Just recently, the Hollywood movie Kingdom of Heaven was shown repeatedly in Skycable’s HBO channel. An action-packed film produced and directed by Hollywood legend Ridley Scott in 2005.
The Kingdom of Heaven stars the award-winning veteran actor Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) and newcomer Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean). Having a good storyline and superb cinematography, the movie probably is destined to become a classic comparable to the likes of the Ten Commandments, Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia. The only difference is that the Kingdom of Heaven had the benefits of modern-day technology like the computer to do the camera tricks. The three other movies were made more than 40 years ago and because of this, a great number of extras were needed when doing battle scenes. Set in the year 1184 A.D., during the latter part of Crusader rule in Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be a historical movie. But like many historical movies recently made by Hollywood, it abounds with many inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
Fictional characters, fictional events
One such inaccuracy is the character of Balian (played by Orlando Bloom). While it is true that there was a Balian of Ibelin, a Crusader noble who played a crucial role in the defence of Jerusalem before it fell to the Muslim sultan Saladin in 1887, he never had to travel to the Holy Land as he did in the movie because he was already a part of the nobility there. In the opening scenes of the movie, Balian, a young and poor blacksmith was invited by Godfrey (played by Liam Neeson) to join the crusades so that he could find forgiveness for his wife’s suicide. Godfrey, who recently returned to France from the Holy Land, was also the father of Balian, an illigitimate son. Godfrey is a fictional character. Balian’s true father was Barisan of Ibelin who fathered three sons- Hugh, Baldwin and Balian, all of whom were legitimate. All of them reside in the Holy Land during Christendom’s 100-year rule over Jerusalem. Second, Balian was never romantically involved with Sybilla (Eva Green), the beautiful sister of the King of Jerusalem. He was already married in 1177 to dowager queen Maria Comnena and they had four children. Actually, it was Balian’s brother, Baldwin, who had a love interest in Sybilla. Third, like Godfrey the character of Tiberias (portrayed by Jeremy Irons) is a fictional one. No one named Tiberias is recorded as playing any substantive role in these events. The character of Tiberias was probably taken from the name of the city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Now a part of Israel, Tiberias is only 10 kilometers away from the city of Hattin.
Battle of Hattin
The Crusader’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Muslims in the Battle of Hattin was a prelude to the siege of Jerusalem. This event happened on July 4, 1187, 3 months before the actual siege. A great number of Christian knights were either massacred or captured. In the movie, Balian did not join the Battle of Hattin because he was against the idea of launching a new war against the Muslims. But in reality, he was there together with King Guy du Lusignan and Reynald du Chatillon, the two antagonists in the movie. Actually, Balian was one of the very few who escaped from the Battle of Hattin. King Guy and Reynald du Chatillon were taken prisoners by Saladin. While in captivity, Saladin offered King Guy a glass of water and filled it with ice. But it was Reynald de Chatillon who grabbed the silver glass and gulped everything in it. This angered Saladin who later slit Chatillon’s throat. Reynald de Chatillon was later “finished off” by the guards of Saladin. Historical records show that Chatillon was actually hit by a sword on his shoulder blades. The movie though, had a good portrayal of Reynald du Chatillon. Du Chatillon was the Crusader scoundrel who raided Muslim caravans for profit. In the movie, the sister of Saladin was in one of those caravans. Again, this was another inaccuracy. Saladin’s sister was nowhere near those caravans. The next scene was again a purely invented one -King Guy tied to a donkey half-naked and left to die in the desert while Saladin’s horsemen started the attack to capture Jerusalem. King Guy did not die this way. After one year in captivity, he was given amnesty by Saladin and returned to the Kingdom of Tyre (Lebanon). He would later rule the Kingdom of Cyprus for three years until his death.
There was a “standoff” between Crusaders and the Muslims at the gate of David in Jerusalem and this made Saladin accept the terms of surrender offered by the Christians. Again, this is another inaccuracy. What made Saladin accept the Christian’s terms for surrender was Balian’s threat to kill all Muslims inside the city and burn their places of worship like the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid al-Aqsa. Muslim chronicler Ibn Al-Athir quotes Balian:”Know O Sultan, that there are very many of us in this city, God alone knows how many. At the moment we are fighting half-heartedly in the hope of saving our lives, hoping to be spared by you as you have spared others; this is because of our horror of death and our love of life. But if we see that death is inevitable, then by God we shall kill our children and our wives, burn our possessions, so as not to leave you with a dinar or a drachma or a single man or woman to enslave. When this is done, we shall pull down the Sanctuary of the Rock (today’s Dome of the Rock) and the Masjid al-Aqsa and the other sacred places, slaughtering the Muslim prisoners we hold—5,000 of them—and killing every horse and animal we possess. Then we shall come out to fight you like men fighting for their lives, when each man, before he falls dead, kills his equals; we shall die with honour, or win a noble victory”.
King Richard the Lionheart
In the final scene, we see a Richard the Lionheart together with his army on horseback seeking the help of Balian in their quest to recapture Jerusalem. Balian, by this time, was already a retired knight working as a blacksmith and living “happily” with the former queen Sybilla in his hometown of France. Again, this was a purely invented scene. King Richard did not travel to France on horseback to get to Jerusalem but instead travelled by boat from England directly to the port city of Tyre (Lebanon) enroute to Jerusalem. Balian, on the other hand, did not live with Queen Sybilla but settled with his family in Tripoli (Libya) after the fall of Jerusalem. Later, he would spend the rest of his life in the port city of Tyre.
And so, with all its inconsistencies and inaccuracies, is the “Kingdom of Heaven” still worth watching?
The answer is yes. In the latter part of the movie, there is an epilogue which states “nearly a thousand years later, peace in the Kingdom of Heaven remains elusive.”
This movie probably reflects the attitudes- the hatred and the bigotry of the people- the Jews, Muslims and Christians, who even after more than a thousand years are still fighting for control over the holy city, Jerusalem. A little more than 2 weeks ago, about 200 people have lost their lives when fighting erupted between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the place we call the “Kingdom of Heaven”.
“God did not tell us to kill for his Kingdom”
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