1066 The Battle for Middle Earth (2009)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Justin Hardy.

Starring:     Story Teller (Ian Holm),  Ozouf (Anthony Debaeck),  Ordgar (Francis Magee),  Judith (Gemma Lawrence),   Drogo  (Hamish McLeod),  Tofi  (Mike Bailey),  Coutances (Peter Guinness),  Aelf  (Sam Hardy),  Snorri  (Søren Byder),  Leofric  (Tim Plester). 

Norman conquest of England in 1066 along with some Viking trouble

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

 

Episode I.

"English, Vikings and the Normen were cut down not only at the Battle of Hastings but in three almighty battles and England would never be the same again."

This is a story of the ordinary men of the shire of Crowhurst (which lays not far from Hastings), Sussex, South Saxony, England.  The main characters in the story are:

Anglo-Saxons:

Ordgar ("Spear Point") the leader;

Leofrec ("Beloved One") who is no soldier and doesn't want to be; and

Tofi ("Born to Rule") who is about to marry.

At the wedding Ordgar enters to speak to Leofric, among others.  The man tells everyone that he is taking the men to fight.  Leofric takes off running.  Ordgar chases him and finds him up a tree.  Leofric protests:  "I'm just a farmer!"  Ordgar pulls him down out of the tree. 

Ordgar takes his men down to the coast to await the Norman threat.  The men take the Mead Oath before the battle. 

September, 1066.  England was vulnerable.  Old King Edward (the Confessor) is out and King Harold is in.  Harold is not of royal blood.  England is vulnerable because the enemy is coming from Normandy, Flandres and Denmark, but the most fearful enemy were the Vikings of Norway.  

Sticklestad, Norway on the coast of the Viking Empire.  These people are known as Vikingr (in Old Norse) which means "Men of the Fjords".  The main characters are:

Gyrd ("Yard Stick");

Snorri ("Attacker"); and

Hakon "Highborn Son".

The Viking trouble came earlier than the trouble with the Normans.  The Vikings row 300 miles over the open sea to get to England.  Some 200 ships cut past Shetland and Orkney.  They find their destination and quickly rush inland. 

Hundreds of miles to the north of of the poor farmers is Clifflond (Cleveland) .  September 14, 1066.  The Vikings come to a village.  Snorri talks to them in English saying that they have come to trade:  "Do not attack us."  Some of the men attack him and Snorri wounds them. 

The summer is over and it is time to stand the farming down.  It is time, however, for the men to take up their weapons again.  They will march north to face the Viking threat, instead of waiting around for the Normans to invade.

The Vikings turn inland to Jorvik.  Hadraada's Vikingr meet their first real resistance at Fulford.  The Vikings tell the English that if they pay tribute to them, they will spare the English.  The English absolutely reject that option. 

September 20, 1066.  The Northern Earls versus the Vikingr. The Battle of Fulford. 

The Vikingr and the English face each other in a big ravine across a small stream. The Battle of Fulford would be the first of three battles in 1066.  The English try to hurl themselves and break the center of the Viking line.  But the Vikingr are the best trained soldiers in the then known world. 

The Viking line at the ditch gives way, but the Vikings do not flee.  They only seem to get stronger.  They have a word for what kind of fighting men they are:  Berserker (that is, a fierce warrior high on blood).  That day "Death belonged to the men of York."  They were lured into a trap by the Norse king Hadraada.  The Vikingr drew the farmers into the middle and then cut them down from behind their backs.  Fear now spreads among the English. 

Ermine Street, Huntingdon Forest.  (The Route of the modern A1.)  King Harold's Englishmen now cover 200 miles in four days.   Harold was a famous warrior because he had beaten the Welsh three years ago.  On the march Tofi develops a very bloody foot and Ordgar ends up carrying him.  The Vikings easily conquered the North.  They now split their army with one-third of the men left behind to guard the Viking ships at Rica-halh.  The other two-thirds camp for the winter near York by the Stamford Bridge.  Snorri becomes the new commander as the previous commander is wounded.  He proudly shouts:  "We will flourish with England's riches." 

The English are in camp and they hear what sounds like the hooting of owls.  Some believe that it's elves making the noise, but it is actually the men from the west come to join the fight.  And they have brought some women with them.  The next day one of the women says that she knows the land, so they use her to direct them. 

The Derwent lies between the English and the Vikingr and Stamford Bridge.  After five days the Englishmen reach the Derwent waters, downstream from the bridge at Stamford.  This area becomes a gathering point for the English forces.  Harold wants to attack the Vikingr at dawn. 

The group from Crowhurst arrives at the gathering place.  Leofric and Tofi go for a walk and find the Vikingr camp. 

September 25, 1066.  The Battle of Stamford Bridge. 

It is a peaceful morning in the Vikingr camp.  Yorkshire people bring their goods.  The English reach the bridge.  The guys from Crowhurst wonder what they are going to do now.  One huge man stands in the middle of the very narrow bridge and prevents the English from crossing.  One of the farmers pisses his pants.  It's a standoff at Stamford Bridge. 

Word reaches the third of the Vikingr force.  Now the Vikingr see that they should not have divided their troops.  So now the men guarding the ships have to make a 15 mile run to reach the body of the Vikingr force. At the bridge Gyrdirskallagrimmson still blocks the way.  Finally, one English man goes to fight him and is quickly killed.  Then another and another and another die at the hands of the huge Vikingr.  Ordgar gets tired of loosing men, so he tells Leofric to go under the bridge and attack the giant from below.  The giant is in the midst of killing Englishmen when he suddenly acts as if he were hit by lightning.  Blood starts to drip down his pants.  Leofric did his job.  The giant is slain.   

Now the English push across the bridge.  The other Vikingr force start trickling into the battle.  Skirmishes break out all over the forest.  The Vikingr stand strong in their line, so Ordgar informs Tofi to get up there and tell their men to form an arrow-shaped formation.  The English do and are able to make good progress against the enemy.  In the battle the Vikingr King Hadraada is killed. 

After awhile Ordgar shouts out:  "No more slaughter.  We are done."

Out of 300 ships, only 24 returned.  Leofric is promoted to huscarl (professional warrior).  News arrives:  "The Normans have come!"  They've landed in Sussex.  The Normans come killing and raping.  The men from Crowhurst now know they must run back as fast as they can to defend their village. 

The stage is set for the third and greatest battle.  The Battle of Hastings.

 

Episode II.

The English have to fight a second war with the Norman Duke by the name of William (who soon will be known as William the Conqueror). 

The Normans come into the village of Crowhurst.  The women scream.  The Normans kill the old and weak men and herd the women into one area.  The Norman commander asks where are all the weaponed-men?  A man tells them that the weaponed-men are all in the north.  After giving up the information, the man is then killed by the Normans.  Now they start burning the houses.  Tifo's wife Judith has escaped capture so far, but now she has to run like hell to get away from the Norman soldiers. 

Meanwhile, the English army is strewn across the northern forest.  Rather than go home, Snorri has joined with the English to fight the Normans. (He may be getting paid.) 

Normans from Normandy are known as Orc (foreigner, monster, devil). They are on a crusade in the name of the Pope.  And the bastard Duke William believes himself to be the rightful king of England.  He was promised this by Harold.  Harold grabbed the crown for himself and William started planning an invasion.  It was a rough passage for the Orca fleet. 

The English are running through the forest.  They find some horribly burned bodies of women laid over the backs of horses.   The men figure that this is a warning to the English.  If this is what they are doing to women, imagine what they will do to the men. 

Tifo and Leofric go ahead to check on conditions at Crowhurst.  When they arrive they find their village burned.  Leofric finds his father dead.  Tifo calls out for his wife:  "Judith!"  He has no luck and sadly says:  "Our lives are gone!"  Cynically, Leofric comments:  "They do this in the name of Christ."  The men only find one small boy who is very afraid.  His name is Aelf and the men ask him to tell them what happened here.  Seeing how scared the child is, Leofric promises him that he will keep the boy safe.  The boy says they took the women by the forest road. 

The Englishmen in the forest send out scouting parties.  As they rest, lots of weaponed-men gather from all over.  Someone has the feeling that there are Norman soldiers among the trees.  Soon an arrow kills one of the soldiers.  Snorri says he will spot the next arrow and know where the "sniper" is.  An arrow hits another soldier-farmer.  Snorri rushes into the forest and kills the archer. 

Two weeks after landing, the Normans fortify a peninsula of Sussex.  Their remaining ships are destroyed so the men cannot return home. 

Leofric and Tofi find some Crowhurst women tied to trees.  One of the women spits in the face of a Norman guard and the man kills her.  Leofric kills the guard.  They get Judith free, but soon the Normans are on them.  The rough soldier Coutances decides to let Leofric and the child go and Tofi and Judith cross over the river.  When they are safe, Tofi asks Judith what was done to the women.  She says "I can't . . ."  She can't say.

Commander Ozouf doesn't like the fact that Coutances let the people get away.  He tells Coutances that his child will pay the price of his disobedience.

Leofric takes Aelf to a sister (nun) and asks her to take Aelf in with the others she is caring for.  The nun says they have too many already in their small room.  As they agree to leave, the nun changes her mind and takes them in.  Many of the women here are nobles.  Many choose to die of hunger, while many others no longer speak. Looking around at the people, Leofric finds both Tofi and Judith. 

October 13, 1066.  Night before the battle.  Ordgar wants to have a surprise attack on the Norman encampment.  But a Norman thinks he sees the English in the forest and calls for Coutances.  The Normans start going into the forest where a few are killed, but: the night attack was stopped because of the vigilance of Duke William.  Ordgar retreats, fearing they might be walking into a trap.  Leofric says to Tofi:  "We go to the hill at Hastings."  Judith goes with Tofi. 

October 14, 1066.  The English are on the hill.  The Normans are on the plain below.  A hail storm of arrows falls upon the English.  Some men are killed, but most of the arrows fall upon the shields of the men.  Now the cavalry attacks.  But they can't do much as the English formation stays tight and united.  The cavalry has to go back.  The English don't move from the hill.  The Norman officers start to wonder:  "Why do they not fight?"  To force them to fight, Ozouf sends Coutances up to fight one of the enemy soldiers.  Coutances climbs up the hill and shouts at the soldiers to send one man out to fight him.  Ordgar steps forward.  Ordgar has an easy time knocking Coutances around.  Coutances tricks Ordgar by telling him to let him win.  Ordgar is distracted by this strange request, and Coutances stabs the man with his sword.  Then Coutances sacrifices himself to the ire of the English. 

So now Ozouf sends wave after wave of fighters against the English wall to no avail.  Then a rumor goes through the English ranks that Duke William has been killed.  So quite a few of the English soldiers run down the hill after the Normans.  Snorri tries to stop them from doing such a foolish thing, but the hot heads speed by him.  He does manage to keep Tofi on the hill. 

The problem for the English is that Duke William is not dead and now the Norman horsemen can do their worst on the scattered Englishmen.  Leofric is killed.  The Norman trick plus the rumor left too few Englishmen now to resist a Norman onslaught.  The English king decides to fight on the hill and has two of his brothers and his son stand with him.  It's mid-afternoon after seven hours of battle.  It is a battle of endurance as the Normans keep coming.  Now Coutances comes up with a new tactic.  He has his archers shoot their arrows high into the air.  As the English raise their shields to counter the falling arrows, Coutances has his crossbowmen fire their arrows below the shields of the English.  Many English farmers are killed.  Tifo is hit by an arrow and goes down.  "These Orcs were truly demons with no fear, no pity."

At dusk the invaders bust through the shield wall of the exhausted farmers of England who stood little chance before a trained army.  King Harold receives an arrow through his eye and dies.  (Others say he was laid low by a horseman.)  The king is disemboweled, gilded and beheaded. 

When it is quiet on the battlefield, except for the women looking for their husbands, brothers and sons, Tifo gets up from the bodies around him.  His face had been protected by his shield and by the other bodies around and on him.  The king's pretty, blonde mistress asks Tifo:  "Have you seen your king?"  Edith Swan-Neck identified the king's headless body.  The Normans left 5,000 dead English soldiers up on the hill unburied for ten years.  King Harold alone was permitted a burial.  The English were never the same again. 

Women make the quilt telling the story of the battle.  The village of Crowhurst becomes the home of others who meant to stay.  The original inhabitants now move elsewhere.  "William the Conqueror took half the country for himself, gave a quarter to the church and divided the rest amongst 190 Normans.  Their descendants still own at least one-fifth of the United Kingdom."

 

Really good film with lots of historical information.   You get to know some of the participants in the three battles and enjoy following their stories through the battles.  Some are killed, some survive.  The action scenes are very good and naturally flow along with the fates of the men we know.   I really enjoy the character of Ordgar played by Francis Magee.  I like his voice especially and his good heart in times of serious crisis. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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