There have been surprisingly few films about the Crusades, and the handful that do exist have been ambivalent at best about the legacy of those wars.
Prior to Ridley Scott's action epic Kingdom of Heaven, perhaps the biggest Hollywood production to date was Cecil B. DeMille's The Crusades, a 1935 romance that condensed a century or two of history into a melodramatic but ultimately pious love triangle. The film opens on a sensationalistic note, as Muslims tear down crosses and sell Christian women into slavery, but concludes with a message of religious tolerance, as the arrogant King Richard sets aside his faith in the power of his sword in order to find peace and harmony with the Saracens. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the future president of Egypt, was so impressed with the film's dignified portrayal of Saladin (or, in Arabic, Salah-ad-Din) that he let DeMille use the Egyptian army as extras in his 1956 remake of The Ten Commandments.
Beyond that, there have been one or two smaller films, as well as scattered references to the Crusades in films about Robin Hood and Ivanhoe, though the wars themselves are almost always kept well off-screen. One significant exception is the 1991 Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a rather noisy and politically correct action flick that begins in a Jerusalem prison mainly so its title character can add a Muslim sidekick to his Merry Men, preaching the virtues of religious diversity.
So when Scott set out to make his own movie about this era (technically, it does not take place during the Crusades but, rather, between them) he was venturing into largely unexplored territory. And it is to his credit that the film is as nuanced and complex as it is.
Scott and his screenwriter, William Monahan, ...1
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Kingdom of Heaven
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