Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With the fabled Snyder Cut improbably making its way to HBO Max this week, we’re looking back on other significant directors’ cuts.
Ridley Scott’s fondness for crafting director’s cuts of his films is well-known at this point; seven different versions of Blade Runner will pretty much secure one’s reputation as a tinkerer. But none of the differences Scott has incorporated into nearly a dozen entries in his filmography are more profound than those made to 2005’s Kingdom Of Heaven. The 144-minute theatrical cut was a bore, with a post-Lord Of The Rings Orlando Bloom doing his best Aragorn impression. But Scott’s director’s cut brims with guilt, intimacy, and sensuality. You can thank Eva Green for that.
Outside her appearance in The Dreamers, Green was a relative unknown when Scott cast her as Sibylla, the 12th-century Queen of Jerusalem, whose family captured the city for the Christians. She would bounce upward into global fame with Casino Royale and Penny Dreadful, and languished for years in Tim Burton’s cinematic universe. But before all that, she carved out a space for herself in the nearly exclusively male cast of Kingdom Of Heaven.
Written by William Monahan, who also penned Scott’s Body Of Lies, Kingdom Of Heaven arrived five years after the director’s Oscar-winning Gladiator, and suffered immediately from comparisons. No matter that Gladiator was a revenge story set during the Roman Empire, while Kingdom Of Heaven was a love story set during the Crusades. No matter that Gladiator had only a passing interest in how the Roman Empire was run, while Kingdom Of Heaven devoted a great deal of time to exploring the different religious customs and military methodologies of Christians and Muslims. Of course, that element only really became clear in Scott’s director’s cut, which was made widely available on DVD in 2006, allowing everyone to see the film’s many obscured merits.
Restored scenes illuminate the disgust blacksmith Balian (Bloom) has for Christianity and its rigid notions of heaven and hell—a core character quality that becomes increasingly important as the film unfurls. Arthur Max’s production design is better honored during lengthier, bloodier battle set pieces. Most engrossingly, a much more prominent role in the narrative is bestowed upon Green’s Sibylla, the mother of a sick child and the beleaguered wife of a barbarian. In a film with so much brutality performed in the name of God, Sibylla’s personal sacrifices hit hardest.
Also, to be superficial for a second? Green is absurdly gorgeous in this movie, and costume designer Janty Yates plays up her otherworldly beauty with elaborate outfits inspired by traditional Middle Eastern fashions. Queen Sibylla never walks anywhere, Green haughtily says, so all her outfits befit her status, whether she’s riding her white stallion into Balian’s compound, addressing the citizens of Jerusalem, or sharing a quieter moment with her son (Alexander Potts) or her brother, the “Leper King” Baldwin IV (Edward Norton, underneath a metal mask). In silk of burnt orange and amber, gauzy headscarves festooned with pearls and coins, or a coronation outfit of heavy embroidery and brocade (topped with a gold cage for her hair!), Green is purposefully exoticized in this role as a reminder of Sibylla’s regality. Yet in the theatrical version of Kingdom Of Heaven, exotic is basically all she is: an esteemed prize fought over by Balian, who becomes her lover, and by her husband, the power-hungry Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas).
Sibylla is striking in the first version of the film, but primarily inert. She falls in love with Balian and basically disappears from the action until tensions between the Christians and Muslims churn into renewed war. The director’s cut adds a harrowing subplot that gives Green space to work once Sibylla realizes that her beloved son is also sick with leprosy. Green’s shock when she sees him fail to react to hot wax spilled on his hand freezes her whole body rigid; later, as she watches doctors perform tests on her son, her face twists into a frenzy of desperation and fear. Scott centers Green’s Sibylla as she tries to tamp down rumors about her child before deciding to save him from the pain she saw her brother endure, and her devastated, determined, dialogue-less Claudius moment is the finest bit of acting in the film.
After that scene, Sibylla is a woman transformed by personal loss and disinterested in defending the city that was once her birthright. Her arc is the only one in Kingdom Of Heaven that rivals Balian’s—and, arguably, surpasses it. Very little of this film’s version of Sibylla fits the historical record, but that doesn’t detract from the impact of Green’s performance or the emotional weight it provides to what is arguably Scott’s last masterpiece.
Availability: The director’s cut of Kingdom Of Heaven is available to rent or purchase digitally from Amazon.