Wednesday, 2 March 2011
King John on Film
A new film about King John, "Ironclad", will be released on Friday. It is of particular interest to Nonsuch students as it focuses on the Siege of Rochester Castle, which took place after John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. Early reviews suggest that this won't win many Oscars next year, but that the Siege itself is quite exciting, and that Paul Giamatti puts in an enjoyable performance as the devious monarch. This BBC article wonders why John is so often portrayed as a villain, and why he has such a reputation as a poor king. Some contemporary chroniclers such as Matthew Paris and Roger Wendover wrote at length about various acts of cruelty he was said to have performed, but, as most Year 7s will know, these were often full of inaccuracies. The Tudors were more sympathetic to John as was involved in a dispute with the Pope, which obviously would have been well received following the break with Rome. The popular view of John, and in particular his connection with the Robin Hood stories, comes from 19th Century. His chaotic personal life was viewed as morally dubious by the Victorians, and the Whig view of History identified the signing of the Magna Carta as a crucial moment in England's political development, pushing the barons forward as heroes against John's repressive rule.
Whatever the film might say, John eventually recaptured Rochester Castle in November 1215 (bringing down one of the towers after tunnelling under it and then setting fire to the wooden supports with the fat of 30 pigs) and looked set to complete the rebelling barons completely. However, he failed to seize the opportunity and then, after a "fit of over-indulgence", died of dysentry in October 1216. His son Henry III was declared King and the Magna Carta reissued. His reign was over, but his reputation for incompetence and cruelty had been sealed.
You can read more about King John here, and about other incompetent Kings here. For the Disney interpretation of John, look here.