The War Lord (1965) is a little-known 11th century medieval drama directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The film stars Charlton Heston, and is the first collaboration between Heston and Schaffer before the duo’s prolific sci-fi masterpiece Planet of the Apes (1968). The War Lord sees its Blu-Ray Premiere on April 14th.
A horde of Frisian raiders attack a small pagan village, unaware of an incoming detachment of Norman forces. Led by Chrysagon de la Cruix (Charlton Heston), the Normans rout the barbarians and watch over the village in a nearby swamp castle. Chrysagon then encounters Bronwyn, a maiden who he saves from ridicule. Days later, the pagan village leader asks Chrysagon for permission to marry Bronwyn to her childhood sweetheart.
He agrees but immediately regrets his decision, before he learns of ‘Droit du seignier’, an ancient rite which entitles any lord of the domain to sleep with a virgin bride on her wedding night. After the duke fails to return Bronwyn to her rightful husband the morning after as per agreed, an uneasy peace is broken.
As a film The War Lord isn’t what it immediately appears to be. It’s not an over-dramatic war epic, but a feudal love story with a lot of depth, grit and historical substance. In contrast to what’s expected of a 1960’s medieval romp, the story is surprisingly complex and vivid, each supporting character holds relevance to the series of events with their own agendas and causes. The scale of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which is usually obvious in medieval stories, is surprisingly ambigious.
Where the film really shines are in the battle and siege sequences which are thoroughly entertaining, even by modern standards. Admittedly they don’t have the budget or production values behind them compared to modern entries into the fantasy genre, such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or The Hobbit, but that’s not to be expected. The performances were overall solid, especially in the case of Richard Boone as strong-arm guard Bors and Guy Stockwell as the villainous Draco.
The lack of appropriate accents considering the Norman setting is bothersome, particularly when most of the cast is an awkward mix of English and American.
Charlton Heston is a fantastic actor when suited, but he makes little attempt to settle into his role in The War Lord. His screen presence is still strong, but his Norman lord is samey, with little distinction.
While The War Lord won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a strong standout as far as medieval epics are concerned, a must-have for classic Blu-Ray collections.
The Blu-Ray also comes with a booklet containing rare archival imagery and production information in addition to essays praising the film.