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!