Kingdom of Heaven

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(2005) ★★★★

Film4: Saturday 20 June, 9pm

One hundred years after Christian armies seized Jerusalem from the Muslims, peasant and aristocrat alike journey to the Holy Land in search of salvation. For crusading knight Liam Neeson, it is a point of honour. To defend Jerusalem’s ailing king and to preserve the fragile peace within the city’s walls. He wants his son Orlando Bloom – a humble blacksmith in Brittany – to accompany him. The Kingdom of Heaven might be easy to find: “Go to where the men speak Italian and then continue until they speak something else…” But a Kingdom of Conscience, where Christian and Muslim can live side by side? That’s a continuing story. Neeson’s noble knight is a dying breed. And the Knights Templar spoil for war with Saladin, king of the Saracens. Ridley Scott’s epic historical adventure fills the screen with staggering scenes of siege and bombardment. Its attention to detail is precise and painterly in its depiction of vanished landscapes. It is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, surpassing even Gladiator’s grandeur. But the figures in the rich tapestry are occasionally obscured by hindsight. The towering Neeson is fine, as always. As are his lieutenants David Thewlis, twinkling of eye, and Kevin McKidd. They are the voices of reason. The knights Reynald and Guy de Lusignan (Brendan Gleeson and Marton Csokas in panto-villain mode) are vainglorious warmongers. In marked contrast, Saladin and the trusted warrior Nassir (Ghassan Massoud and Alexander Siddig) are credited with the patience of Job and the understanding of Ghandi. Though Orlando Bloom’s melancholy blacksmith is an improvement on the elfin archer in The Lord of the Rings and the weedy kid brother in Troy, he fails to develop physically in the convincing manner Colin Farrell achieved in Alexander. You’d still imagine one hard glare from Russell Crowe would knock Orlando off his feet. As for Edward Norton’s leprous king (disguised behind a silver face mask), he’s about as recognisable as Gary Oldman in Hannibal. Another Ridley Scott film. So, like the Kingdom of Heaven itself, Scott’s imposing body of work is clearly a broad church. Power and glory for the Christian knights, dead infidels for the vast Muslim armies. Harsh times! Summed up sarcastically by the sneering Reynald: “Alert me when all men are equal and the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived!”

Certificate: 15
Duration: 180min