Saint Joan is a 1957 film adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play of the same title about the life of Joan of Arc. The restructured screenplay by Graham Greene, directed by Otto Preminger, begins with the play's last scene, which then becomes the springboard for a long flashback, from which the main story is told. At the end of the flashback, the film then returns to the play's final scene, which then continues through to the end.


In 1456, Charles VII, King of France experiences a troubled sleep and dreams that he is visited by Joan, the former commander of his army, who was burned at the stake as a heretic twenty-five years earlier. After Charles tells Joan that her case was retried and her sentence annulled because the original judges acted out of corruption and malice, he remembers how she entered his life when he was the Dauphin of France.

Joan, a simple, seventeen-year-old peasant girl, has heard the voices of Saints Catherine and Margaret telling her that she will lead the French army against the English at the siege of Orleans and be responsible for having the Dauphin crowned king at Rheims cathedral. After Joan manages to convince her local squire, Captain Robert de Beaudricourt, that she has received these orders from God, de Beaudricourt provides her with a letter of introduction to the Dauphin. When Joan arrives at the Dauphin's palace at Chinon she discovers that he is a childish weakling with no interest in fighting. After being tested by the members of the court, who conclude that she is mad, Joan imbues the Dauphin with her belief and fervor and he gives her command of the army. With the help of Captain Dunois, Joan leads the army to retake Orleans.

Shortly thereafter, Joan witnesses the coronation of Charles by the Archbishop of Rheims in a lavish ceremony at the cathedral. Although her triumphs have made Joan popular with the masses, her voices, beliefs, self-confidence and apparent supernatural powers have made her enemies in high places. Charles, who has no further use for her services, expects her to return to her father's farm. When Joan challenges Charles to retake Paris from the English, the king informs her that he would rather make a peace treaty than fight. After Dunois refuses Joan's plea to march on Paris, the archbishop warns her that if she sets her private judgment above the instructions of her spiritual directors, the church will disown her. Nevertheless, Joan, who believes that God will not fail her, appeals to the common people and marches on Paris, but is captured by dukes from the state of Burgundy who are waging their own civil war.

To assure that Joan will never again become a threat to England, the English commander, the Earl of Warwick, buys her from the Burgundians and hands her over to the Catholic Church to be tried for heresy. Joan spends four months in a cell and is visited frequently by the Inquisitor and his colleagues, Master de Courcelles and Brother Martin Ladvenu, in preparation for her trial. Warwick and his chaplain, John de Stogumber, become impatient with the delay and Warwick summons Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, to ask him to begin the trial. De Stogumber, a religious fanatic, hates the French and fears that Joan will not be executed. When the trial begins, Joan refuses to deny that the church is wiser than she is.

Later, in a moment of panic and despair, Joan is persuaded that her voices have deceived her. Brother Martin reads to her from a document of recantation she is to sign in which she confesses that she pretended to hear revelations from God and saints and is guilty of the sins of sedition, idolatry, disobedience, pride and heresy. Joan signs the document, believing that she will go free, but when she learns that the sentence of the Bishops' Court and Holy Inquisition is perpetual, solitary imprisonment, Joan destroys the document, as she cannot face a life bereft of the elements of nature and life she holds dear, and now believes that God wants her to come to him through the ordeal of being burned at the stake. After Joan is excommunicated, Warwick, weary of the Church's endless ritual and aware that Joan can be executed long before the Vatican learns about it, orders his soldiers to drag Joan to the square to be burned. The Inquisitor cynically tells Beauvais that if the English choose to put themselves in the wrong, it is not the judges' business to rectify their wrongs and that this flaw in procedure may be useful later on. As the flames begin to lick around Joan, a compassionate English soldier hands her a cross, fashioned from two sticks. De Stogumber witnesses Joan's death and, traumatized, is stricken with remorse.

The King's dream continues as he and Joan are visited by other significant figures from her life including the dishonored Cauchon, who was excommunicated after his death for having participated in what was intended to have been an ecclesiastical process, but became a political trial. Growing weary of all the spirit visitors, Charles tells Joan he has dreamed of her long enough and returns to his bed and his troubled sleep.

Critical reaction

Several reviews, including two in The Times, noted that Greene'scondensation of the play resulted in, "some odd omissions, interpolations and additions" and that "the result is a certain scrappiness and confusion in the first half of the film in place of Shaw's slow and careful build-up."

Other reviewers complained that an epilogue Shaw wrote was used as a prologue and recurring scene throughout the film. The released film lacks any foreword or historical introduction. Greene, a convert to Catholicism, was also criticized for changing Shaw's view that the entire church was responsible for Joan's execution. The film places the blame on individual judges. The film does not mention that Joan was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1909 and canonized in 1920. However, in both play and film, Joan's last line is "O God that made this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?"

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Saint Joan (film). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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