(DVD re-issue in the UK)
Nobleman’s son Arn Magnusson is given to the monks of the abbey in thanks to God for recovering from illness. Part of his education is in combat, from a former Templar knight retired to Holy Orders. On coming of age, Arn leaves the Abbey, duels for his father’s honour, then has a child with Cecilia, who is betrothed to a favourite of the hated King.
As punishment, Cecilia is sent to the convent; Arn is enlisted in the Knights Templar to fight for the Holy Land. Each has to survive their twenty-year sentence to reunite their family. Not that the home front is at peace, as rivalries for the throne threaten war and foreign invasion.
It’s a lavish historical epic, spanning medieval Sweden and Palestine during the Crusades, featuring an outstanding International cast.
Overall it is excellent and well worth watching if you’re a fan of a certain kind of movie. This is the Scandinavian Kingdom of Heaven, Braveheart and El Cid all rolled into one, adding a dash of Lawrence of Arabia and Pillars of the Earth, with a smidgeon of Henry V. Based on a trilogy of historical novels about Swedish national hero Arn Magnusson, it has pedigree and substance. It has romantic landscapes, excellent cinematography and some brutal battle scenes.
The cast go about their roles earnestly and there are plenty of recognisable faces. But here’s where the niggles begin. There’s about fourteen production companies putting money into what is a bit of a Euro-pudding. Not that I object to having scenes of dialogue in Swedish, English and Arabic, but it all gets a bit random as to which language and sub-titles are playing, when. Compromises are made for Callow, Perez, Waddington and Boulton to allow for their various cameos and not patronising the Arabic actors. Not that leading man Nätterqvist misses a beat having an excellent cut-glass English accent.
All credit to the two attractive leads, Nätterqvist and Helin, successfully for the most part, pull off the difficult task of playing teenagers into their middle age. Those twenty-years plus prove a long time in a long movie – not as long as Dr Zhivago for example, but none the less, here’s the second slight issue. This should have been two movies, but in the release I have they are edited into one. Structurally it’s not entirely balanced and the movie pays the price for some of the compression. You may also have trouble keeping track of who’s who.
Inevitable short-cuts are made in character and plot, but no worse than, say Kingdom of Heaven, to which it is unfavourably compared. You don’t have to know anything of Swedish history, the Crusades, the Templars or Saladin; but it helps. The cultural distinctions between Medieval Europe, the Muslim nations and the fight for Jerusalem are also thinly drawn.
Which is the last issue you may have. The Crusades, are not simple to depict, and so we have Arn saving, then fighting, then saved by Saladin himself, a handsome, calm and wise warrior. The politically correct script tends to overstate the corruption of the Christian Church and downplay the actions of the Islamic powers (a la Kingdom of Heaven). Instead we get a some cardboard cut-out villains on the Christian side (Boulton and Anderson) to thwart our lead couple and a whole lot of ‘war is hell’ montage after each exquisitely choreographed, bloody battle.
All this may sound harsher criticism than is intended. This is much better than the often ham-fisted Hollywood histories of any of the movies mention and with a European sensibility. As a sucker for this kind of movie, I enjoyed it immensely. RC
Arn – The Knight Templar (2007)
Director: Peter Flinth
Writers: Jan Guillou (novels), Hans Gunnarsson (screenplay)
Running time: 2 hr. 10 min.
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Cast: Joakim Nätterqvist, Sofia Helin, Stellan Skarsgård, Simon Callow, Bibi Andersson, Vincent Perez, Sven-Bertil Taube, Steven Waddington, Michael Nyqvist, Fanny Risberg, Frank Sieckel, Gustaf Skarsgård, Julia Dufvenius, Mirja Turestedt, Anders Baasmo Christianse, Jakob Cedergren, Milind Soman, Morgan Alling, Alex Wyndham, Nicholas Boulton