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19 May 2005 Edition

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Bloom miscast in Ridley's Crusade epic

Film Review

Kingdom of Heaven

General Release

Eagerly awaited from the man that brought Gladiator and Black Hawk Down to the big screen, Kingdom of Heaven is Ridley Scott's take on the Crusades.

Like his work all the way back to Blade Runner, it is visually stunning. The final siege of Jerusalem by Saladin's men makes the battle scenes in Braveheart look like a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

For expert opinion, I took my 12-year-old son along with me. A grizzled veteran of many a digital medieval siege himself, he told me with approval: "They've got the trebuchets dead on dad!" The CGI is cleverly done — unlike in Troy, which resembled one of my lad's Playstation games.

The production team used Loarre Castle in northern Spain and built a replica of Jerusalem in Ouarzazate, in the Moroccan desert.

The £75 million film, which stars Orlando Bloom, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson, is described by the makers as being "historically accurate" and designed to be "a fascinating history lesson". But it has been savaged by senior British academics, who say it "distorts" the history of the Crusades to portray Arabs in a favourable light.

Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, Britain's leading authority on the Crusades — describing the film's plot as "rubbish", "ridiculous", "complete fiction" and "dangerous to Arab relations".

The film is set in the time of King Baldwin IV (1161-1185), leading up to the Battle of Hattin in 1187, when Saladin conquered Jerusalem for the Muslims.

In an age of a Bush-led Crusade (yes folks, he used the C word to describe Western armies invading an Islamic country), this is brave cinema. Religious maniacs are portrayed on both sides.

Ghassan Massoud is totally believable as the Kurd who liberated the holy place for Moslems. Watch out also for Brendan Gleeson hamming it up wonderfully as the psycho templar.

I came away from this movie cursing it for what it might have been.

Orlando Bloom, portraying the central character, starts the movie as a village blacksmith and progresses to become the leader of the garrison, which opposes the Saracens.

In Gladiator, Russell Crowe was entirely believable as a big bloke who made a living out of heavy metal. Imagine if Gladiator had been miscast and Tom Cruise was Maximus and you get an idea how badly out of place Bloom is in this.

If you can put that in a box, the supporting cast are wonderful and carry the weak Bloom and a functional if not inspired script.

Go and see it.


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