Having read an earlier draft of the full KoH script (thanks, eBay!) including the deleted scenes, I was struck by 2 cases of character-death that were excised from the theatrical edit: Guy de Lusignan and Humphrey de Toron (who never even made it into the theatrical cut as a character!). These were entirely a-historical (both the victims survived into the 1190s in real life), and violent. Why were they scripted in the first place?

Well, the identity of the victims set me thinking as to which 12C character would have wanted this to happen and regret that it didn't in reality? Who could possibly want revenge in this way?

This is a fantasy-comedy, and none of the present-day characters is meant to be a portrait of a real person.

THE RETURN OF THE KING

1: Murder He Didn't Write…

N Africa, 21C:

At the hotel, cool at last under air-conditioning, the Famous Director and the Scriptwriter were viewing the rushes from the past couple of days' shooting: a brutal stabbing, and a climactic, bloody swordfight in which the villain ended up in pieces.

"Great scenes! Really great!" the director enthused. "Great action, and the audience gets the dramatic and emotional pay-off!"

The scriptwriter squirmed.

"You're still not happy with them?"

"But it didn't really happen like that…"

The director nodded. "I know, I know. This is hard for you - you're still so close to the history. But you acknowledged that we had to make some compromises, sacrifice some accuracy, to make it accessible, to keep the box-office happy. I need the producers on-side to allow us to keep making films."

"Sure." The younger man sounded despondent.

"I know you wanted the King to be the main hero, but… It's a basic fact: leprosy isn't the most box-office friendly of disabilities. It's… the æsthetics. Wheelchairs, blindness, learning disabilities - fine. But leprosy..."

The scriptwriter was reminded of the story about the bowdlerised filming of The Children's Hour as These Three in the 1930s; of the big-shot producer who, when told that there was a problem with the heroines being lesbians, suggested, "Well, let's make them Albanians!" At least the director hasn't insisted that the King's illness be written out.

He chuckled bitterly: "It's Sweet Liberty, right? 'Defy authority, destroy property, take people's clothes off'. Not reality. Not history. Not even art."

"Well, maybe not history. But I won't give up on art yet," smiled the director. He had been in the business for much longer, and knew too well the battles that had to be fought to bring anything of quality to the screen. If only a small percentage of his and the writer's original vision ended up on screen, it was still a victory against the bean-counters…

"But I'm still not happy with these incidents," the writer insisted. "Guy killing Humphrey; Balian killing Guy. It just didn't happen. And it destroys any chance of a sequel."

"But the audience needs what you Americans call 'closure'. And you wrote it, didn't you?"

The writer stirred his coffee, silent for a moment. "As a matter of fact, no, I didn't…"

The director raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean? You didn't tell me you'd brought in a co-writer."

"No, I haven't… But I didn't… They… wrote themselves."

"Wrote themselves? How?"

He was shaking now, and it was not the amount of coffee he had been drinking all day. "They just appeared. In my computer. Suddenly, they were in the document. I tried to delete them, but that just crashed the document. I couldn't get rid of them."

"You're serious?"

"It was as if someone had pasted them into the script."

"Could anyone have hacked in, past your passwords?"

"No."

"How's your virus-protection?"

"Viruses don't compose dialogue and directions."

"And it was just those scenes?"

The writer nodded. "Yes. I meant Humphrey to swear allegiance to Guy and Sibylla, as he did in reality, to show what a wimp he is. But suddenly - Guy was sticking a knife into him, and Isabella just carried on sewing, as if nothing had happened. She wouldn't - hell, she didn't even want to be divorced from him, although he was as camp as a field of Boy Scouts! And as for Balian fighting and killing Guy at Golgotha - I mean, the symbolism… No…!"

"Are you sure our 'Guy' didn't simply want a few more action scenes?"

The writer shook his head. "I've spoken to the actor. But we hadn't even done the casting when this started to happen. I did get an odd e-mail, though, just beforehand."

"How odd?"

"Blank. Looked like Spam - the sender address was gibberish. But it had the title, 'The Return of the King'."

The director scratched his beard, then laughed. "If it's one of Pete's practical jokes -!"

"I don't like it, though. It's creepy. I know I've killed enough characters already, but these are deaths I didn't plan. We should cut those scenes. Something's… not right."

"Well, we'll see how it looks when we've edited it all together," the director replied reassuringly. But he too was unnerved. It was hardly comparable with murdering anyone in real-life, but who would invest time and effort in killing characters in a film-script? Granted, writers did it every day, but… Why? So, they'd built up the inept and unlucky Guy into a major villain: a major duel, as per Gladiator, made sense for his exit. But Humphrey de Toron? A minor character, of little importance: Reynald's stepson, Isabella's husband, young, effeminate… Why would anyone want him stabbed to death? He had no reason to doubt the scriptwriter's word... They definitely had a mystery on their hands…

To be continued: A mysterious extra