As a child, like all children in Switzerland, I grew up with the heroics of William Tell. He is, of course, an icon in my home country. William Tell’s likeness is all over Switzerland. His name is on chapels, statues, and on all sorts of tourist merchandise. The square where the famous apple shooting took place is now a historic and Swiss treasure.
According to legend, William Tell was visiting the village of Altdorf in the 14th Century where he encountered Gessler, the Austrian bailiff who was a representative of the ruling Hapsburg family. When Tell refused to salute Gessler, the bailiff had him arrested and as punishment ordered him to shoot an apple from his son`s head. When Tell successfully hit his mark, Gessler ordered Tell imprisoned anyway, but Tell escaped, killed the Austrian bailiff, and went on to become the symbol of Swiss independence.
As Switzerland just recently 727th anniversary, and I embark on the making of the film that is based upon Tell’s life, the debate continues over whether William Tell was actual real or not.
For many years the story of Tell was thought to be historical fact, and the idea that it was merely folklore doesn’t sit well with the Swiss people. One problematic fact is that even though the events were said to have happened in 1307, the earliest recorded writings of the legend only date back to 1570 – more 200 years afterwards. As we know with any historical event, the details get a little fuzzy after a couple hundred years.
There are also no historical records mentioning William Tell before the 1570 writings which were penned by a man named Aegidius Tschudi, and his accuracy leaves much to be desired. In it, he says that William Tell’s act of rebellion took place in 1307, along with the formation of the rebel group. But the actual Oath of Rutli was dated 1291. How much it matters being off by 16 years makes a difference is something for historians to debate.
Perhaps even more concerning for those who wish the legend to be true is there’s another source about Tell that predates Tschudi’s. A Viking legend tells of a man named Toko who boasted of his archery skills. In order to prove himself, the king ordered Toko to shoot an apple off his son’s head. He did, and, as in the Toko legend, he also saved an extra arrow for the king should he have missed the apple. There was no rebellion in the Viking version, but Toko never forgave the king and, according to the story, eventually killed him.
Whether or not William Tell is real, doesn’t stop us from celebrating him as a symbol of Swiss nationalism and freedom hundreds of years later. For example, a special festival at Altdorf marked the 200th anniversary of German dramatist Friedrich von Schiller’s version of William Tell, a box office smash that spread Tell’s inspirational story internationally.
With Tell: A Story, we hope to bring the legend – whether fact or fiction – to life and entertain and educate a entirely new generation about the beloved folk hero. As we move into principle photography, we hope that Tell becomes more than just a Swiss symbol of freedom and liberty but an international story that represents anyone who feels oppressed, downtrodden by another group -- whether it's a large corporation or a government.