Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (1985)
At Columbus’ time, navigation was still unfit for ocean-crossing: the ships were small, and could not carry enough food and fresh water for such a journey onto the uncharted ocean. In those days, most European navigators considered crossing the Atlantic unfeasible; furthermore, Columbus underestimated the size of the Earth, and overestimated the size of the Eurasian landmass. To add one more layer of danger to this cake of potential disasters, Columbus departed during hurricane season.

Columbus was an ambitious man, and he really hoped to find riches and fame when he made predictions of the route west to Asia. He was so sure of his plan that he lobbied seven years successively in the royal courts of Portugal, Spain and other European kingdoms until he reached his goal. Moreover, he was venturesome and optimistic in the face of many dangers on the Atlantic mentioned above. These actions showed Columbus’ true character as a daring person who was willing to take risks for his own purposes.

Since the ocean was very dangerous, the King and the Queen of Spain must have been very desperate to allow Columbus to go into this unknown and hope to find riches. Indeed, after the costly war between the Spanish and the Moors, these two highnesses needed an alternative route to Asia, and a competitive edge against Portugal (whose explorers had successfully sailed around the southern tip of Africa, opening an eastern sea route to Asia) and the rest of Europe. Because Columbus promised such an advantage of finding another route to trade with the Indies, the King and the Queen had to consider his idea, however improbable it was. In order to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, the King and the Queen gave him a large amount of annual salary with free food and lodging, and eventually accepted his proposal. This showed that those three characters were actually so alike, ambitious and venturesome, which made this unprecedented voyage possible.

The seaway to Asia was very chancy, since there were risks of drowning in the huge waves, and exhausting all the food and clean water before reaching the land. In addition, Columbus’ inaccurate calculations would spark doubt among his crew. All these odds were stacked up against Columbus, and his chances of success were very low. It was through a combination of undying determination and luck that he got the loyalty of his men and “Found the New World”.

The Natives were portrayed accurately in this movie. In real life, they were very friendly at contact with Columbus, and somewhat worshipped him, as in the movie. Besides, the relationships between the Natives and Columbus deteriorated since the second voyage, as in the movie.

Columbus was portrayed as a noble, heroic figure in the movie, which was not historically accurate. In real life, during the second voyage, Columbus enslaved the entire village’s inhabitants, and forced them to give him gold/cotton or die. This was obviously missing from the movie, in which he only punished the village chief. Other than this aspect, Columbus was portrayed as an ambitious and daring navigator, which was mostly accurate.

In this movie, there were many noteworthy features as well as flaws. The acting of the characters was good, especially that of Queen Isabella, who was played by Faye Dunaway. She was very convincing in how she spoke to Columbus, and was good at showing her different emotions.

Queen Isabella

The costumes, together with the setting and the scenery, were great: they gave the feeling of an era distant from ours, yet so vivid. The music fit the scenes and ambience. The directing, the characters, and the story mostly fit historical facts. However, the storyline was slow, and the character of Columbus was played more prudent and serious than he was supposed to be.

The plot of the movie followed closely to the actual historical events, but with some differences: The movie mostly showed that the reason for the King and the Queen to accept Columbus’ proposal was for the good of Christendom; nevertheless—the moviemakers might have just downplayed it—the main reason was that Spain wanted a competitive edge over other European kingdoms in the trade with the Indies.

Columbus and Queen

For example, in the movie, Isabella was impressed by Columbus’ devotion to the “True Faith”, and was won over by his god-fearing aura. Nonetheless, in reality, she turned down his offer while the King Ferdinand intervened. Additionally, in real life, Columbus enslaved the entire island’s inhabitants and forced them to pay tribute or risk death. In the movie, however, Columbus was given a reasonable and even honourable personality; he tried to understand the Natives, and became saddened by the death of his Native friends.

After all, this movie was not a documentary but a Hollywood drama; however, it was with accuracy and skills that made it one of the best historical movies that successfully portrayed Columbus in Hollywood style.