Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven is set in the twelfth century and follows the story of Balian (played by Orlando Bloom), loosely based on Balian of Ibelin, a crusader nobleman who lived from approximately 1143 to 1193 CE.
In the film, Balian leaves his job as a blacksmith in France in 1184 CE and goes to help the Kingdom of Jerusalem (a crusader state created in 1099 CE after the First Crusade) defend itself against Saladin, the Ayyubid Muslim Sultan.
If you haven’t seen the film before, you may think that it beats you around the head with religion, but it doesn’t. There are other elements of it that make it interesting and compelling. These include family, friendship, and politics. I think Kingdom of Heaven has a strong Game of Thrones vibe to it.
The film premiered in May 2005 and was met with mixed reviews. But director Ridley Scott disliked the theatrical cut. Before the film’s release, studio executives ordered him to cut the film down by forty-five minutes, which inevitably streamlined its narrative and placed a spotlight on Balian. Neither of these were what Scott had intended.
A few months after theatrical version was released, a director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven was released. There’s more of a focus on all the characters, not just Balian. The narrative is also more complex and has deeper meanings to it, like the bond between a mother’s love for her children, as displayed by Princess Sibylla’s (Eva Green) love for her son.
Many people agree that the director’s cut is far better than the original theatrical version. Reviewer James Berardinelli even says that “there’s no reason for anyone to watch the […] theatrical edition” since the director’s cut has been made available. I agree with Berardinelli. The director’s cut should be version of Kingdom of Heaven that people watch.
Like all films, the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven isn’t perfect. Despite having more depth and scope than the theatrical version, it can be slow at times.
The cinematography and the film’s overall production design is spectacular. Kingdom of Heaven was filmed entirely on location in Morroco and Spain. The landscapes that feature in the film mirror that of France and Jerusalem (the primary settings of the film) and seem to not have aged at all since the twelfth century. The props and costumes appear authentic, almost as if they were plucked right from the twelfth century. All this completes the ‘feel’ of the film.
Despite this, Kingdom of Heaven’s flaws hold it down. I want to like it, but it didn’t quite hit the mark in the end. But the director’s cut is still superior to the theatrical version.
I give Kingdom of Heaven three out of five.
Words by Callum J. Jones
Balian of Ibelin – A Biography, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CnJDfdLayA>.
Kingdom of Jerusalem, <https://historica.fandom.com/wiki/Kingdom_of_Jerusalem>.
Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut) (United States/United Kingdom/Spain/Germany, 2005), <http://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/kingdom-of-heaven-director-s-cut>.