The return of the king
Plans to celebrate 700 years since birth of Charles IV include an ambitious film production
Posted: October 16, 2013
Charles IV, who was born in 1316, is an iconic figure in the history of the present-day Czech Republic country and the surrounding region.
It may be more than two years out, but 2016 is shaping up to be one dominated by a single name. The man behind the most famous bridge in the Czech capital and the city's distinguished university - both of which carry his name - will be celebrated in a way that has not been seen in the country in recent times, and his story will be told in the first-ever feature film to treat his life with the seriousness it deserves.
Charles IV, who was crowned king of Bohemia and king of Italy in 1346 at the age of 30 and eventually became emperor of the vast Holy Roman Empire before his 40th birthday, will be the central character in a film that is currently in pre-production and overseen by producer Viktor Krištof of Three Brothers Production. It will be released in 2016, a year that marks the 700-year anniversary of the king's birth.
The renown of Charles IV was made clear in the national poll that led to the television series Největší Čech (The Greatest Czech), broadcast in 2005, which he won (in actual fact, fictional character Jára Cimrman got the crown, but he was subsequently disqualified in a move that caused an uproar).
Under the reign of Charles IV, the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, which included the Kingdom of Bohemia, extended almost all the way up to the Baltic Sea along the present-day Polish-German border, but the influence of the royal family started to wane during the reign of his son, Wenceslaus IV.
This will not be the first time a film about Charles IV is made, but it will be the first one approached with the goal of presenting him in a realistic light. During the development of the screenplay, writers will rely mostly on František Kožík's Kronika zivota a vlady Karla IV (The Chronicle of the Life and Reign of Charles IV).
By contrast, Zdeněk Podskalský's Noc na Karlštejně (A Night at Karlstein), dating from 1973, was a musical comedy based on a play from the 19th century, while Karel Steklý's Slasti Otce vlasti, from 1969, was a buffoonish comedy, close to historical slapstick, that also included musical numbers.
Three Brothers Production has projected the budget for its film at around 5 million euros (125 million Kč) and Krištof says the idea is to convey the complexity of the main character by looking at some of the events that transformed him throughout his life.
"In our opinion, Charles is not black and white; he is colorful," Krištof told The Prague Post. "Some people perceive Charles as a very religious person; others see him as [a very wise man] or a builder. ... All these points of view are correct, but he was also a very strong and decisive politician."
Krištof and his production company produced the recent four-part television miniseries Cyril a Metoděj - Apoštolové Slovanů (Cyril and Methodius - The Apostles of Slavs), made to celebrate the arrival of the two saints in the Bohemian lands. The miniseries was shown on Czech Television in June and July, and a two-hour feature film will be released in local cinemas in November.
A lot of uncertainty surrounds much of the lives of these two saints, and Krištof admitted the production was limited in what it could show, also because of religious sensitivity; however, "with Charles IV, we know enough to see there are moments that are attractive for the audience, and you can display it in an attractive way."
Many individuals in the regions of the country where Cyril and Methodius was filmed have expressed an interest in the project to celebrate the life of Charles IV, and hundreds of events are being planned by the regions, cities and towns across the Czech Republic in collaboration with a national committee that will supervise the execution of the project.
The year 2016 will be filled with local festivals, exhibitions, international conferences and concerts, as well as wider media coverage through interviews and programs on the radio and television, the distribution of leaflets and online through dedicated websites. There will even be educational games for children to learn about the famous monarch, and the organizers will benefit from significant support by the European Commission's cultural program, called Creative Europe.
"The film is the main media project of the upcoming anniversary," and the production company is reaching out to numerous historians to fill their story with details of the life and times of the legendary ruler of Bohemia.
While the film's screenplay is yet to be finalized, the overall idea is to show moments of transition in the life of the king with two broad strokes. The first part would focus on his childhood, from around the age of 8 until the death of his father at the Battle of Crécy, while the second part would look at his life as king and especially his role in rebuilding the country.
"In the beginning, he is like his father, but he changed because of some events in his life that also changed his behavior, and these things are crucial for us. We want to show him as a living person, not as an icon," Krištof said and added that the king's dexterity at political wrangling would also be an important part of the narrative.
Krištof expects to have the screenplay ready by the middle of next year, shoot the film in 2015 and have it ready for release during the 700-year celebrations in 2016. A director for the project has not been announced yet.
André Crous can be reached at