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The Inquisition in Film

Imagining the Inquisition through film is not a "one size fits all" situation. Every movie in this project uses history to different ends. Galileo, for instance, critiques modern-day Christianity through its scathing take on the Roman Inquisition. The Crucible, on the other hand, invites the viewer back to a rather accurate take on the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials. Want to read about an international success? Check out an essay on The Name of the Rose. How about something haunting? Take a look at the article on Goya's Ghosts. This section features all these articles and more, with each one focusing on a different film. Learn which films make for fanciful fictions and which try to tell the truth.

In each article the portrayal of 'inquisition' is connected to the film's cultural context and intended message to examine how faithful the depiction of inquisition is to history in the hopes of uncovering the film's ultimate goal. Each article has been supplied with helpful links that explain key concepts and offer resources for further reading.

The Name of the Rose

By Juliëtte de Valk

Il nome della rosa, better known as The Name of the Rose, is the masterpiece of Italian writer Umberto Eco. Eco was born in 1932 Alessandria and died recently in Milan in 2016. The book of more than five hundred pages was released in 1980. It was this bestseller through which Eco became a famous writer. French director Jean-Jacques Annaud took the challenge of adapting it to film. The movie takes place in November of 1327, deep in the late Middle Ages, where the Franciscan brother William of Baskerville has the tough job of debating a group of Benedictine monks, fellow Franciscan brothers, and delegates of the Pope in Avignon. Upon arriving...

Flying Circus

By Matthew Tracy

One of the most infamous representations of inquisitors involves torture by pillow, bad introductions, and the famous line, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" It comes from the comedy group Monty Python and their sketch comedy show, Flying Circus. This ridiculous series of skits takes place in three parts over the course of an entire episode. Certainly, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, yet the skits are now known worldwide and even appear in one of the most recent forms of comedic expression, memes.
The skits themselves are funny in large part because of their absurdity, a common feature of Monty Python's humour. It all begins...

Goya's Ghosts

By Yentl Schattevoet, MA

In the public mind, the Inquisition is seen as a dark chapter of history, and it has been an inspiration for many artists. In the movie Goya's Ghosts, director Miloš Forman (1932-2018) portrays it as a terrifying totalitarian system. Set in Madrid in the year 1792, the viewer is introduced to the turbulent times when the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) clashed with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. We see the Holy Office of the Inquisition having a heated discussion about a series of satirical etches titled Los Caprichos (The Caprices, 1799). It was the famous Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya (1746-1828) who created the etches to express his critique on…

The Grand Inquisitor

By Annelies Gelderblom

In this essay, I will discuss the short film The Grand Inquisitor that was made for the Open University and based on the chapter of the same name from Dostoevsky's book The Brothers Karamazov. Although the title suggests otherwise, this film is not about the inquisition and its inquisitors. They are more the stage on which the film was set. Yet, the role the inquisitor plays – or more precisely, the idea of the Spanish Inquisition – is crucial to the film.
The story of The Grand Inquisitor is set in sixteenth-century Seville, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The day after a hundred heretics were burned at the stake…

Giordano Bruno: Martyr of Infinity

By Charles Ajogi

"There is more to it than meets the eyes". This popular saying readily comes to mind when one takes on the task of analysing or evaluating a film or movie. This is because a lot of things go into the making of a film, and every choice (of word, action or costume) is made for a reason. One needs then to move from the surface in order to meticulously read what is not written and to hear what is not spoken in the film.
This work discusses a biographical drama produced in 1973 by Giuliano Montaldo, Giordano Bruno: Martyr of Infinity. The film narrates the story of Giordano Bruno from the moment of...


By Christos Veskoukis

In the year 1974, Joseph Losey, an American filmmaker, made a film about Galileo Galilei, the famous seventeenth-century Italian astronomer and scientist who laid the foundations of modern science. This film, as many biographical films, is important because it contains information about a celebrated scientist. Considering, moreover, that movies are popular media through which many people acquire their knowledge of history, we can easily understand why Losey's Galileo is worth examining.
Despite its biographical flavour, however, Losey's film does not present Galileo's life in strict chronological order. Instead, the focus is on Galileo's struggle for...

The Crucible

By Pauline Donders, MA

The Crucible is an adaptation of Arthur Miller's play by the same name from 1953. Miller adapted the play for the screen himself. It tells the story of the Salem witch trials, which took place in 1692 and 1693. The events in Salem, Massachusetts, are perhaps one of the most well-known examples of the witch hunts that took place all over Europe and America between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. In just over one year, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft in Salem, of which twenty were executed. It all started when...