Want to avoid a lawsuit? Don’t research anything!

Speaking of Kingdom of Heaven, there was an article in the New York Times today about a lawsuit alleging that the film stole its story from a recent history book, Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, by James Reston Jr.

Given that history is a public-domain kind of thing, it may be difficult to prove that the filmmakers stole any particular author’s reconstruction of history, but the response offered by director Ridley Scott is rather interesting:

Asked about the matter recently, Mr. Scott, who is still finishing the film in England, said he had not read Mr. Reston’s book, nor any book about the Crusades. “Categorically, I don’t read anything, for just this reason,” he said, referring to the dispute. “I draw the fences up.”

Ha! Maybe this explains why the history undergirding certain earlier Scott films, such as Gladiator (2000) (my review) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), was so dismal.

Scott reportedly also said newbie screenwriter William Monahan “had relied on original documents and several Muslim authors,” the implication apparently being that Monahan had not relied on any secondary sources — but if Monahan really had been, as he reportedly said, “a student of the Crusades since he was 14,” then I would find it highly unlikely that he had read nothing but primary sources all his life. And assuming that he has read some secondary sources, I would assume these, too, had influenced his script.

Not that this would mean he had necessarily read Reston’s book, of course. And I wouldn’t want to quote Scott out of context. I just find it funny that any director would openly say “I don’t read anything” when he’s making a historical epic for which there must be an endless supply of research material.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05198804427250453835 Denny Wayman


    I appreciate you finding that quote about the lack of historical research – as shown in the GLADIATOR. In my review I wrote:

    “There is one glaring historical and spiritual omission within the film: there are no Christians. Writing a history of this period and omitting the holocaust of Christians who died horrific deaths at the hands of Marcus Aurelius, is like writing a history of Adolf Hitler and never mentioning his treatment of the Jews.”


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    Thanks, Denny.

    FWIW, I don’t think every film about the ancient Romans needs to acknowledge the persecution of Christians; I have always thought it sounded a bit forced when Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) began with a voice-over narration specifying that the slave revolt took place a century or so before Christ.

    But in Scott’s defense, he actually did shoot a scene in which Russell Crowe’s character watches as Christians are killed in the arena — it’s included on the DVD as one of the deleted scenes, and I can see why Scott deleted it, as it wasn’t very essential to the story (and the effects looked kind of fake, too, as I recall).