Harold Godwinson and Other Stories: The Method to My Madness

A few years ago, I started to work on the screenplay, Harold Godwinson. It is one of my favorite pieces of obscure history; telling the story of King Harold II and his encounter with William the Conqueror. What I wanted to do was tell a biographical story of his life because very few people have ever done that. When they tell the story of Harold in film, usually they focus on The Battle of Hastings. This makes people assume that that was the only important thing he ever did in his life. This is not true in the least. He had several events in his life that made him the man that he eventually became. The screenplay went through coverage and came out of it with stellar feedback from the producer who went through it. Then I went elsewhere to ask a few questions about the sceenplay and the reviews weren’t so stellar.

The concept and subject of the screenplay were interesting, but the person who went through it thought that covering Harold’s entire life was a bit too much and that I should have stuck to the subject of The Battle of Hasting and not try to tell the story of his life. Also they began to point out things that didn’t matter. Still others who looked at it went through it and realized that it wasn’t at all “typical Hollywood fare” didn’t think it would pass muster. Commercially, perhaps not. As an indie film with passionate film makers, it could be the next Elizabeth, The Tudors, or The Last Kingdom, which is probably the closest in subject matter to Harold, Lets go through this a bit and explore some of the decisions I made and the method to my madness.

The story starts out with one of Harold’s first battles as he faces off against King Magnus the Good of Norway.  What is the purpose of this bit of the story? This is the battle that establishes that he is a man worthy of respect, despite the fact that he’s only twenty-one. As a British noble, he has to prove himself. If he doesn’t, why would anyone follow or respect him? This is basically a necessity. Also, during a battle, originally, Harold throws a knife in order to dispatch the king. People were like, “well now he’s just a cowardly knife thrower.” This is where Hollywood takes a departure from accuracy. In battle, it’s about taking the leader off the board as quickly and efficiently as possible, just like in a game of chess.  Once Harold takes out Magnus, the battle is over because he’s effectively  cut the head off the snake and the battle can no longer continue.

Most battles in the 1000 usually lasted for two to three hours. It would be different if it were a castle siege, however, field battles were short. The Battle of Hastings was unprecedented because it lasted for nine hours. Usually though, two to three hours. Harold has to take out the king quickly. His throwing a knife and taking advantage of an opening is simple realistic. The Hollywood bullshit of a guy fighting through fifty bad guys while swinging his sword around like Jackie Chan is not realistic or efficient at all. I took it out anyway because I let people talk me out of it.

Next he goes to visit the woman who would become his consort, Edith (Ealdgyth) Swan Neck. She’s just his consort, not his wife. They don’t necessarily have to have any ceremony for them to be joined. While all of the children brought of this union are considered legitimate, that doesn’t make her any less his consort and not his wife.  The next sequence is Harold’s encounter with Beorn. The first complaint was, “Godwin wouldn’t want to protect his third son, he would let him go to the battle with Harold.” No, he wouldn’t. Godwin’s two eldest sons (Harold and Sweyn) are going into battle against each other. Godwin is not going to send his third eldest son into the fray. He need to protect his line. Sweyn could very well have killed Harold. They could have killed each other. Also, history tells us that he wasn’t there. I changed it anyway from Godwin telling Tostig just not to go, to telling Tostig to go to the king. Also Sweyn disappears from the story after that because he almost literally disappears. While he did eventually secure a pardon, he only stayed for a short time and was banished again when his father was and afterward decided to go on a quest to the Holy Land. He died on this journey. So putting him back in would just be useless filler.

The next issue that is there was  was that Harold was banished along with his brothers and father. He escaped to Ireland. “So what did he do in Ireland and why  didn’t you go into that?” Um…mostly because it doesn’t matter. He was there for a short time, two years I believe, and after that, he joined his fathers second attempt to return to England and reclaim what was theirs. Ireland would have just been useless again to go into, but I added a scene where he gathered Irish mercenaries anyway to appease the Hollywood types despite the fact that it didn’t really happen like that. The scene in Ireland isn’t necessary, but the following scene where Godwin tells Harold that his son Wulfnoth has been taken hostage in Normandy is necessary as it helps to set up a later conflict.

This sequence that this sets up is where Harold himself is a hostage in Normandy, and threats against his brother and being tricked into swearing upon holy relics mean that Harold has to make promises that he would never make otherwise. This is the event that the last mentioned scene sets up.

Harold never expected to be king. His only relation to Edward the Confessor was through Marriage to his sister Edith (Ealdgyth). The people who chose who the next king was were the Witan (If you’ve ever watched The Last Kingdom, every so often they have meetings with the Witan to discuss things. It was made up of the king’s senior advisers, Housecarls, lords, and territorial thanes). There were four contenders to the throne, not the least of them being Harald Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy.  They chose Harold because they wanted an Anglo-Saxon man to be their king. Harold also had to banish his brother Tostig for taking advantage of the people of North-Umbria. He also had to marry Edith (Ealdgyth) of Mercia a noble woman. He still favored his consort though.

In the end, Harold fought valiantly, but could not win against William who, after nine hours, finally broke the shield wall. The Bayeux Tapestry is not exactly clear about what figure is Harold. He could be the one who was killed while still giving it his all, or he could be the figure that was shot in the eye by an arrow. Both are propaganda. The Norman version is that he was shot in the eye, which is the most commonly propagated because history is generally written by the winner. The way I wrote it is that he died bravely defending his brothers and William tabbed him in the eye with an arrow. This was kind of to solidify William as the villain. Also there are one of two places that he could have been buried. I chose the most likely one at Bosham.

There also seemed to be an issue with language. I didn’t use modern contractions. People in 1066 wouldn’t have been speaking English let alone using modern contraction. While I have no skills in writing Anglo-Saxon, I basically did the next best thing. And lets face it; if you can figure out will not, cannot, they will, that is, then that in itself is an issue. I did the same thing in Dragon Fire, Angel Light. Technically it’s not stilted, it’s accurate. Anglo-Saxon was a language with primarily Germanic roots. It did not start to morph into modern language until after the mixing of Anglo and Norman people. You can even follow the progress of the English language from Beowulf, the last great work written in Anglo-Saxon, to Chaucer, to Spencer, to Shakespeare, to Milton and so on and so on. That’s kind of what Hollywood has done to us. It has thrown historical accuracy to the wind in order to appease modern audiences, which is not a very good thing. Also telling the story of his life sort of explains why Harold II is such an important person in history.

Without him, and his interesting life, things would have been much different. It breaks the Hollywood mold, and yes, it’s basically and indie film that needs the budget of a blockbuster. However, I have no doubt that it can be big and is a story worth telling. Thanks for reading. Hope you liked it!

 

 

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Writing Male and Female Characters: Why We Need More Women In The Writers Room

Recently, Wil Wheaton posted an article about the fact that Gillian Anderson was bothered by something. The fact that the writing team for the X-Files was all male.   Here is the link to the article. While this is indeed annoying, it is actually quite common. Despite the fact that Hollywood has called for change, little change is happening, and the status quo is still in effect. This could create a problem however. The issue being that the show has a team of men who are writing both male and female characters. There’s nothing wrong with men writing female characters. The issue is that there is a “team” of writers, and yet there is no room for even a single female writer on that team, meaning there is no true female representation or perspective. Writing for the opposite gender can be difficult. I’ll give you a few examples from myself that are interesting to consider.

As a writer who does not have a team, I cannot really and truly understand the male perspective. I have written male characters; many of them, but I am not an expert on maleness. For example, when writing a book that should be out this winter called Dragon Fire, Angel Light. Both of the main characters are male. In fact they’re males who love each other and have chosen to be together despite the fact that both are a bit supernatural and it creates issues. When writing the characters, while I can make the males male, some of their mannerisms and things that they say aren’t exactly the most male. There are quite a few instances in which the characters engage in what would be considered “mushy” behavior.  They will come straight out with the “i love yous” and the “I want to look in your eyes” when having sex (oh golly). They have no qualms about calling each other “my love”, “my lover” using terms like “making love” instead of just “doing it”. It’s all very romantic, but is it male? The fact is, I don’t really know because I’m not male.

Another example is my book Tales of the Driss, Krystal Dragons. It’s a fantasy novel based off characters and actors that have influenced and inspired me (thank you Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner). These guys aren’t lovers, they’re brothers, but even with their lovers, they don’t act very male. They have long conversation about how much they love their lovers after sex, they wax romantic when they’re asking their lovers to marry them, once again coming straight out with the “I love yous”.  They talk constantly about the merits of love and how it’s effected them. I don’t know if this is especially male either. Do men often go off on romantic mush fests? Do they just lie in bed and talk about how much they love their lovers after sex? Once again, I couldn’t say.

Screenplay Harold Godwinson has gone through many incarnations. and many drafts, however, the story has always stayed the same. So the relationship between Harold and his consort Edith has always been the same, and they face the same issues. An over romantic man driven more by feeling than by power, gain or perhaps even reason. Instead he’s more invested in justice, happiness, and caring. which is, once again not very manish, of so it would seem. One would think that the second most powerful man in Britain would be mad for the power that he could claim for himself, going forth on his own conquests and calculating his possibility for advancement. That’s not the way he’s written because when I looked at his life, that’s not the way he seemed. A man writing for this character might have seen the more calculating man in search for power. I did not. He loves his consort, he loves his land, he’s not out for himself, he’s looking out for everyone else, which may or may not be very male.

There are many stereotypes that still exist when one writes female characters. This may be because that is how women have always been portrayed to men. Seeing as history and many of the great works from the past were written by men, the male perspective may have overshadowed some of the truths about women. Throughout history, women have always been cast in certain roles. The two most classic being the fool and the seductress, or sometimes even both. If we look at the Bible, there is the story of Adam and Eve. There is Eve who is the first one seduced in the garden to eat the fruit which makes her the fool, and then she convinces Adam to eat the fruit as well, in a way seducing him into doing so. No one considers the fact that the second hand information given to her from Adam about the Fruit may not have impressed the danger of eating it. There is the story of Pandora who just couldn’t resist opening a box because, you know, the curious woman. There’s the story of Samson and Delilah, the seductress who betrays her lover through seduction and lust, and there’s the fallacy that Mary Magdalene was a whore. If we can break the stereotypes, then we can write better women. And who is the best at understanding women and the stereotypes applied to them? Women.

While it’s not a bad thing for men to write female characters; some female characters are wonderful, powerful, beautiful, and non-stereotypical. They’ve been written by great authors like Ibsen, Tolkien Hardy and so many others. However it’s also not a bad idea to have a woman to at least help better understand women and how women think, act, interact. And when you can have a team of writers, I’m sure that there’s room for at least one woman. Women need to be heard, as the female voice is just as important as the male voice, especially when a woman can write a woman for women. She wants the same opportunities that male writers get. She’s just as good, just as creative, just as interesting, and has the added bonus of being a woman. This also applies to people of color, but that’s a discussion for another time. Maybe next blog. Women want a chance to write. If Hollywood gives it to them, Hollywood won’t be sorry.