1066 – and all that – reaches the big screen

You've read the chronicles, and seen the tapestry. Now, coming to cinemas near you, are three rival movies of the Battle of Hastings
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The Independent Culture

After decades of being overlooked by the film industry, the Battle of Hastings is at last to make it on to the big screen. One of the most pivotal episodes in English history, will be the subject of three feature films under production by movie and television heavyweights. Typical – you wait all history for a film about 1066, then three come along at once.

Among those working on the three versions are the screenwriter for Ridley Scott's historical epic Gladiator, the producer of US medical drama ER and the producer of The Duchess, which starred Keira Knightley.

While key battles, including Agincourt, Waterloo and Trafalgar, have been given the cinematic treatment, Hastings has never been tackled before despite its potential for a gripping film. "It has everything – a big scale event, a turning point in European history and great human stories," historian Tom Holland told The Sunday Times.

Each movie is believed to portray the 1066 battle between King Harold and William the Conqueror as a conflict between two former comrades, and will show Harold going to fight the Bretons with William, Duke of Normandy, before returning to England to become king.

But the two friends fall out shortly before the Battle of Hastings, where Harold's death opens the way for the Norman conquest of England. Each film also treats the love lives of the two men as integral to the story.

Michael Kuhn, producer of The Duchess and executive producer of films including Wild at Heart, is working on one version for the British company Qwerty Films. The writer and director will be Saul Dibb, whose previous work includes The Duchess.

"It's about the friendship and trust between two men who then become great rivals," said Mr Kuhn. "Harold was a dashing figure who had numerous girlfriends [and] many children before he eventually married, while William had this very happy marriage."

The second film will be made by a newly formed production wing of the television company Shine, which was behind the BBC series Spooks and Merlin. The screenwriter is William Nicholson, whose CV includes Shadowlands and Gladiator.

"I don't see this primarily as a battle movie," he said. "In Hollywood terms, it is a buddy movie about two men which ended in tears."

The third film has the working title William the Conqueror, a budget of £67m and will be co-produced for US outfit Killer Films by Pamela Koffler, who made the Oscar-winning Boys Don't Cry, and John Wells, who made ER. Ms Koffler said: "I know a lot of people in the US might not have heard of William and 1066, but he was a dynamic, charismatic figure while the battle was a defining moment in history."