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‘Game of Thrones effect’ is driving force behind William the Conqueror epics

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

The global success of Game of Thrones, the fantasy historical series, has sparked a renewed interest in history among film-makers, according to the writer behind a new movie based on the life of William the Conqueror.

HBO’s adaptation of author George RR Martin’s epic novels drew millions of viewers for each episode, making Game of Thrones one of the biggest television series of all time. Its plots and characters were rooted in historical characters, with Aegon the Conqueror supposedly based on William the Conqueror.

Now film-makers are developing two big productions about the 11th-century Norman king, who changed the course of British history by defeating England’s Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

James Norton casually dressed in a jacket, T-shirt and chinos against a red background
Happy Valley star James Norton will play 11th-century English monarch Harold II in the new BBC series King and Conqueror. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

A feature film, The Conquest: William the Conqueror, will bring to life “one of the most feared and admired leaders of all time”, while a separate television drama series, titled King and Conqueror and starring the Happy Valley actor James Norton, is “the story of a clash that defined the future of a country”.

Solomon J LeFlore, writer and producer of The Conquest, said that Game of Thrones’s success has inspired the film industry’s interest in action and adventure based on history. He described his film as “a Shakespearean melodrama with all the critical elements that made Game of Thrones and other historical tales an incredibly popular genre”.

The story of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, is “compelling, with larger-than-life characters and shocking plot twists”, he said. “Historical films particularly appeal to young people and their need to escape from the current reality – Ukraine, Gaza, Taiwan, Mali, Myanmar.” He added: “I believe the success of the Marvel [cinematic] Universe-based movies, with its compelling and complex characters that are relatable to audiences, may be a contributing factor to the demand for such films.

“William has all of the powerful elements that young audiences – especially video-gamers – look for in heroic or powerful characters.”

Game of Thrones had its share of spectacular battle scenes, but the Battle of Hastings is the ultimate conflict to stir imaginations. Before his death from wounds received on the battlefield, Harold says in the The Conquest’s screenplay that “arrows fly and blood flows”, adding: “It seems that blood is the quickest path to power.”

While the epic story is recorded in the Bayeux tapestry, a masterpiece of 11th-century Romanesque art, LeFlore is astonished that, beyond a 2015 television production, there has not been a feature-length William the Conqueror movie until now: “It is the biggest mystery. But such a fascinating story in a very important time in history. We’ve had how many Robin Hood films? But the fact is that there hasn’t been a William, and he’s such a transformative character. .”

His film is placing an emphasis on historical accuracy: “William’s life was so fascinating. Why would you deviate away from the factual history of that story? There’s no reason to.”

Noting that his movie will also depict William’s queen, Matilda of Flanders, as a strong character, he added: “Matilda was part of the world’s first power couple. Together, William and Matilda transformed English and European history. We do take some licence from time to time, but we don’t deviate from the history much at all. ”In one scene from The Conquest’s screenplay, Matilda warns that her husband will have Harold “killed and scattered to the four corners of Normandy”.

Creatives involved with the new film include the Oscar-winning Richard Taylor, co-founder of the New Zealand-based prop design and special effects company Wētā Workshop, who is best known for his work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

The cast is yet to be announced, but A-list actors being courted are thought to include Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, as William, and Tom Hiddleston, who became a household name playing Loki, the arch enemy of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Harold.

A shoot is being planned for next year, in Australia and New Zealand as well as the UK.

The eight-part television series will star the Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as William, and Norton, whose credits also include Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film Little Women, as Harold.

The series will air on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. In a statement, Sue Deeks, head of BBC programme acquisitions, said: “In the UK, we learn about William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings and King Harold’s gruesome death in our school history lessons – but those headlines are all most of us can remember.

“King and Conqueror will bring Harold and William to life, depicting their lives, loves and families, and the gripping, high-stakes power game that led to their fateful meeting in 1066.”