Director Justin Hardy’s team fought each other, storms and electrocution to recreate 1066.
1066: The Battle for Middle Earth
Director Justin Hardy
The challenge To recreate and fight the longest battle of the Middle Ages dressed in full chain mail in the middle of an electrical storm
When C4’s Hamish Mykura, Julian Bellamy and Ralph Lee agreed to Hardy Pictures taking on the year 1066, we agreed to do it in dramatic microcosm. Forget the Harold and William “bonded like brothers” fantasy, choose instead to tell the story of one little Sussex village. A few thatched huts, populated by bucolic characters with flowers in their hair, invaded by thin-lipped Normans.
But it just got bigger. In the first film, our village heroes get hauled north to the battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge, when 30,000 men wielded sword and axe to the death. So we exploited the cinematic fig-leaf of dense woodland. It worked in Fellowship of the Ring when Boromir gets peppered, and [Peter] Jackson used only a few dozen orcs. Best fight of the trilogy.
We worked with re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, headed by the bearded Kim Siddorn. Around 80 turned up to North Yorkshire in their estate cars, complete with weapons and lady friends. Add to these a dozen stuntmen and there wasn’t a hint of “when I was on Bond…”.
A bank holiday weekend later and we had both forest-battles under the belt. Regia fought each other. Stuntmen fought actors. Viking stars Olaf, Soren and Bjorn gave it hard as befits their DNA.
But Hastings, oh Hastings. Regia would not let this third battle take place in forest. It’s an open hillside, they said, woods all around, the English forming a shieldwall on the ridge, the Normans attacking from below. It would have to be epic, and we couldn’t skulk behind foliage.
So up they trooped the following weekend, bringing kite shields and horses. For four days, they ran and galloped up and down our hill.
It rained. An electrical storm hit the next field, and an estimated 75,000 volts flowed through the water-logged soil towards us. In full chainmail. One re-enactor, an atmospheric physicist, advised us to close our legs. That way the charge doesn’t conduct through your curly bits, looking for the shortest route to the next field.
After four days’ fighting, Harold lay mutilated. Bodies were strewn across the field, 4,900 of which were created by our RTS-winning CGI guru, Jon Underwood.
Truth be told, our Battle of Hastings, lasting over half an hour in the second film, contains upwards of a 100 CGI shots. Many were not planned. If you’re taking on such an absurd televisual enterprise, it can help not to plan too much. You’d only see how unachievable it really is. No microcosm here. But you be the judge.
1066: The Battle for Middle Earth airs on 18 and 19 May at 9pm on C4.