Turkish history film
It's the film that is making millions of Turkish hearts swell with even more patriotic pride than usual. Fetih 1453, a turbans-and-testosterone epic, has not just smashed all Turkish box office records with its all-action, CGI retelling of Mehmet II's capture of the old Byzantine capital, Constantinople, it is being hailed as a reaffirmation that a resurgent Turkey still has world-conquering blood in its veins.
As the religious-minded daily newspaper Zaman noted, "Turks are feeling imperial again" after a decade of unprecedented economic growth, and are turning more and more toward their Ottoman ancestors for inspiration – in foreign policy as much as in interior design, food and fashion, with a neo-Ottomanist push to reassert Turkish diplomatic hegemony over the sultans' former Arab and eastern European domains.
The film's religious overtones – with a walk-on part for the prophet Muhammad, predicting the old Roman capital would one day fall to the faithful – have attracted a new, observant audience to cinemas and especially endeared it to the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, chiming as it does with his vision to "raise devout generations … who should embrace our historic values".
Some in his party are now demanding it be shown in schools as an antidote to Hollywood's "crusader mentality" – not that the film is itself entirely innocent of historical licence, for example its portrayal of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, as a hedonist (he was mostly celibate); the city's magnificence (it had been comprehensively sacked by western crusaders in 1204); and the fact that there were far more Greeks fighting for the sultan than defending the walls. Nearly as many of Mehmet's soldiers would have been praying to the Virgin on the morning of the final assault in May 1453, as to Allah.
In another scene, sappers tunnelling under the immense land walls that had not been breached in 1, 000 years, blow themselves up with a cry of "Allahu Akbar" rather than be captured by the Byzantines. In reality, Mehmet's tunnellers were orthodox Christians drafted from Serbia's silver mines.
While the public may be besieging cinemas to see the film, the critical verdict has been far from unanimous, even at Zaman. The critic Emine Yildirim warned that it pandered to "extreme nationalism" and old Turkish stereotypes of their Christian neighbours. "As we are so infuriated by seeing demeaning and Orientalist depictions of the east in western blockbusters, we should at least have the decency not to make the same mistakes, " she said.