Despite the comforts of modern-day life, it’s difficult not to daydream about getting swept off your feet by a gruesomely sullen knight. Between the rugged good looks, the lovelorn promises, and a chivalrous man who’d cross the lands for you, it’s the perfect fantasy.
Medieval romance movies bring all of this and more to the big screen, with throes of passion and burning adventure. The Middle Ages were long before the days of coffee dates and swiping right on dating apps. Instead, you were welcomed with slow-burning devotion and, many times, forbidden love. There is nothing quite as romantic as a person proving their love to you by abandoning their birthright, fighting kings, or going to war over you (as a last resort, please).
Tristan & Isolde (2006)
The big screen adaptation of Tristan & Isolde is based off of the 12th-century Celtic legend of a beautiful princess and a Cornish knight, Tristan. In the legend, Tristan and Isolde ingest a love potion that instigates a forbidden love between them. The movie strays from this idea though and instead shrouds itself in the burning desires of real forbidden love.
Tristan is poisoned in battle early on in the movie and is presumed dead. His death leads to a Viking-style funeral, in which he is shipped out to sea. He miraculously lands on the beaches of Isolde’s home, where she nurses him back to health. In an unfortunate series of events, Tristan unknowingly wins her as a wife for his king even though he loves her. James Franco and Sophia Myles do an incredible job at bringing the romantic tension to life in this tragedy that rivals Romeo and Juliet.
King Arthur (2004)
No medieval romance burns brighter than the love triangle between King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Lady Guinevere. Antoine Fuqua brought the legendary knights to life in a heart-pounding blockbuster with a cast to die for. In it, Arthur and his knights are responsible for warding off an invading Saxon army.
While the movie focuses more on the action rather than the romantic desires of the Knights of the Round Table, there are plenty of scenes that slip in lustful conversations, forbidden looks, and sexual tension. The love triangle is put on the back burner in favor of the importance of Arthur’s relationships that influence his leadership. Do not fret though, Arthur and Guinevere end up together in the end.
Based on the novel by Lisa Klein, Ophelia follows the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective. Daisy Ridley plays Ophelia, a rebellious lady-in-waiting at the Elsinore Castle. She captures the eye of the young prince, Hamlet, and a passionate and forbidden love ensues.
Watching the movie from Ophelia’s point of view is a breath of fresh air in the many adaptations of Hamlet. She is sharp, defiant, and clever, and navigates the rules of Denmark seamlessly, all while her love begins to unravel after the murder of his father.
A Knight’s Tale (2001)
There has never been a more perfectly blended soundtrack of classic rock hits and medieval romance than in A Knight’s Tale. It stars the charismatic Heath Ledger as William Thatcher and follows him and his crew of mischievous friends as they scam their way into a knight jousting tournament.
The real heart of the movie comes in the way of William’s romance with Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossaman) though. The peasant-born William wins the heart of the fair maiden, Jocelyn, and their love is put to the test as his many secrets unfold throughout the movie. David Bowie’s, ‘Golden Years,’ brings the dance scene to life and is a memorable piece of medieval cinematic history, ensuring that the movie still holds up well today.
Robin Hood (2010)
The tale of Robin Hood, his thoughts on capitalism, and his good deeds still ring relevant to this day. The roguish thief steals from the rich and gives to the poor, those that are crippled by taxation and an array of other wicked deeds. Ridley Scott’s movie was a more grizzled version of the tale that many know through Disney’s animated version.
A skilled archer named Robin travels to Nottingham, where he witnesses its villagers suffering under the hands of a dictatorial sheriff. While there, he falls in love with a vivacious widow named Marion. Robin decides to save the village in the hopes of winning her heart, and thus begins the great romance of Robin Hood and Maid Marion.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Do not let its incredibly high death count fool you, Kingdom of Heaven has just as much romance as any other medieval movie. Although its passion often comes from other places outside of romantic love, there is still plenty of forbidden lust.
A village blacksmith, Balian (Orlando Bloom), grieves the sudden death of his wife and decides to join his father as a crusader on the road to Jerusalem. The journey proves perilous, and after many losses, Balian arrives at the holy city, becoming involved in its political arena. He meets Princess Sibylla there, the wife of the prospective king of Jerusalem. Balian and Sibylla begin a forbidden romance that devolves into a catalyst for much political strife.
First Knight (1995)
While many remember First Knight as the soap opera-esque take on the Arthurian legends, the 1995 movie is charming and silly in all the right ways. There have been many versions of King Arthur in cinema, but First Knight is rarely mentioned among them or regarded as anything besides a cheesy romance movie.
Every legend is deserving of different interpretations though, and the melodrama of First Knight unfolds delightfully. In the movie, the handsome Lancelot (Richard Gere) meets Guinevere (Julia Ormond) when he can not seem to make it past her defenses while fighting. Despite their attraction to one another, she is betrothed to King Arthur. Lancelot struggles with his love for her and his loyalty to Arthur in this very ’90s take on the legend.
While Merlin is technically a miniseries, it only has three parts, and it is the length of a feature film at 2 hours long. Merlin retells the story of King Arthur but includes the legendary wizard, Merlin, in a much bigger role than most adaptations. In fact, it is told entirely from Merlin’s perspective.
Merlin is played by Sam Neill and the series follows his life and the struggles he endures in finding a king that is fit to help ward against an ever-present spiritual threat. There are many famous Arthurian characters included in the series like Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s mother, Igraine, and Uther Pendragon, and Merlin is home to plenty of romance and obsessive loves.
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is the most popular subject when it comes to medieval romance. And for good reason – the love lives of those in the Middle Ages were messy, steamy, and filled with drama, making for great screen adaptations.
In the movie, the magical sword of Excalibur starts in the hand of Uther Pendragon and later ends up in the hands of his bastard son, Arthur. Arthur is destined to become king, and with the help of Merlin, he fulfills his fate by creating the Knights of the Round Table. Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Morgana le Fay’s lustful ways and seductions is still one of the best in cinema.
Ladyhawke delves into the medieval fantasy of cursed lovers, dark magic, and evil enchantments. In medieval Italy, a young thief breaks out of prison and befriends Navarre, a man with a bizarre secret. Navarre is in love with a woman, but they are cursed – dark magic prevents the two from ever being in each other’s presence except at twilight.
Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauerand Matthew Broderick in their prime, the movie perfectly captures the tension of a romance gone wrong and the fantasy of longing for a lover that you can not have. The three plot to overthrow the Bishop that cursed Navarre and Isabeau and break the evil enchantment forever in this charming ’80s fantasy film.
NEXT: Best Films Set in the Middle Ages