Jiří Kadlec – the man who created the weapons for Merlin, Joan of Arc and other iconic historical films

Jiří Kadlec was fascinated by history and battles from an early age. He gathered all the information available and as soon as the opportunity presented itself he embarked on historical fencing.

“I remember it was in the fall of 1987 when I joined a historic fencing club. It was shortly before the Velvet Revolution and at the time there was a dearth of historical weapons and accessories. So with another member of the band, we decided to create our own. It was not easy but, by trial and error, we got there. Soon we were crafting weapons for other club members and their friends, honing our skills with each new weapon made. In 1993 I had to decide what I wanted to do with a living – and besides joining the military, which was the original plan, suddenly there was another option – making historic weapons. In a way, fate pushed me in this direction.

Historical armor from Jiří Kadlec's workshop |  Photo: Roman Spáčil, Czech Radio

Today, the two passionate fencing enthusiasts own one of the most successful businesses for the production, sale and rental of historic weapons and armor. They also create them to order, for example for castles, châteaux, theaters and fencers or collectors.

“We produce a wide range of weapons and armor from Roman times to the end of the Thirty Years’ War. We mainly produce cold weapons, firearms are only produced to order for film productions. We have a historic gun rental in Prague used by theater and film companies. Most of our clients are swordsmen, collectors, filmmakers and we also receive orders for castles and chateaux specially designed for the given location.

Kadlec keeps a low profile and isn’t someone most Czechs would recognize, but among Czech and foreign film productions his name commands respect. In his modest but well-equipped workshop in Opatovice nad Labem, he made weapons and armor for Joan of Arc, Les Misérables, Bathory, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Merlin and other iconic films.

“I am a co-owner of the company with Roman Spáčil, a professional fencer from the oldest historical fencing group in the country. We have a strict division of labor – he is in charge of the sales department, dealing with clients, film and theater companies, he signs sales agreements and I am the production manager, I am the one who decides how the weapons are going to be made, from what materials, what they will look like and so on. I’m happy with that, because as an introvert, I prefer to stay in the background. “

Historical armor from Jiří Kadlec's workshop |  Photo: Roman Spáčil, Czech Radio

Kadlec says he considers it important that the films be as authentic as possible in portraying a certain period.

“When the film’s production crew calls me to tell me they need weapons for the Battle of Vítkov from 1420, I instantly know what weapons will be needed, what would have been used for a given strategy. in combat, how they should be used and what is needed to make it authentic. I remember reading a book by a British historian, I can’t remember his name, I’m afraid, and he said something I couldn’t agree more with. He said that filmmakers today have a great responsibility to be as authentic as possible in portraying a given period, because so many people have stopped reading books and their perception of history is almost entirely shaped by the movies. And I hate to say that sometimes that is very misleading. “

In addition to detailed knowledge of historical warfare in different time periods, Kadlec needs manual skills to produce a superior weapon or a convincing scythe.

“For the cinema, we naturally produce weapons that are different from those we manufacture for fencers. For mass scenes, they often look more like props made of lightweight materials, such as aluminum and bamboo, so they’re easy and safe to handle. On the other hand, historical fencing groups order real top quality guns and these are also used in close-ups in the movies. “

Jiří Kadlec is happy to craft any historical weapon, but it is the Hussite wars that are his favorite historical period.

“I am really drawn to this period. You may find it funny, but somehow I feel a very strong connection to that time – maybe I was there in another life. It is a fascinating time. Czech warriors were known throughout Europe at this time and Jan Žižka was a great leader. He fought many battles and never lost. Sometimes he broke even, but he was never beaten. I think he really embraced the Hus creed, he really believed in the cause, and the only way he knew how to defend it was on the battlefield.

When asked if there is a special commission he would like to get, Ji saysí Kadlec replied that anything new is always welcome.

“I really enjoy making a historic weapon for the first time – something I’ve never done before because I can be creative – I have to figure out how I’m going to do it, work on the design and decide on the right materials and technology. Once I have created the first one I have a “mold” so to speak and the following ones are easy because I know how to go about it. But doing the first one always gives me great pleasure.

During the eighteen years he produced historic guns, Kadlec did enough to fill two large gun rental halls in Prague and many more that went to collectors, fencing clubs and castles. He jokes that he would be able to fully equip an army of at least 300 men in the short term.

About Cheryl Viola

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