Medieval weapons master rates 7 more weapons and armor scenes from movies and TV

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  • Tobias Capwell is the curator of arms and armor at The Wallace Collection in London.
  • He reacts to seven scenes featuring weapons and armor and rates them based on their accuracy.
  • He rates "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (2002) and "Game of Thrones" (2011).

Tobias Capwell is an author, lecturer, broadcaster, and the curator of arms and armor at The Wallace Collection in London. He has been a horseman and martial artist since childhood, is a founding member of the modern historical jousting community, and has fought in major international tournaments all over the world. Capwell has written many books and articles on weapons, armor, tournaments, and knighthood, including "Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450," "Arms and Armour of the Medieval Joust," and "Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour in the Wallace Collection."

Following is a transcript of the video.

- [arrows swish]

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Fire arrows, as a rule, get way overused in cinema. These are a little more interesting, though.

Hi, I'm Toby Capwell. I'm curator of arms and armor at The Wallace Collection in Central London. Since I was a kid, I've been riding horses and fighting in armor. I've taken part in competitions, armored combat, all over the world. Today, we're going to be looking at the treatment of medieval arms and armor in cinema.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (2002)

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Éomer: What business does an elf, a man, and a dwarf have in the Riddermark? Speak quickly!

Toby: Yeah, this is a great entrance of a character. You know, Tolkien imagined the Rohirrim as Anglo-Saxons who fought like knights on horseback. Because the Anglo-Saxons didn't. They rode horses, but they got off to fight. They didn't fight on their horses. The design of the helmet is derived from early medieval examples. He really should have his chin strap done up. The helmet is riding a bit too high on his head. The brow of the helmet, the horizontal edge there, should be right down on his eyebrows to really protect the front of the skull. You want to bring that down as far as it can go, and it can go right down onto your eyebrows. So, I'll stick this on. All right. This is one of my own, made for me.

[helmet clatters]

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OK? Now, you see, that brow is right down on my eyes, and it's sticking out beyond my skull, right? So a weapon comes in, it can't get to me. The skull, it might get there, but that's still safe.

Gimli: Give me your name, horse-master.

Toby: You know, things were often more highly decorated, even for practical fighting, than modern people often imagine. They're going for armor that looks kind of architectural. Like, the dwarves build caves, and they work with rock, and that's under mountains and stuff. So they're looking for a kind of blocky aesthetic. It's starting to look a bit too much like polyurethane here, to me. There's something about metal that -- it has a weight, it has a rigidity that rubber and plastic and polyurethane don't have. I gotta dock them a couple of points here for the fit and the chin strap, but it's still gotta be, like, an eight out of 10.

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Rating: 8/10

"Outlaw King" (2018)

What's he doing? I think his son was already a knight at this point. I don't know why he feels the need to knight him again.

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This is a total mishmash of pretty good and pretty not so good. The mail that you're seeing in close-up here is real mail, and you can actually even see the rivets that are closing each of the links. It's not fitting him well, and it's not tailored to him. It's something that's been just hoicked out of a van and stuck on the actor. A lot of film mail is just, like, plastic links butted together, sprayed silver. For a lot of uses it's fine, but they don't have the rivets. Real mail is, you know, iron links riveted closed. I appreciate the fact that he's got a lining under there. He's got padded textile under the mail, which you have to have, otherwise it is going to do precisely nothing for you. A lot of exposed throats there. And they've stuck random articulated shoulder plates over the mail shirt.

This is Robert the Bruce in the early 14th century. They were starting to introduce more hard armor. They're a long way from full plate armor at this period. They're a significant way away, really, from articulated constructions like that, that look a bit like the tail of a lobster or whatever. It's a later thing. And the shoulders were less of a priority in this period. If you're gonna put plates on a guy, in this period, it should be on the elbows and the knees. And here you can see his mail is a little off-center, is bagging around his throat. Just is bad. The key thing about a mail hood is that it has a piece called a ventail, which comes up and ties up to the chin. And it's sculpted to protect the whole throat. You know, this is armor that's doing nothing, because I can stab him straight through his windpipe.

This film is actively engaging with real heraldry. Heraldry is the system of colors and shapes put onto shields as a form of visual identification. 'Cause when all these guys are in armor, it's hard to tell who's who. Heraldry was the answer. And it works very well. They got things wrong that they didn't have to get wrong, but they still did a fair amount that's right. Seven out of 10.

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Rating: 7/10

"The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" (1999)

[arrow hits]

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[both gasp]

What? Nothing.

Toby: I like this little scene because it shows that getting shot with arrows isn't immediately fatal. And Gilles de Rais here, Joan's companion -- who was, incidentally, a serial killer in real life, he was a pretty despicable child murderer -- anyway, he knows that he can take a hit. She's not wearing armor in this scene. He is. Shot for shot, a longbow arrow has very little chance of hurting a man inside. You need the kind of mass volume that Henry V organized in his armies to put so many arrows downrange that somebody's gonna get hurt no matter what.

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Charles: I asked for a grandiose coronation, and this is what you give this?

Toby: He wouldn't do that, almost certainly. He'd wear his coronation robes, and all of his knights certainly wouldn't wear armor to a coronation. Certainly not rusty, banged-up stuff like that. Most of this is aluminum. This armor was made by Terry English, who's one of the most famous modern armorers working in cinema. He's made armor for lots of things. He made Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze armor for the Batman movie, he's made space marines armor for "Aliens," and he's done a fair amount of historical stuff. The king here is putting on gold armor. It's gold colored. And this is actually good. This doesn't look like gold armor. But fully gilded armor, where you have steel armor, and then it's copper-plated and then it's fire-gilded, where you mix gold with mercury and you apply this mercury-gold mixture, if you then heat that mercury up and you boil it off, it leaves the gold chemically bonded to the steel. Normally, most people wouldn't be able to afford that. I mean, really only kings can afford this. And not all kings, but the French kings liked this. It was a distinctive thing, actually. It creates an image of a king as, like, the sun manifested in human form, like a superhuman being. But it would have been nicer if they'd given Terry the budget to gild it properly. I give it a four out of 10.

Rating: 4/10

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"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" (2005)

Wolf: We've already been through this before. We both know you haven't got it in you!

Toby: A sword is not a gun. Pointing a sword at someone out of range with your arms fully extended so you have nowhere to go with it doesn't achieve anything except making you look like you've never held a sword in your life. You point your weapon out there like that, he's gonna take it away from you. There's often not enough color in medieval depictions in cinema. Medieval people loved color, bright color, richness. It didn't populate their world very much otherwise. OK. So, you've got your leader, your king, leading a cavalry charge. They're in wedge formation with the king at the point of the wedge, which is great. This is how it's done. The guy on the point of the wedge is steering the whole cavalry charge. He's like the guidance system on a missile. The wedge formation is one of the most effective formations for a heavy cavalry charge. He's got his chin strap done up. Love that. He's still got his visor up, which is good, because at this stage he's still far enough away from the enemy where he's got other things to worry about. A cavalry charge might start when you're maybe 600 meters away from the enemy line, but you're not going to be full pelt straight off. You need to start the charge in good order. He's got to look around and make sure his formation is maintaining its position, they're keeping their cohesion. If he starts running too fast, then they have to catch up, and then they start getting too spread out. They've got to stay close. He's got to be watching that. Fine. But now the real test of the sequence, and the thing that Hollywood hates to do, is cover its famous actors' faces. But in a real cavalry charge, this guy, once he's got himself set up, he needs to close that visor, and let's see if they do it. He could close it right about now. Now would be good. Oh, he's closed it! I give it a seven.

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Rating: 7/10

"Game of Thrones" (2011)

[swords clashing]

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If I could change one thing, I would change this. He's wearing his gorget on the outside of his breastplate. A gorget is that neck plate. He should actually have plates covering his throat. The gorget has neck plates in here, and it comes down and has this larger chest plate. That chest plate should be underneath the breastplate. The breastplate has a turned edge to stop things sliding up into your face. But if anything does get past, it hits the gorget. But in "Game of Thrones," they habitually put them on the outside, and it's a howler that I just, I can't abide.

Rating: 1/10

"Army of Darkness" (1992)

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Fire!

Toby: Fire arrows were a thing, especially in naval warfare, when you've got key pieces of equipment you want to set on fire, like sails and rigging and things. Fire arrows, as a rule, get way overused in cinema. These are a little more interesting, though. There's something more interesting going on. You see, it's not just a lump of burning material stuck on an arrow. They've actually got some kind of explosive charge on these arrows that has a fuse. And this is actually much more historically plausible. There are early incendiary manuals from the 15th and 16th centuries that give designs for different kinds of gunpowder bombs and other explosive devices to be put on arrows and crossbow bolts.

[man groans]

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My Lord!

[man groans]

Toby: I love this, right here. That's armor doing its job, you know? An arrow, when it hits you in full armor, it'll probably glance off. That's what armor's designed to do. But if it hits you square and it gets enough purchase, it can start to bite into the steel. And if it hits you somewhere on the arm or the shoulder where the steel is thinner, it might even get through. Chances are most arrows are not going to get through enough to do meaningful damage to the person inside. But they are going to get stuck, and seeing a knight fighting on the walls in a siege with arrows stuck in him is the best thing I've seen all day. 10 out of 10, absolutely. Just for that.

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Rating: 10/10

"Henry V" (1944)

One of the absolute best treatments of historical armor, in any film ever, is in Laurence Olivier's 1944 film, "Henry V." But the film is set and the design is led by the reality of clothing and equipment and architecture and so forth of the early 15th century. One of his historical advisors was my predecessor at The Wallace Collection, the keeper of arms and armor in the mid-20th century, Sir James Mann. And Olivier went to The Wallace Collection, and he saw the collection, and he worked with James Mann, another arms and armor scholar named Charles Beard, and that film looks just like a 15th-century manuscript come to life. And it's real steel armor on all of these actors. And it's one of the best ever.

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Rating: 10/10

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