Medieval Movie Review: Arn: The Knight Templar

“The Virgin Mother Never Abandoned Us” ~ Arn Magnusson

The year is 1187, in the Holy Land. We meet Arn Magnusson, a Knight Templar who makes a chance acquaintance with Saladin one lonely night out in the desert. The two find each other honourable men and agree not to raise a hand against one another. A quasi-friendship develops that lasts throughout the movie and sets the foundation for this tale.

What follows is the story of how Arn (played skillfully by Joakim Nätterqvist, “With Every Heartbeat/Kyss mig” and “Covert Affairs”) ended up in the Holy Land, his upbringing in a monastery, and his sad, and touching love story for a woman back in Sweden.


Arn: The Knight Templar deftly moves back and forth between Arn and his lover, Cecilia (played by Sofia Helin, “The Bridge”),and the horrible circumstances (due to Cecilia’s vindictive sister) that force them to be apart. It’s a tasteful love story that doesn’t go heavy on the cornball factor. You find yourself rooting for the pair who go through some fairly terrible treatment over the years. This movie is quiet, and unobtrusive in its telling. It has action but it isn’t over the top and flashy; it makes its point without excess. The acting is solid. It feels like a story about the difficult lives of two people, and less so a typical canned love story. You find yourself connected and invested in what happens to Arn and Cecilia over the course of the movie and I can’t say the same for most romances I’ve watched.

I enjoyed the acting and the movie featured some great supporting characters like the evil Abbess, Mother Rikissa of the enemy Sverker clan played expertly by Bibi Anderson (“The Lost Prince”). Other big names in this feature include famed Swedish actor, Stellan Skarsgård (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “Avengers”) as friend of the two lovers, Birger Brosa, and renown English actor Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Shakespeare in Love”) playing Arn’s monk mentor, Father Henry. In the lead role of Arn, Joakim Nätterqvist does a great job playing the honest and principled Templar. I really found myself attached to his story and his character having seen him in a smaller role. I enjoyed watching him take on this lead and do the film justice without much angst or bravado.


The use of different languages in this film was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t just a “foreign film” in one language with subtitles, it was in Swedish, Arabic, English and French. I loved that about this movie. It wasn’t the standard medieval movie where everyone is running around in a British accent with a sword because that’s what most audiences deem “medieval”. The use of varied locations (Scotland, Morocco, Sweden) and languages gives it an authentic feel and makes the movie rich and interesting.

This was a good movie, solid, and understated but well worth watching. It doesn’t shout it’s story at you, but tells it in a captivating and engaging manner. There are fight scenes for those who like battle (including the famous Battle of Hattin), and a love story for those who want one without a saccharine, gag inducing narrative. It’ a good mix of love and war for medieval movie fans and an enjoyable story.

Peter’s Take: I was a little less impressed with Arn: The Knight Templar. Perhaps after seeing films like Valhalla Rising and Black Death, which give a darker vision of the Middle Ages, I found that this film was a little more conservative and the characters too one-dimensional. Arn Magnusson and Cecilia Algotsdotter, the two main protagonists of the film, come across as decent, honest and good people, perhaps overly so. Even heroes should have faults. Part of the reason might lie behind the fact that there are many characters portrayed in this film, and it is hard to give them a lot of screen time.

The film is based on all three of Jan Guillou’s books about Arn Magnusson, so the movie has to include a lot of content, and this can lead to some confusion about what is going on and when in chronology does it occur (especially for the first few scenes). Although I never read the trilogy, I got the distinct feeling that we were just seeing the main scenes from the story and a lot was being left out. This may have been a good thing, as we are not sidetracked by subplots and unnecessary scenes.


Like Sandra, I enjoyed many parts of this film, especially its more laid-back pace and style. It was great to see the  use of different languages – Swedish, English, French, Latin and Arabic are all spoken, which gives a more authentic feel to a film that is set in different parts of the medieval world. I also found it refreshing that the monks who take care of Arn as a child are decent and genuinely faithful men, a depiction that seems to be rare in medieval movies.

This film makes a fictitious character, Arn, take on an important role in actual historical events, but the story does a good job of following history with both events in Sweden and Outremer. Accuracy is not adhered to at all times – for instance, it seems that the Swedes were able to use large units of bowmen about a hundred years before that military innovation was used in the British Isles. But it does give a good overall impression of a film that really tries to show itself as being set in a real, medieval world.