The 80-minute docudrama, Joan of Arc, will premiere on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26 at 6 p.m. at MT/8p.m. ET on BYUtv, followed by a 10-minute behind-the-scenes special. It will continue to appear on the television station several more times during the holiday season.
BYUtv has created a stunning docudrama about a stunning life that is not to be missed in its several showings in the next weeks.
Joan of Arc is a global household name, but outside of France most of us have only the vaguest idea about who she was or why she went unflinchingly and with towering conviction to be burned at the stake in May of 1431.
Yet as writer, director and co-producer of the film Russ Holt notes, “It is not a stretch to say that the world we now know would be very different without Joan of Arc. Without her there would be no independent country of France, and without France and the French navy, George Washington would never have won at Yorktown. They were on the verge of being overwhelmed by England when the French navy came in and turned the battle.”
Why Joan should have had such far-reaching impact and why our fuzzy picture of her deserves sharpening is found in her remarkable visions and clear heavenly instructions which began when she was 13 years old.
Holt said, “There have been countless books written about Joan over the last 600 years and in the last century many films, but I honestly don’t think any of the scholars or historians know what to do with her spiritual experiences. They assign them away or assign different reasons for her experiences than she herself gives. Latter-day Saints relate to her experience and find it consistent with what we know from scripture both ancient and modern.”
Throughout human history, many great figures have claimed to hear voices of God or spirits including prophets from the Old and New Testaments as well as Jesus’ apostles. Like Joan of Arc, whose life was transformed through her faith and was set on a mission to change the course of human history, these people answered a personal calling.
Joan is not delirious or psychotic or a fraud as some have tried to paint her. For Latter-day Saints, since we are a religious tradition that believes in miracles and heavenly messengers, we take her at her word.
And what a word it is! Because of the extensive transcripts of her trial for heresy, more is known about Joan of Arc than perhaps any other person of medieval times. The production makes full use of these original sources so that all dialogue and dramatic scenes are based on these 15th century documents. What Joan says in the film is what she really said—and the moments that are re-created are what indeed really happened.
She bears her own witness of the transcendent events of her life in her own testimony.
Though this docudrama re-creates grand medieval battle scenes and we see Joan riding in her white armor ahead of her armies, the unique emphasis in this production is about her faith.
This faith gave her laser-like conviction. The commentators in the film are awed by her. “A teen who was able to hold at bay and frustrate the massed intelligentsia of her day.” “A story too beautiful and too terrible to ignore.” “She chose a path and went down it like a thunderbolt.”
A Divine Visit
Joan was born in 1412 in the northeastern French village of Domremy to a simple, impoverished family who farmed. Like all the girls of her day she was uneducated and illiterate.
These were desperate times as France was being ravaged in the Hundred Year War with England. England had overtaken most of northern France, the French King Charles VI had gone mad, creating political chaos and divided loyalties, the people were starving and the country was on the verge of collapse.
When the mad king died, his son Charles neither led out nor took the throne and France remained in disarray. The people of France were praying for a miracle and one came in a different way than they might have ever supposed.
13-year old Joan was in her father’s garden when suddenly a heavenly messenger appeared to her. She said:
“It was summer, about noon. Suddenly, there was a great light. I heard a voice calling my name. After I had thrice heard this voice, I knew it was the voice of an angel. I was very much afraid. I knew it was the Archangel Michael. He was in the form of a man. His voice was beautiful, humble and he spoke the French language. He told me of the pitiful state of the kingdom of France, and that I was to come to the aid of the king. He told me that I must be a good child, and that God would help me. He also told me that St. Catherine and St. Margaret would come to me and that I should act by their advice – that they would lead me in what I had to do and that I should believe what they would say.
When he withdrew from me, I wept and kissed the ground where he had stood.”
What is fascinating about this and other of the visits is what she reported later at her trial. As an illiterate, ordinary person, she had no idea theologians had conferred and agreed that angels were merely spirit, that spiritual beings had no matter.
Thus, at her inquisition, she could not have known that in giving her simple descriptions of what had happened to her she was committing heresy in their eyes. She responded honestly when she was asked to describe her visitations.
Her visitors, she said, were corporeal beings with flesh and bone. She described their hair and white clothing in great detail. She had been tutored by angels and heavenly beings. She was ridiculed, belittled and grilled for weeks about this, but she would not recant that reality nor the details that attended. These angels had tangible bodies.
In addition, all the answers she gave before her inquisitors, the learned clerics of the day, were so insightful and pure, they could hardly have come from an illiterate teenager had she not been tutored by the heavens.
When asked by her inquisitors, “Are you in God’s grace,” she answered:
“If I am not, may God put me there. If I am, may God keep me there. I would be the most miserable person in the world if I knew I were not in God’s grace.”
Her Heavenly Instructions
Joan’s mission was seemingly impossible, especially for a teenage girl, who had no opportunities, let alone to lead an army. Her job was to oust the English and clear the way for the prince to be placed on his throne.
She liberated Orleans, then pushed her army north so that the prince could be crowned king at Reims Cathedral as was the tradition. Moving north through dangerous territory, she led what has come to be recognized as one of the most extraordinary military campaigns in history. The “Bloodless March” captured every English occupied town along the route without shedding a drop of blood.
That she succeeded so remarkably is testimony to her own spiritual guidance. She did what her voices told her to do.
She required her army to attend confession, to receive communion once a week, to cut out bad language. She dismissed the women who followed the camp looking to sell favors. This was to be God’s army and none else’s. She had a banner created with figures of Jesus and Mary on it to lead the army.
She continually reminded her followers that they were following the “King of heaven.”
In one faceoff, the French army and the English army stood poised against each other with neither beginning the fight. Joan had the priests deliver communion to each of her soldiers as they stood on that battle line, and the English army inexplicably dissolved away and left.
One key scene from Joan’s life that had to be captured in this film was when she and her army came to the banks of the Loire River, unable to cross to Orleans because they were going against the river.
The mayor of Orleans came to her and said they needed her help because their people were starving. She answered, “I bring you better help than ever came from any soldier. It is the help of the God of heaven.” Just then the wind suddenly changed and the army was able to cross.
Holt said he hoped to capture that moment, but did not have the budget to have the large aircraft propeller fans to create wind on cue. He thought, instead, he would have to create the illusion with sound effects. “But at the moment she said that line,” he said, “the wind started blowing the trees behind her and we got beautiful shots of winds coming from nowhere.”
Another unforgettable moment for Holt was when they were filming a scene in an old stone tavern in a little rural village in France when Joan first meets Jean de Metz, a military officer who takes pity on her and helps her have the meeting with the prince. She explains to him her mission, saying, “I have been commissioned by God to do this.” Holt became so moved at the power of the scene, “I could not call ‘cut’ at the end, because I was so choked up.”
Filming on Location
Originally some thought was given to filming Joan of Arc in Utah, but Holt said, “When we started this, we determined that we needed to visit every town and village in France where Joan had been. We went to the village of Doremy where Joan was born and where her home still stands in March before the tourist season had begun. It was cold and hardly any people were there.
“We were able to stand before her home which has been preserved for over 600 years. I stood in her little bedroom where she had stood. It was a spiritual experience to connect with Joan in her own home in her own village. We knew then we had to film in France.”
The Actress Who Played Joan
Another reason this film resonates so deeply is the power of the actress, Milly Thomas, who plays Joan. “She was heaven sent,” said Holt. Milly spoke French, rode horses and could do sword fighting, but beyond that “she had the strength to carry off this part.”
“She same to one of our auditions in London and blew us away,” said Holt.
She is able to portray Joan’s power of conviction as one who would not deny her visions even at the peril of her life.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “As the fires were being ignited around the stake to which she was tied, Joan was given a last chance to save her life and regain her liberty if she would deny her religious—and thus some of her personally motivated political—beliefs. She refused to deny anything she believed or anything she had said about her faith, and thus chose fire above freedom, and principle above politics.”
He also quoted Maxwell Anderson, who wrote a moving drama about this young woman and her courage: “The world can use these words. … Every man gives his life for what he believes; every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, [and yet] they give up their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it, and then it’s gone. But to surrender what you are, and live without belief—that’s more terrible than dying—more terrible than dying young” (Joan of Lorraine, act 2, interlude 3).
Why BYUtv Produces These Films
Derek Marquis, the managing director of BYUtv, said, “We live in such a dark media landscape, it is a privilege to shed a little light, and that’s what we are trying to do with our productions.” Scott Swofford, content director said, “If any other network can tell a story, we should let them” but some stories seem to reflect BYUtv and our faith culture.
To that end for the last four Christmases BYUtv has created a film about a remarkable and faithful person from history. “The Fires of Faith” is about William Tyndale who gave his life as a martyr after creating his significant English translation of the Bible. “Silent Night” was about the priest Joseph Mohr and the writing of this beloved Christmas carol. “Handel’s Messiah” is about the creation by George Fredriech Handel of his beloved masterwork. All are available to view anytime at byutv.org
Experts interviews in this film:
Helen R. Castor Ph.D. (Bye-Fellow, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Author, Joan of Arc: A History)
Jeremy DuQuesnay Adams Ph.D. (Professor and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, Medieval Europe, Southern Methodist University)
Daniel Hobbins Ph.D. (Associate Professor of History, Notre Dame University)
Bonnie Wheeler Ph.D.(Associate Professor and Director of Medieval Studies, Southern Methodist University and Director, International Joan of Arc Society)
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Gérald R. Caussé (Presiding Bishop, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Russ Holt (Writer, Director and Co-producer)
Adam Abel (Co-producer)
Ryan Little (Director of Photography)
Sam Cardon (Composer)