Kings of the Narrative Universe

Kings have ruled the imagination of readers and audiences since King Sargon of Akkad ruled over a rich Mesopotamian Empire circa 2330 BC.

Sargon had appeared as a legendary superstar in Neo-Assyrian ligature of the 8th to 7th centuries and was resurrected in 2008 as a murderous commander in the blockbuster film The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior , envisioned as a telepathic Alien in an episode of the Star Trek series, a video campaign was named after him, and far-right British political commentator Carl Benjamin adopted the pseudonym of ‘Sargon of Akkad’ for his YouTube channel. (Picture: Illustration depicting Ishtar coming to Sargon in a dream, via The Great Courses Daily)

As an artist, Shakespeare’s purpose was dramatic impact more than absolute historical accuracy. No writer created as many kings as Shakespeare did.  Some were based on real historical kings and others were fictional or drawn from mythology. One was even from the fairy world. Politics, and the way human beings are governed by those who exercise power in society is something that was of profound interest to Shakespeare. The nine plays that feature infamous Kings span a period of approximately 150 years of British history, and have resulted in a plethora of stage performances, films, and TV series. Over fifty films of William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet have been made since 1900 Shakespeare’s Kings / Read more about film and television adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays.

King Henry V, one of England’s most renowned monarchs who famously conquered the French at the
Battle of Agincourt, is a well-known historical figure — he’s the subject of Shakespeare’s timeless historical plays and two successful film adaptations.

When longtime friends and collaborators David Michôd and Joel Edgerton began writing the script for The King in 2013, they knew they had to approach the story through their own unique lens, blending historical fact and literary fiction to craft a fresh artistic take.

Michôd and Edgerton saw unexplored contemporary themes in young Hal’s story that spanned the 600 years between the 15th and 21st centuries. Together, they crafted a timely and innovative approach to the life and times of King Henry V, crafting a modern story told through a period-authentic lens that examines the pitfalls of power, the cyclical brutality of war, and how the dangerous vanities of men reverberate through generations to come. Read more

Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brought his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne.

Everyone knows the fabled Arthurian legend…or at least thinks they do.  But in the hands of director Guy Ritchie, the tale takes on a decidedly gritty, modern edge and Arthur himself, not yet king, is instead a ruffian, a thoroughly reluctant hero compelled to discover his true destiny even as he fights against the very monarchy he is meant to rule.

“I think the best narratives take a man on a journey that transcends his limitations and allows him to evolve from his most basic nature into someone worthy of a bigger life,” says Ritchie, who also co-wrote and produced the film.  “In our version of the story, Arthur’s life starts small: an urchin in a brothel, running the streets, learning to fight and dodging the law with his mates.  Then the actions of others—some with good, some with not-so-good intentions—force him to expand his vision of who he could be.” Read more

Director Jon Favreau, who utilized technology to tell the story of the live-action The Jungle Book in a contemporary and immersive way, has long admired Walt Disney’s pioneering spirit, and pushed the boundaries to take The Lion King to the big screen in a whole new way—employing an evolution of storytelling technology that blends live-action filmmaking techniques with photoreal computer generated imagery.

“It’s such a beloved property,” says Favreau, who directed the film from a screenplay crafted by Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), based on the 1994 screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton.

“Disney has had tremendous success with the original animated version and then the Broadway musical. I knew that I had to be very careful with it,” says says Favreau. “I felt a tremendous responsibility not to screw it up. I wanted to demonstrate that we could be respectful of the source material while bringing it to life using mind-blowing techniques and technologies.” Read more

“I was looking for a chance to do a medieval film set in Scotland that aspired towards the elemental power and the poetic realism of Tarkovsky’s Andrej Rublev,” says Scottish director David Mackenzie, who crafted the screenplay for Outlaw King with Bash Doran and James MacInnes.

Outlaw King was an incredibly personal project for David Mackenzie and is captured for the first time on film, illustrating the turbulent story of Robert the Bruce’s extraordinary journey from defeated noble to murderer to king to outlaw as he struggled to reclaim medieval Scotland from occupation, striking back against King Edward of England’s mighty army.

“We conflated some characters and events in the interests of drama and time, but we have broadly been very faithful to the recorded history or this timeframe,” says Mackenzie. Read more

Screenwriters s Jeff Pope and Steve Coogan were inspired to craft the screenplay for The Lost King when they read the headline: ‘Mother of Two from Edinburgh finds Lost King in Car park,’ exploring the inspirational true story about the discovery of Richard III’s remains by Philippa Langley in 2012.

The Lost King is an astonishing true story about an ‘ordinary’ person tracking down the remains of an
English king which had remained hidden for over 500 years and celebrates a woman who refused to be defined by other people, who were overlooked, and who found her voice, and also explores the facts behind the myth, revealing a very different King from Shakespeare’s villainous creation.

‘First and foremost, it’s a true story. It is about women being overlooked, and ignored. About the little person refusing to take no for an answer. And about not always accepting everything we’re told as gospel,’ says screenwriter Jeff Pope, who wrote the screenplay based on the 2013 book The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. Read more

The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness, unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for… It is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a screenplay by Dana Stevens, and a story by Maria Bello and Dana Stevens.

“I was struck by the photos of the real warriors, the eye-witness descriptions of their skill,” says Stevens. “This story is not well-known—there are so many cultures we have overlooked and not portrayed in films. Here was a chance to tell a true, epic tale about these exceptional women.” Read more

The South African film She is King tells the story of Queen Mkabayi, Zulu King Shaka’s paternal aunt, one of South Africa’s most powerful female historical icons. Mkabayi was counsellor to her father King Jama and the regent for her young brother Senzangakona after her father’s death.

“When we set out to make She is King, there were themes that we wanted to weave into the film,” says screenwriter and producer Nicola Rauch. “We wanted to show a young woman moving away from her secure rural life into the city, and taking on the entertainment world. People think that success in this industry is about red carpets and glamorous parties. The truth is that it takes hard work.” Read more