I love the movie Kingdom of Heaven. It combines my three favorite subjects in the whole world: the Church; the military and history. I was thinking about that movie and modern popular culture in America this past weekend. For all of my love of the movie, there are things about it that just drive me up the wall. My opinion is that if you are going to make a movie based on historical events then get the history right! The producers got so much of it right that it would be easy to overlook what they got wrong. The costumes were right, the major events were (for the most part) right, the weapons were right, the tactics were right and the characters were (mostly) right.
One thing I found particularly offensive was the portrayal of the monastic orders of knights. A major blunder was that none of the characters portrayed as Templar knights were actually Templar knights in real life. Teutonic knights were portrayed as little more than thugs and henchmen better suited to make an appearance in a mob movie. The Templar knights were delivered as riotous, undisciplined war mongers, and the Hospitalar knights were made to be seen as irreligious!? One of the main characters (a Hospitaller) made a statement, “I put no stock in religion…” That kind of a statement would never have been found on the lips of a man who took vows in a religious order of knighthood. Another error that I found offensive took place during a conversation between two men overlooking a bunch of Muslims praying on the beach. It was explained that Muslims were allowed their prayers as long as they payed the tax. That sounds suspiciously like the dihmmi required by Muslims for Christians and Jews (and Hindus in Muslim controlled areas of India) to pay in order to keep practicing their religion. I am not personally aware of any Christian ever exacting that type of a tax on another (we prefer that you convert!). Finally, one more scene I wish to point out for its errors occurred after the Battle of the Horns of Hattin (in which the Christian forces were completely destroyed). In the movie the king of Jerusalem and his chief lieutenant were taken prisoner. That really did happen in history, but what did not happen was Saladin offering a glass of water to the king who passed it to Reginald of Chatillon who subsequently had his throat slit for taking the cup which his king refused. What did happen (as was customary) was the prisoners were offered to convert to Islam and gain a place in Saladin’s kingdom. All refused and Reginald immediately called for Saladin’s conversion to Christianity at which point he was decapitated. The morning after the battle was over 230 militant knights chose to remain true to Christ and suffered the same fate (all who were given the option chose not to convert).
This may all sound trivial and the rantings of someone who is too obsessed with the details, but it’s not! What we are witnessing is the attempt to defame the Church and elevate Islam to something that it is not (a religion on the same level as Christianity and Judaism). The movie was obviously researched extensively, otherwise how could they get it right that the siege of Jerusalem lasted three days, the defense was mounted by Balian of Ibelin and the safe passage of all Christians to Christian held land was the result of the siege after the threat of burning the Muslim holy places forced a parlay. How can you get all that right without knowing that the Templars were the most disciplined military force in the whole Middle East or that the Hospitallers prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and attended Mass every day? The point is that modern popular culture wants to defame the Roman Catholic Church as much as it can and one way to do that is make everything that was bad the fault of the Pope or his agents and everything that was good the credit of secular rulers.