A Movie at War with Itself
Norman knight Chrysagon de la Cruex (Charlton Heston) is in charge of defending a Druid settlement from attack by Frisian raiders with the help of his brother Draco (Guy Stockwell) and a small group of men. But there is conflict between brothers when Chrysagon comes across Bronwyn (Rosemary Forsyth) a villager being man handled by his men and he comes to her rescue. Chrysagon should not fall for someone beneath him especially when he learns that Bronwyn is engaged to Marc (James Farentino) the son of village leader Odins (Niall MacGinnis). When despite his fondness for Bronwyn he allows for her marriage to Marc he decides to put in to affect "Droit du seigneur" which gives him the right to sleep with virgins from the village before they marry, except when the next day Bronwyn decides to stay with Chrysagon it causes outrage in the village.
If you go looking for information on "The War Lord" I will guarantee that you will find some declaring this movie the most authentic, most realistic depiction of life under the Normans ever made. I disagree as this is still a Hollywood view of the past but one which in fairness is more authentic to the movies which had been made previously where it was all about gallantry rather than grit and the brutality of the way of life in Norman times.
As such one of the first things which grab you is that visually this is a movie with less of a sheen about it than previous movies and a dirtier look where the actors don't always look their best. But at the same time it also stretches for that epic look with impressive skies against the towers and so on. It doesn't fully work as when it goes for epic it looks contrived especially when the rest of the movie is more intimate and grounded. It also sadly suffers from technology limitations with some scenes clearly done with the cast standing against a projected backdrop.
There is also as I mentioned more of a brutality to the depiction of people in this movie which is highlighted in the scene where Chrysagon comes to the rescue of Bronwyn as she is harassed by his men. On one hand he is typically gallant, demonishing his men for attacking and humiliating her by ripping off her clothes and sending her backwards, naked into a pond but then in a less than gallant way he doesn't turn away and expects her to dress in front of him. Of course this is the initial set up to the romantic storyline but highlights that this isn't a movie all about actors coming across as chivalrous and simply good guys, they have various layers.
And then there is the mix of stories as whilst we have this conflicted love story and the fall out from it as Chrysagon has to not only deal with the disapproval of his brother but then what happens when Bronwyn chooses him over Marc. But whilst this is all going on there is also the conflict with the Frisian raiders and you know as the story wends its way to an end the two will overlap.
The thing is that I can see what the intention was with "The War Lord" but the end result is a movie which doesn't quite gel. Now maybe something went on after the film was shot, it is reported that Charlton Heston was unhappy with a change of behind the scenes people who interfered with the movie, but it just doesn't quite come together. In fact one of the things which is wrong with it are some superfluous scenes which if had been cut and the whole movie trimmed down by 20 minutes it would have worked better with a far better pace.
What this all boils down to is that "The War Lord" is in one way interesting because of it attempts to deliver a more brutal and realistic Norman adventure movie. But it isn't as realistic as many would believe and doesn't quite come together as a complete movie.