Medieval Film Trope Bingo

I’m back now from a break and to ease myself back in I’ve written up a little list of the things I’ve come to expect from mainstream films and TV series about the medieval period. I’m sure you can add some more….

  • The hero, even if he has not ever had one single lesson in chivalric combat, is suddenly able to pick up a sword and wield it to devastating effect – instantly killing off knights who have been experienced in warfare and feats of arms for most of their lives.
  • The hero is always, always handsome, but must also have a rough edge/flaw/past trauma.
  • The soldiers are wearing completely the wrong armour for the period. Sometimes they may wear bits from several period and in a few cases from no recognisable period at all.
  • The main characters never, ever, wear a helmet in battle (it would mess up their hair too much).
Of course I don’t have to wear a helmet. I’m the hero and you can’t kill me, at least not yet.
  • Knights seem to delight in wearing their mail and plate armour everywhere and at any time. No matter that it’s a grand feast, meeting their newborn or even in the bedchamber. Unless of course they really need it… like in an ambush. In all cases, the helmet is either used for posing with or is missing altogether.
  • A grubby, doleful-looking child standing in a crowd usually as a symbol of oppression of the peasantry by nobility. A burning house is sometimes thrown in to drive home the fact that they are being oppressed.
  • A gibbering madman (or woman). These can be found anywhere but have been seen in dungeons, in doorways and occasionally in a cave. They are always very, very dirty – and mad.
  • The completely inaccurate woman’s headdress and hairstyle. In fact there is often no headdress altogether and in medieval times, unless a girl was being married or unless she was a queen, it would have been considered completely slutty. However, the said woman/girl heroine would be unable to show off her beautiful newly coiffured hair (and seduce the hero) if she were to wear a historically correct headpiece. Especially a wimple
  • The completely inaccurate and usually far too revealing dress worn by the heroine, sometimes even with leather and chain bits for decoration (Medieval BDSM anyone?). Obviously worn completely innocently to seduce the hero.
  • Modern cleavage enhancing and boob uplifting bras seem to have been invented a lot sooner than we all thought.
  • The heroine is suddenly able to pick up AND wield a sword. Although with much less effect than the hero (see a post I wrote about it here).
All the ladies love to handle a nice long weapon!
All the ladies love to handle a nice long weapon!
  • Long-bows being used in a wood. Long bows are weapons of the battlefield – they are pretty unwieldy and a downright nuisance where low hanging branches and bushes are involved.
  • An evil nobleman. All noblemen (with the exception of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart) need to be evil. It is in their blood. They just can’t help it.
  • Magic of some kind, either in your face or just implied. Harry Potter and Twilight have a lot to answer for.
  • Burning a witch. This is allowed on the continent and in Scotland, but we didn’t do that sort of thing here in England. We just hung them instead. Blasphemers on the other hand, made nice toasty bonfires for the peasants to stand around.
  • The hero MUST fall for a woman that he has no right to fall for. This causes all sorts of problems. If he falls for a woman he’s allowed to have, she ultimately gets killed.
  • A Templar. All medieval films MUST have a Templar/s in them somewhere. Or at least a hint of them.
  • A man falling from a high wall in a fight. With a long drawn out scream.
  • The hero is from poor or common stock (in other words, not nobility who are all, of course, evil – see above). And he is instantly the best swordsman on the planet.
  • A feud. There has to be a feud somewhere or else the plot would be a bit boring.
  • A dung cart. Because we all know that the Middle Ages were full of shit, right?
  • Really, really dirty peasants. Because, of course, they hadn’t discovered water at that time.
  • Really, really dirty peasants with rather vacant, stupid looks on their faces. Brains were probably removed at birth by the evil noble overlord.
  • A horse whinnying. And sometimes rearing a bit. Or prancing. Always looks good, that does.
  • A shiny clean and coiffured hero/heroine even after a fight. Because if they got too dirty we might confuse them for peasants.
  • Large dogs, usually of the wolfhound variety hanging around castle halls and the like. Used to clean up food scraps before the invention of the vacumn cleaner.
  • A politically correct hero who knows all about women’s rights, and who is anti-racist and always fights for the best interests of the poor, oppressed, very, very dirty, stupid peasants
  • Freedom fighters – also on the side of the aforesaid very lucky peasants.
  • A complete fabrication of known history because, as we all know, history as it happened is soooooooo dull! Nothing ever happened. And, er, having the truth told might just disrupt some of the Hollywood tropes.
Why let the truth get in the way of making me look good?
Why let the truth get in the way of making me look good?
  • A slimy royal (or noble) favourite. Oh yes, the bad guy always needs a sidekick even more loathsome (and expendable) than himself.
  • A crafty merchant (usually has a Jewish look). Typecasting, anyone?
  • A large badass man as a sidekick. Or a man with a much darker skin and a foreign name – usually an ex Saracen or something exotic (to show a bit more political correctness).
  • Heroines are always beautiful but their servants/nurses are usually old and ugly. After all, it would be unfortunate for the hero to get distracted by the wrong women.
  • Hero gets wounded or captured. Well, anyway, at some point he must suffer in a very poignant way. And then we get to feel sorry for him for a while.
  • The bad guy (or at least one of them) has gay tendencies. Unlike the manly hetero hero of course. Strange that homophobia still seems acceptable whereas race and sex have been made politically correct.
Of course, a gay villain has to be effeminate and useless in order to make the manly hero look good.
Of course, a gay villain has to be effeminate and useless in order to make the manly hero look good.
  • The bad guy meets a vicious end which, of course, he deserves for being so evil. And the peasants all stand around and rejoice (even the grubby doleful eyed child) while the hero ponders life for a moment before being reunited with the heroine. And then they all live happily ever after.
  • Taverns are always rowdy, dark and are full of disreputable women and dirty peasant men. Much drinking and revelry happen here and of course at least one obligatory fight.
  • Disreputable women tend to be extremely buxom women, who have a tendency to be unable to dress themselves properly and to sit on the laps of the dirty peasant men in taverns. Much drinking and revelry is involved.
  • There is always an archetypal medieval feast with plates heaped full of food and the bad guy/s being messy eaters. Food often ends up being thrown to the aforesaid large dogs to dispose of.
  • At this feast the bad guy often has his evil eye on the innocent heroine and starts to plot evil plans for her. This is, of course, not helped by the low cut dress and untied hair (on the heroine).
  • It also appears (in some productions) that the New World has miraculously been discovered by the English nobility as they have turkey legs to eat… big turkey legs!

I could go on and on – the worst offenders for me being Braveheart, Ironclad and Crowe’s Robin Hood. I do, of course, exonerate the Knight’s Tale and anything Monty Python as they can’t do anything wrong 🙂


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