GIJSBREGHT VAN AEMSTEL (If ever…….)
Gijsbreght van Aemstel is Holland’s national play. Joost van den Vondel (1587 Cologne -1679) took a rather sordid event from Amsterdam’s history in the Middle Ages, and infused it with magnificently Baroque, Christian and Classical themes. The plot-line is taken largely from Virgil’s Aenid and recasts Aeneas story of the fall of Troy.
In 1637 Joost van den Vondel was commissioned by the City of Amsterdam to write the inaugural play for the new, first stone, “Schouwburg”, Europe’s first professionally managed and staffed city theatre. Vondel’s historical tragedy, set in Amsterdam, 1304, was first performed on January 3, 1638 and holds the ever performance record: thirteen times in the first run, 121 times during Vondel’s lifetime and every Christmas from 1641 until 1969.
The play, familiar to almost everybody in Holland, may well be intimately connected with a contemporaneous Dutch painting familiar to art-lovers all over the world. The hypothesis has been advanced that Rembrandt attended the 1638 performances and that his large “Night Watch” (1642, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) has been inspired more by the “tableaux vivants” in the play than by a company of the civic guard.
This age long tradition of Holland’s national play must be re-established. It has never been subject to a motion picture or a TV drama and that is what we intend to change. Gijsbreght van Aemstel must be preserved for future generations through a grand-scale feature film adaptation. In this feature film we will visualize what could only be told in the stage version of Vondel. Gijsbreght van Aemstel will be a historic action drama, set in the late Middle Ages in Amsterdam, with all the ingredients the audiences will love; heroism, love etc.
Gijsbreght van Aemstel, Lord of Amsterdam, together with other noble lords, had been capturing in 1296 Count Floris V of Holland then part of the German Empire. Floris had repressed the old nobility and had impiously raped Lady Machteld, Gijsbreght’s niece. She was married to Gerard van Velzen who killed Floris as revenge for raping his wife. The Lords were punished with lengthy exile by the successors of Count Floris and in 1304 Amsterdam is besieged for a full year. At long last, having figured out a trick to capture it, the enemy pretends to withdraw. The citizens pursue them for a while and return with Vosmeer, the wily spy, who had been left behind to deceive the Amsterdammers. Gijsbreght questions Vosmeer, pardons him, and orders him to assist in recovery of a boat called the Sea-Horse, loaded with reeds, beneath which the best and strongest enemy knights and squires, the best soldiers, including the Giant are hidden.
On Christmas night, while the unsuspecting citizens have gone to Mass, the hidden party captures the Haarlem gate, upon which Vosmeer sets the boat on fire and various places in the city. At this sign, Diederik of Haarlem and his soldiers, who have been hiding in the Carthusian convent outside the city walls, march into the city together with Willem van Egmond and his troops. Brother Peter, dean of the main church brings the first tidings to the castle, where Lady Badeloch, Gijsbreght’s wife, is very frightened because a specter has appeared to her in a dream. Gijsbreght, his brother Arend and their most valiant kinsfolk speed towards the Dam to regain control and to protect the church and the market place, but to no avail.
The city hall is stormed and taken. Gijsbreght himself has made it to the convent within the city walls to safeguard his brother Bishop Gozewijn van Amstel and his niece Abbess Klaris van Velzen, the daughter of Machteld van Velzen, who lost her senses when she witnessed her husband Gerard van Velzen being slaugthered after he murdered Count Floris V. Since then she lives in the Amstel Castle.
When the enemy begins to attack the convent Gijsbreght is forced to flee via the river Amstel. From the river he sees that the new side is already lost and that the old side of the city is burning. With a band of refugees he retreats to the castle over the city wall. In the castle Badeloch has made a temporaly hospital and takes care of the wounded and refugees. The fate of the convent and the city becomes clear and immediately Gijsbreght attemps a sortie but they are driven back inside with the loss of Arend van Amstel; mortually wounded he is carried upstairs by his brother, and he immediately expires. Short after Van Egmond calls at the castle gate and summons the defenders to give up the castle, but Gijsbreght refuses, also after the promise of van Egmond that his life and that of his family will be spared.
Gijsbreght, still intending to defend the castle himself, is organizing the embarcation of the refugees, his children and his wife, who refuses to leave without him. Then Raphael, one of the Seven Angels, appears and convinces him to go. Rapheal’s prophecies of Amsterdam’s future glory and the happiness of his descendants console the pious hero. And thus Gijsbreght leaves the castle, flees to Prussia, where he goes in exile, never to return again.