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Armour in popular culture

Much of the public perception of arms and armour is coloured by popular culture, yet many museums have been slow to appreciate and preserve the wonderful things made for films, games and other media. In the second installment of our Collecting Cultures blog posts, we turn to examples of the armour in our collection best known for its use on the silver screen.

Necromonger Lord Marshal’s armour

Armour wise, we have been successful in acquiring a hero armour from the 2004 cult movie ‘The Chronicles of Riddick‘ starring Vin Diesel. This armour was worn by the nefarious Necromonger Lord Marshal played by Colm Feore, in the climactic battle between himself and Riddick, as the Lord Marshal tries to prevent his prophesised demise at the hands of the Furyan renegade. The costume consists of an ornately detailed metal cowl with a lined mail hood, with links being made from titanium, and highly detailed pauldrons with a face design on each side made of hard rubber urethane. Both the breast and back plates are also made from hard rubber urethane and have hand cut leather inserts.

Ornately decorated and highly detailed Armour.

The Lord Marshal’s costume from the film the Chronicles of Riddick (II.409)

This highly imaginative and creative suit of armour was designed and built by Ellen Mirojnick, Michael Dennison, and costume supervisor James Tyson during a 12 week pre-production period. According to production notes from the film, “they found inspiration in the creations of Filippo Negroli”, an Italian Renaissance armour designer, but designed the armour so that it appeared “modified to reflect the stealth and post-modern technology of the Necromongers”. Incredibly, it took over two months just to make one set of the Lord Marshal’s gloves.

Filippo Negroli was a famed 16th century Milanese armourer, and the designers claim to have taken particular inspiration from a breastplate he made for Guidobaldo II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino. The original breastplate is in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy and the ‘bat-wing’ design is one found in Italian armour from about the 1420’s. The breastplate with its scaly bat-wings containing eyes is one of the masterpieces of Negroli and this particular style of 16th century armour. The fact that it was used as the basis of this armour says something interesting about the longevity and fascination of this design and provides a clear link between the relevance of past armour designs to the artists of today.

Lancelot’s armour

shiny silver helmet

Worn in the production of the John Boorman movie Excalibur (1981)

As well as the Riddick armour, the Royal Armouries has also been successful in acquiring Lancelot’s screen-used hero armour (II. 408) from John Boorman’s cult movie ‘Excalibur’ (1981). In the movie, starring Nicholas Clay, Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicol Williamson, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson, Lancelot is a knight who offers his services to Arthur, including bringing the bride-to-be- Guinevere to Arthur for their marriage. The following affair between Lancelot and Guinevere causes the downfall of Camelot. The climactic battle against Mordred sees Lancelot return to once again to fight alongside Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table for Camelot, although the battle ends with the death of Arthur at the hands of Mordred.

The armour was worn by Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) in numerous scenes including the initial meeting between Lancelot and Arthur, the accompanying of Guinevere to Camelot, and the search for the Holy Grail. It was made for hero use, in close-up scenes and non-combat sequences, such as the woodland wedding of Arthur and Guinevere. It was one of two made for the film, the other was a stunt armour made specifically for combat. The armour consists of ornately detailed metal (aluminium) pieces with a distinctive close helmet with a winged pivoting visor, breast and back plate, pauldrons, arm defences, gauntlets, leg armour and sabatons. The entire armour was originally given a mirror bright finish.

A highly creative suit of armour, it was designed and built by the British film-armourer Terry English who has worked on a number of movies. In 1974, English made a copy of the Henry VIII tonlet armour and has also made material for the Royal Armouries in the past including, in the mid-1980’s two armours for the Education Department of the Armouries – elements of which are still in use.

The film Excalibur is noted as one of the most important modern retellings of the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. More than any other film adaptation the armours were amongst the finest produced for an Arthurian epic and caused much comment. Plate armour was used extensively and many made the point that during the time of the “authentic” Arthur, who would have been a warlord of the 6th century if he did in fact exist, such armour was not used. These critics, however, miss that the movie derives its design ethic was derived from the Victorian Pre-Raphaelites and Secession artists such as Gustav Klimt.

These objects were acquired as part of the Royal Armouries’ Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’  project, which aims to look at arms and armour through the lens of popular culture. In the coming years, we hope to collect and display more examples of movie history alongside the more traditional arms and armour that we’re known for.

Get a closer look at these pieces of silver screen history and other Collecting Cultures objects on our Collections Online website where you can see images in deep zoom.

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