The Vikings of Bjornstad: Viking Movies
 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth (2009)
  Screenshots from: 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth a Hardy Pictures, Ltd Production
As they prepare for the oncoming Norman cavalry, the English forces standing atop Senlac Hill on an October morning recite what is described as an Anglo-Saxon lament called "The Wanderer".  Watching this two-part miniseries from the UK's Channel 4, it occured to me that the perfect one-word description for this film is exactly that: a lament.

The film is less an insight into how the English became who they are, but more a wistful look at how they lost who they were. It seems that more than 900 years still isn't enough to fully accept the integration of the Normans into the fabric of English culture. Now that’s a grudge.

1066 is intriguing to watch and well worth seeing if you are interested in the era, the invasions, and/or historic re-enactment blended into entertainment projects. As a film, the miniseries attempts some contradictory objectives, but it does manage to accomplish its primary objective surprisingly well.

Most importantly, 1066 endeavors to tell the story of the three epic battles fought in that year: Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings. The film takes this seriously and does a fine job, providing battle re-enactments, maps, narration by Ian Holm, troop deployment diagrams and quotations from:
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles
  • The Norse Sagas
  • The Hávamál
  • The Carmen de Hastingae
  • The Domesday Book
The quotations provide a specific function: following many of the filmed scenes, a supporting reference is displayed, establishing credibility for the production and distancing it from the "artistic license" employed by most historical epics. The battles are simplified, and some of the terrain features that were factors in history, like marshes, aren't represented at all. The locations chosen are effective, however, and help minimize the impact of the smallish budget; leafy glades don't need thousands of troops to be visually appealing.

A second objective doesn't fare as well.  Instead of focusing on Duke William, Harold Godwinson and Harald Hardrada, the film chooses to tell its story using the common people swept up in the year's events.  The Anglo-Saxons are represented by Leofric, an initially reluctant warrior who becomes a huscarl, Tofi, a teenaged bridegroom pressed into service after a few moments of wedded bliss and Ordgar, savvy huscarl and hardened warrior.  The Vikings include Gyrd, identified as the warrior on Stamford bridge who holds off the English until dispatched by an admittedly less-than-honorable attack by the English and Snorri, formidable fighter and former Varangian guard who joins the English after the defeat at Stamford Bridge.  The invaders from the south are a thoroughly despicable noble named Ozouf and the Baron of Coutances, a Breton who'd rather have remained home with his family.

While this approach brings the events up close and personal, it derails much of the impact of the drama - mainly because the leaders are each shown briefly anyway.  Harald Hardrada can be seen among his troops, but stands relatively immobile, more nicely attired than the other Vikings, perhaps, but not shown directing any of his army's movements.  King Harold is seen being killed, but his decisions and ineffectiveness at Hastings are completely lost while "non-coms" are active in the fray. William is seen only fleetingly and, again, not leading his troops.  This becomes the most severe flaw in 1066.  The motivations and context for the invasions are largely missing.

This single concern keeps 1066 from rising to the level of a perfect tool for educating the general public about one of the most momentous years in world history.  A few brief scenes with these leaders establishing their personalities, strengths, flaws and actions would have made all the difference.  The efforts of battlefield leaders to direct conflicts of this scale could have been represented by on-field conferences with lieutentants, urgent scanning of the progress of the battle or even ineffectual yelling and waving of arms.  In 1066, they all appear to be bystanders to the events we know they set in motion.   With the leaders' impact absent, the lead characters have to fill the vacuum.  The result is a sturdy effort with some large missing pieces.

Moving on ... Once battle is joined, there is a continuing contrast between the fighting skills and general fitness of the Vikings versus the English army.  The point is made repeatedly that the fyrd is made up of farmers called upon to defend their land.  The Vikings' prowess is probably pushed a bit far when the Norseman who joins the Anglo-Saxons appears to be one of the few on the Anglo-Saxon side who has any concept of battle tactics.  Historically accurate, maybe, but it seems overstated.  

The mini-series' third objective is to force a connection to J. R. R. Tolkien, probably for marketing purposes.  Certain Old English words survive to be associated (for most of us) to the world of The Lord of the Rings.  The alternate title for the film is 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth.  Our Anglo-Saxon protagonists hail from the village of Crowhurst in the Shire.  There may be elves in the forest.  And, most unfortunately, the demonic Normans are constantly described as orcish.  Thus, whatever reality the film aspires to is undermined by its own narration.  Tolkien's world is a fantasy based on factual forces and language.  1066 is a film anchored in fact linked to a fantasy.  Yikes.

In other ways, the language used is more successful.  A number of terms are translated, very literally, from Old English.  Those who fight for the English are called "weapon man" - rather than the Latin-derived "soldier", for example. Even more interestingly, the word "woman" is never heard.  Instead, "wife man" is used.  Disconcerting, but a kind of fun reminder that the everyday words we take for granted actually have an un-appreciated origin.

For most of us, music is a crucial component of movies, setting (or undermining) the tone of the action onscreen.  1066 is scored well.  Effective, percussive, music gives firm support for the importance of the unfolding events.  Much of the music also adds to the feeling of impending doom, appropriate for a lament.

A few thoughts from the re-enactment perspective...
The involvement of Regia Anglorum as extras guarantees a higher standard for clothing and gear than in most such films.  Further, these are people who are comfortable wearing the gear they have on: they've had experience "living" in it.  This is in contrast to the lead Norman actors, for example, who have trouble keeping their mail coifs headed in the same direction they're going.

That said, very few re-enactors have managed to quite duplicate the form-fitting head-to-fingers-to-toes look of mail from the Bayeux Tapestry.  I'm familiar with the claims of some that the embroiderers of the tapestry were the ones who got it wrong, but I'm not convinced.  Regardless, the people in the background do their job well, and look the part.  A minor note: the tents of the encamped Anglo-Saxon fyrd appear to be from hundreds of years later, but I'm no expert.

Important note: These comments are based on the Region 2 (Europe only) version.  To my knowledge, no Region 1 (North America) version is available. (Jack Garrett)

From: J.K. Siddorn
Sent: Tue, July 27, 2010
Re: 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth

Hi Jack,

Thanks for the good review. Regia provided 469 man days of work in 22 days of location shooting. On the drama side of the camera, there were about fifty of Regia's warriors for Gate Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings, shot over two consecutive weekends. There were perhaps ten stunt guys and less than that for principals & they were never all on shot together at any time. Most of those you see who aren't talking are Regia!

The Crowhurst scenes were shot at the Danelaw Village near York. It is deliberately built to 7/8ths scale as it is aimed at school parties. It is OK for camera where you can select the angles, but it does not bear close scrutiny - and to be fair, it isn't intended to. All the set ups and shooting at Danelaw were done in the four days off that we had back to back to make it worthwhile for the great majority of us that lived nowhere near the location to get home and fall in a heap.

In respect of the forced link to JRR Tolkien's world of Middle Earth, this was done in order to get the script commissioned by Channel Four. Frankly, they would have been happier with even more of that angle.

We had issues with the portrayal of Harold Godwinsson in particular, but the Director Justin Hardy was at pains to make the point that it was his intent to tell the story of the year of the Conquest from the point of view of the common man who was taken far from his home to fight in battles of which he had no oversight. Whilst there were naturally aspects of the production that we would have had otherwise, generally speaking we thought it told the story pretty well.

Regia Anglorum was delighted to be involved with the production.


Kim Siddorn

The events of the film begin in southeastern England.

The village of Crowhurst - about to be dragged into history.

The recreated village portraying Crowhurst. See Kim Siddorn's note at left below for an explanation of its lack of inhabitants.

Frequent "footnotes" ensure a solid connection to historical documentation.

The Viking fleet leaves northern waters, setting events in motion.

Ordgar the huscarl recruits villagers for the imminent conflict.

Tofi the bridegroom is taken shortly after his wedding ceremony.

The Vikings land in Yorkshire.

The Viking fleet has little opposition.

Hakon, a wounded Norseman, encamps with the rear guard, 1/3 of the Viking force.

Harald Hardrada, across the creek, faces the gathered Anglo-Saxon forces at the Battle of Fulford.

Snorri taunts an English Earl, played convincingly (alive and dead) by Kim Siddorn of Regia Anglorum.

Gyrd defends Stamford Bridge with his Danish axe.

Ordgar's diversion sets up a spear attack from below.

Having won at Stamford Bridge, the fyrd races south to face the Normans.

Crowhurst has been laid to waste.

The Normans gather below Senlac Hill while the Anglo-Saxons form their shield wall above.

Battlefield force deployment diagrams identify the opponents.

A little CGI multiplication increases the Norman forces.

These same guys fought on "The Conquerors", the History Channel series.

Norman cavalry attacks the Anglo-Saxon shield wall.

Ordgar taunts the frustrated Normans.

Re-enactor swords with rounded edges and blunted points are used without comment or explanation.

Snorri the Viking fails in his efforts to hold the shield wall together as the English smell blood - and a rout of the Normans.

Apparently the Bayeux Tapestry neglected to depict an Amazon warrior - wielding a wobbly axe.

The English chase the Normans down Senlac Hill.

An English warrior dies with an arrow to the eye. It's not Harold.

The tide of battle begins to favor the Normans.

Harold dies on the battlefield - of sword wounds.


Edith Swan-neck searches for Harold.

A few survivors head for safety - into the West.

A grand tapestry is begun to document the battle at Hastings.

The embroiderers depict the events of 1066.

A telling indication of the invasion's impact.

And the memory lingers on... with an ominous but thoroughly deceptive statistic.  Even using 30 years per generation, there have been over 31 generations since 1066.  If each generation had an average of 2 children, there would be 408*10^9 (that's 408 billion in US math terms) current descendants of those 190 Normans.  Despite the problems inherent with strictly mathematical analysis of population trends, it would be harder to believe that four fifths of the UK isn't owned by Norman descendants.
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