking actors was in “The 13th Warrior”, in fact!), then urinates on it like Grendel on a doorstop. This movie is such utter crap, I’m ashamed of myself for having rented it from Netflix twice (once to watch, then again for this article). The acting is spotty, the plot is nonsense, and the armor looks like gothic/fantasy crap. Still, for all its faults, “B&G” manages to get the maille right! Almost all of the Vikings wear maille in nearly every scene, and unlike most productions, this is obviously riveted metal maille! In fact, the first scene in which we see Beowolf, he’s swimming in maille!

            The scene where Grendel mocks the priest outside Hrothgar’s longhouse is kinda funny, but don’t waste your money on this junk film. On a side note, Gerard Butler stars in a lot of “medieval movies”, doesn’t he? “Timeline”, “300”, “Beowolf and Grendel”, etc…

             Well, that wraps it up for another edition of “Blackmaille”! I plan to do a few more of these, not on an annual basis or anything, just when I have enough to work with. If there’s a movie you’d like to see reviewed, let me know! As usual, any and all suggestions, comments, questions, hate mail, or fan mail can be sent to me at:

                        c/o Tom Beckett
                        13628 Belmead Ave
                        Grandview, MO 64030

Or you can email them to me at:

             Thanks for joining us for another month. Tune in next month, when we begin our three-part series on a project commissioned from our Baronial Maille Guild. See you next month!



 Medieval Sourcebook: Medieval History in Movies

Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS): Annotated Catalog of Medieval and Renaissance Films

Internet Movie Database


Back to the Blackmaille Webpage

Back to the Cm an Iolair Information Webpage


Articles: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008  Thomas Becket/Lord Thomas the Black
e-mail questions & comments to:

Hosting: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008  Ron Knight/Modar Neznanich