I’ve been fascinated by the story of Joan of Arc since the age of eight when someone gave me a holy card with her picture on it because my middle name was Joan. In later years as I became interested in how historical subjects are depicted in film, I found myself drawn to the many films made about Joan of Arc during the Twentieth Century.
Comparing cinematic representations of Joan of Arc with what is known about the historical woman who lived from 1412 to 1431, I was struck by the way the same incidents found their way into the films while other incidents, such as her visit to the Duke of Lorraine, her attack on a camp follower, or her leap from the tower at Beaurevoir did not.
It seemed to me that Joan’s amazing story was being carefully contained, stripped of any aspects that might suggest she was a genuine military leader with an aptitude for warfare. Instead she was being fitted into a template made of patriarchal stereotypes designed to keep her in her female place.
Jeremy duQuesnay Adams has pointed out that we know more about Joan of Arc than we do about Plato or Jesus, but even the historical documents we have were written by people with their own political agendas.
We can never know the whole truth about Joan of Arc and therein lies her perpetual fascination. We can, however, know more about the historical woman who changed the course of the Hundred Years’ War than the six major feature films of the Twentieth Century analyzed here tell us about her.
The purpose of this book is twofold:
1. to present the historical information about Joan of Arc that has been available to filmmakers in order to illustrate the limited use they have made of it, and
2. to show how even limited by gender constraints the cinematic persona of Joan of Arc has inspired a new paradigm of female behavior.
Even at their sharpest, my criticisms of the six Joan of Arc movies were never meant to imply that I wish they’d never been made. To them belongs the credit of keeping alive popular awareness of the historical figure who is every spirited woman’s patron saint.