Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 25 October 2021

How not to film Agincourt - and how to understand it

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Not only was the English victory remarkable and of immense impact at the time, but from when news of it reached London it became, notably assisted by Shakespeare almost two centuries later, a significant part of the English, and later British, sense of identity.

I recently came across a video from HistoryLegends looking at the accuracy of the depiction of the battle of Agincourt in the film The King - a somewhat free-style ( to be generous ) retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The presenter concerns himself with the battle itself, not other aspects of the plot. He lays particular stress on the overall grey image and implausible armour that also, patently, needs polishing ( what is an esquire for on such an occasion - one wants to look one’s best on at a battle like this, where you are there to kill or be killed ). Even allowing for the weather and the fraught nature of the English march towards Calais King Henry and his knights would have indeed looked smarter - and more up to date in their armour. One could also mention that the impressive crown the King wore with his armour makes no appearance in the film.

By comparison the 1944 Olivier film does show men in shining armour and fine heraldic jupons. However he has radiant sunshine for the battle which is fought on rolling grassland, never mind the notoriously silly scene of knights being hoisted into their saddles.  There is by contrast to that far too much grunge and not very good armour in the very overrated Branagh film from the 1990s.
Fighting techniques as shown in The King also come in for criticism in the basis of their lack of historical accuracy or their sheer improbability.

The presenter does, incidentally, look uncannily like His late Most Christian Majesty King Francis I of France.

The video can be seen at Historian Reacts to The King (2019) and it is worth looking at the comments section in addition.

After having begun to write this post I then came across a second, similar, review of the presentation of the battle in The King which is perhaps a little less scathing than the first but does not pull its punches in pointing out the inaccuracies of the filmmakers. It can be seen at What "The King" Got Wrong about the Battle of AgincourtAgain the comments section is worth perusing.

A third review from History With Hilbert also looks at the accuracy of The King. It makes similar points about the film to the other two videos and particularly in respect of the depiction of the English strategy and deployment of soldiers. It also adds to the interpretation of the battle with a series of insightful points. It can be seen at How Accurate is the Battle of Agincourt in The King? and again both it and the appended comments draw attention to the degree of distance between historic fact or reality and modern cinematographic invention.

The Shadiversity site alao has a review of The King which draws out, with Australian forthrightness, the inaccuracies and implausibilties of the film. This can be seen at Netflix, The King, historical analysis review: CRIMES AGAINST MEDIEVAL REALISM

Amongst the various videos about Agincourt as a battle one by Douglas James is useful and can be seen at  Agincourt - Documentary | Battles That Changed HistoryThis sets the scene, discusses the events of the battle itself and seeks to provide a number of explanations for the English victory. I do think he may over-emphasise or simplify the differences in social structure between England and France in an attempt to explain the result of the battle. His well-made film has some scenes shot on the battlefield and also uses CGI imagery to reconstruct the action of the day.

If you want a longer video which discusses the reality of the battle and its interpretation then it is very worth while watching a discussion with Dr Toby Capwell about the myths and realities of Agincourt. The comments are also often insightful in addition to the conversation about the battle, and the video can be seen at AGINCOURT - Medieval Myth Busting

There is a shorter video with Toby Capwell talking about surviving examples of armour from the time of Agincourt and how they further illuminate the events of the day as recorded by written sources which can be seen at Agincourt: Myths and Misconceptions

Toby Capwell is also to be seen in conversation with Matt Easton about Agincourt and in particular the role of archers in the battle on a Scholagladiatoria video at Tobias Capwell (Wallace Collection) on Agincourt, armour & arrows (exhibition September). Part 2  This is, as the title indicates, one out of a series about the armour in use in 1415 and is as an independent piece, really excellent, offering a wide range of insights.

There is an excellent Gresham College lecture by Dr Helen Castor about the battle and its place in what we now call the Hundred Years War and also its place in our national consciousness which can be seen at Agincourt or Azincourt? Victory, Defeat and the War of 1415 - Dr Helen Castor

No comments: