Arn the Knight Templar

Arn, the Knight Templar is a Swedish movie about a real Knight Templar and his true love. Their true story is full of tragedy and adventure. Arn is like something from Hollywood’s Golden Age, when Hollywood believed – or, at least, “believed” – in the eternal verities. It is not sublime. But it is Good, through and through.

It is frank about the corruption of the Church, without being in the least anti-clerical. Indeed, it is suffused with the highest, most sublime devotion, spiritual courage, and sacrifice. It is frank about the stupidity of war and of the Christian predicament in Outremer, without being anti-war or anti-Crusades. It takes the Crusades as a normal, natural way for a society to behave, in rather the way we take the Anglo-American reaction to Hitler. It is forthright about the occasional brutality and chaos of High Medieval culture, without being anti-Medieval. The movie honors the Church, Christianity, the Crusades, chivalry, monasticism, the Templars, the High Medieval cosmopolitanism that has Swedes talking to each other in Swedish, English, Latin, French – and at the same time gives the viewer the fullness of life, including the horrible ugly bits.

There is much good acting, from almost complete unknowns. It has lots of Romance, as well as action, and family values, too, to the bitter extremities of loyalty and of feud. The love scenes are never sexy, only sweet: “you have stolen my heart, with a single glance,” says the young hero, and we totally believe it; we feel it, we remember the dizzy vertigo of finding that our life belongs suddenly to another.

The battle scenes are great, the fencing convincing, the horsemanship superb. My son, something of an expert on historical weaponry, spotted no anachronisms in the arms and armor, or for that matter the tactics or the recounting of actual historical battles. This never, ever happens; movies about the Middle Ages are always anachronistic. My son was particularly impressed that in the movie the Templars all had beards, which was a requirement of their order. They are also shown always in chain mail (and what is more, it is just the sort of chain mail that the Templars actually wore in that era), another of their requirements. All sorts of little details are correct.

Perhaps the most important of Arn’s virtues is that the whole plot hinges upon the obedience of the two protagonists to the authority of the Church, even though they know that authority is being wielded corruptly against them for secular political gain. It’s really serious obedience, too. Neither of them grumble, or make the argument that they are being treated unjustly. It is this response to authority that, above all its other virtues, recommends Arn to traditionalists. The movie is a window into a traditional Western society.

Love, tragedy, adventure, friendship, faith, fealty, loyalty, honor, valor, doom, victory, defeat, death, redemption; it’s all here. And it all happened, on this our little planet, to people not so different from us, and not so long ago.

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30 thoughts on “Arn the Knight Templar

    • Same here. Also, while we’re on the subject of Medieval period drama, has anyone seen “The Pillars of the Earth” (or read the book, for that matter)? I’ve seen a trailer, and it looks somewhat promising, if only for the Ian McShane.

      • Sadly, both book and television miniseries are pretty terrible, not to mention historically dubious. Medieval period drama is very hard to get right because of the many false folk beliefs about the era, and because it is hard for the largely secular media classes to understand such a religious age.

        Novels are generally better. I’d recommend Alfred Duggan’s historical novels, which combine a rare understanding of medieval psychology and faith with a wry humour.

  1. Unrelated: I’m a follower of this site, and happy to read the postings. But, aren’t you guys posting too many items too quickly? There isn’t sufficient time to “digest” things, much less to provide feedback. SInce February 17, there have been 35 posts! And, reading some of the articles are not as easy to read as Blondie or Peanuts.

  2. Thank you! I am now constantly on the look out for good reactionary entertainment, and I’m excited to watch this.

    This never, ever happens; movies about the Middle Ages are always anachronistic.

    Agreed. I recently watched Ironclad and couldn’t even finish it, it so disappointed me. Perhaps chief among its grievances, it romanticized and glorified the breaking of monastic vows, which pissed me off royally. As a friend of mine said: Ironclad is ‘yet another modern film set in medieval times’.

    • I tried so hard to watch Ironclad and it couldn’t keep my interest. I only chose it because it had James Purefoy in it, but it was just wrong. I haven’t finished “Arn” (2nd episode) but it has kept my interest so far.

  3. A movie about a Christian knight “with the highest, most sublime devotion, spiritual courage, and sacrifice” MADE IN SWEDEN IN 2007

    And they say that miracles don’t exist…

  4. Oh, I think you are wrong. The Arn novels are written by Jan Guillou. If you are from Sweden (because you have a Swedish name) you should know who he is. Everybody else can look him up. He is an extreme left-winger who is accused of spying for the KGB. He is also a vocal supporter for “Palestinian rights.” I have read one of his Arn books. The message was really terrible. The European knights were depicted as cruel savages and implicitly and explicitly compared to civilized and sophisticated Arabs. It was a typical piece of multicultural propoganda. I will not read any of his books nor see films based on them.

    • Care to rewrite Kristor’s review to reflect the movie as it really is? You make it sound as though he were utterly deluded about what he saw.

    • I just watched both movies, and loved them to bits. Only real hint of “multiculturalism” was the friendship between Arn and Saladin. Arn himself was presented as a noble, wise man of principle.

      There was no preference made for either side in the crusades.

      It even had some pro-war messages – sometimes one must fight to attain peace.

      This must be like how movies normally differ from the books. This time though it is quite fortunate.

  5. I’m hoping that the director remedied the author’s nonsense and provided turnabout to the usual liberal poisoning of art. Turnabout is fair play and aren’t they all about fairness? ;)

  6. Mimi, I think Mr. Guillou must have lost creative control of the project. The knights in the movie are indeed depicted as fell warriors, but not as cruel savages. On the contrary; they are shown as men, with the normal sorts of foibles, and sinfulness, and virtues. This indeed was one of the things that recommended the movie to me. No one in the movie is shown as unrealistically wonderful or bad. There are some bad guys, but they are not inherently bad, they are just doing what they can to push the system to benefit their clan.

    I should say also that while I am of Swedish stock, I am a fully acculturated American, and, regrettably, speak not a word of Swedish.

    • Let’s hope he has. Is it based on the first book? Maybe the second part is to follow where the noble arabs will make an appearance and the crusaders will show their rotten nature. He becomes a friend of (wise and sophisticated) Saladin at one point. Perhaps the second part will disappoint you. I haven’t really followed the film project. I refuse to see the movie(s) because I don’t want one krona of my money to go to that despicable man. Even if he has lost control of his project, he must still be receiving royalties.

      • I haven’t read the books. From what you say, it sounds as if the movie covers the whole trilogy. Saladin makes an appearance, and he is indeed shown in a positive light. But really, he’s not a major figure in the film. His main purpose in the movie is to provide Arn with an opportunity to display his chivalry. Saladin is chivalrous in return. But, apparently, that’s how Saladin really was.

  7. D’oh! I just looked up Arn on Wikipedia, something I should have done before I posted this entry, and find that he is a fictional character after all.

    I stand by the rest of my review.

      • Perhaps a list of recommended historical fiction from the nineteenth century would be a good idea? The scholarship is often outdated but the attitudes are closer to those of our ancestors than those of many recent historical novels – and many are very good reads too.

        For instance, I’ve recently read a Maltese novel, “Toni Bajada: The Maltese Messenger of the Grand Master” by Emilio Lombardi (Malta’s answer to Dumas), about the famous Maltese patriot of the sixteenth century, and a Hungarian novel, “Eclipse of the Crescent Moon” by Geza Gardonyi, about the epic siege by the Turks of the Hungarian fortress of Eger in 1552. The former is very Latin adventure story – lots of manly weeping – whilst the latter is a wide-ranging epic with plenty of colour and detail. I’d recommend both.

  8. I dunno – he’s a Swedish knight but the language is English? And the soundtrack is standard movie fare – post-romantic orchestral stuff? It doesn’t really look like they care much about anachronisms. It might still be a good movie but it’s probably not ‘faithful’ to the period in anything more than a superficial sense.

    • The version I saw was almost entirely in Swedish, although English, French, Latin, and some other languages – Arabic? were spoken. Almost the whole movie was subtitled.

      • Yeah the preview could be misleading/dubbed for an English speaking audience. But I also noticed that the English being spoken in the film is modern English, not the English of half a millenia ago!

      • Yeah, they’re speaking modern French, too. And I’ll wager the Swedish is also modern. Plus, the North European knights are not 3 feet taller than their Arabic enemies, which is wrong.

        There is unfortunately only one culture of performance where that utter degree of verisimilitude for which you long is popular, or therefore provided, and that’s in Early Music. And even the period performance practice Nazis don’t use castrati for the soprano parts. Wimps, I guess.

  9. I watched it over the weekend. Very worthwhile.

    As Kristor says, what sets it apart is that medieval and Christian motivations are taken as the basic assumptions of the movie – not mocked or subverted.

    The goodies are real Christians who put Christianity fist and refuse to use wicked means to attain Good ends; the baddies are those who are primarily loyal to their tribe and *use* the Christian power structures (the Abbess, the Bishop) to promote their tribal interests – the baddies are by modern standards extraordinarily devout in their Christian lives, yet because they are Christians second and not first, they do extraordinary evil and are (implicitly) damned.

    All sorts of interesting episodes – e.g. the Templar leader who gets his division of the order wiped-out does so by the sin of ‘tempting’ the Lord – by assuming that normal military caution, estimates of probability and human prudence are not required when the army carries a Holy relic (a fragment of the True Cross).

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  11. This movie is available on Netflix, both on DVD and streaming. I watched it recently as a result of reading this post, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It was surprising to see such a traditionalist movie coming out of a country that has declined so far into advanced liberalism.

    My only quibble with Kristor’s review is that one of the actors, Stellan Skarsgård, is not an “unknown.” He has appeared in several Hollywood blockbusters, including “The Hunt for Red October,” “Good Will Hunting,” and three of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. But this is a minor, quinary point at best, and has no effect on his overall comments.

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