Based on the novel of the same name
Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire – set in the 14th Century, a true story of one woman’s extraordinary journey from Bulgaria as it suffers Turkish invasion to France just as the Hundred Years War reignites.
A woman, driven by her love for a complex knight/monk whom she rescues from a battlefield, has to fight for survival in a dangerous new homeland.
Maria Iskra (18-80) – bold, beautiful and resourceful, only child of Boyar Merchant trading on the Danube. Disguised as a boy, she narrowly escapes death at the hands of Crusader knights, aided by Gilles. Repaying the favour, she seeks out his broken body on the battlefield. Her access to her Father’s international trading links enables Gilles’ recovery and their escape through Europe. In Normandy she has to fight for her rights against Gilles’ resentful family. Following the battle of Azincourt, her situation becomes even more precarious and she is forced to submit to Thomas Rempstone to secure the life of her son.
Gilles Guiton (25-33) second son of minor noble family from Carnet in Normandy. From early age a Knight of St John, bound by oath of chastity. Rescued and nursed to some health by Maria Iskra, he falls in love with her, having to suppress considerable guilt. Sadly he never fully recovers from his war wounds.
Other characters (with locations)
(Bulgaria – Oryakhova port, siege and battle of Nikopol, island on the Danube, mountain village )
Ivan: (50s) Boyar trader, extensive links and credits to Venice, has given his daughter intimate understanding of business. On the capture of his town by Crusaders, dresses his daughter in boys’ clothes in the hope that she will survive.
Eugene: fellow knight of St John – his lust for the pretty “boy prisoner”, leads to Maria Iskra’s escape from the slaughter of the Bulgarian hostages.
Baba Kera (70s): Old woman attending Maria Iskra
Isaac (60s): Jewish trader and healer, helps Maria nurse Gilles and consolidate her resources for escape.
Gergin (40s): Merchant/traveller dealing in patent remedies and perfumes, plump, good hearted bigamist.
Merchant Pilgrim Caravan including couple (late 20s) Abraham and Rebecca warmly concerned by relationship between Gilles and Maria
Ezra (60s): Ivan’s trading partner in Venice
Roger: English mercenary and murderer.
Uncle and Nephew Borromei (50 & 25) benevolent bankers, able to furnish letters of credit
(Italian foothills of Alps)
Father Adolfo worldly parish priest
(German village on Rhein, castle, barge)
Suspicious villagers, Hussite Priest, Grethe and “witch/healer Grandmother.
Hugo Von Limburg (40s) bluff local lord, womaniser and fighter against prejudice.
Ruffians on Rhine Barge
Brother Jerome (30s): misogynist fundamentalist
(France – Normandy farm house, close to Brittany border)
The Guiton Family
Mathilde Guiton (70s) Gilles’ blind bed ridden mother
Raoul Guiton, (30s +): henpecked but principled, Gilles’ older brother and heir to estates. Anxious to do the right thing in spite of his wife, Guillemette.
Guillemette. (30s +): Passionate defender of son’s rights. Sees Maria Iskra as interloper.
Jean Guiton: (teens +) Raoul and Guillemette’s son. Becomes a terrorist fighter against English and their Norman collaborators.
Jehan Guiton (baby to man): Maria and Gilles’ son, grows to become ashamed of his foreign mother, becomes a spy.
Other significant characters in France
Henry V of England: cold and suspicious but sufficiently interested in Maria’s story to grant her a personal audience.
Sir Thomas Rempstone (40s): local English commander, intelligent and brutal, attracted by Maria Iskra’s spirit and beauty, uses fears for Jehan to force her submission.
Tanguy de Chastel (40s): Rempstone’s opponent, sophisticated assassin and Breton noble, uses Jehan as a spy.
Sir Guilbert (40s+): local knight, respected, moralistic, disapproves of Maria Iskra first but then is won round.
Claire (30s) Maria Iskra’s loyal servant
Nuns in Convent where Maria Iskra dies, a defiant old woman with her memories
Recurrent scene is of Maria Iskra as an old woman in the convent. Her rosary beads have broken and scattered across the floor. The beads represent the scattered nature of her life. She mutters to herself.
Act 1 (from battle to love)
Opens with Polish knight swimming Danube, helicopter shot to take in besieged castle, battlefield after Turkish victory, Crusaders’ tents, rich booty being raked over, Sultan Beyazid superintending execution of prisoners, battlefield dead and dying, river of corpses leading up the hillside, Maria Iskra extracting Gilles still alive.
Island hiding place – Gilles in fever, Maria Iskra attending – enables back story. Gilles recognises saviour as “pretty boy” he rescued from Eugene. As situation in country worsens Maria rushes to gather resources and secure their escape. Gilles struggles with his feelings.
These feelings sharpen as Gilles now recovered sufficiently embarks with Maria on the long perilous journey. After a dangerous confrontation, and hints from travelling companions, relationship is consummated, just outside Lyublyana.
In Venice short scenes establish Maria’s resources, but in Milan Gilles has to fight off an attempt at robbery and abduction. They are befriended by a sympathetic banker. Maria admits she is pregnant and they swear their love to each other in a church.
Act 2 (the dangerous western world)
The baby is born in an idyllic village in the foothills of the Alps. But this is just a short respite from the arduous journey.
Maria’s illness in German town, the sinister local inhabitants, Gilles desperation, the baby’s vulnerability lead to timely rescue by bumbling well-meaning Hugo.
But on the boat Gilles is involved in a fight that underlines the precariousness of his health. Recovering in Bruges an encounter with a monk tests his commitment to Maria.
Their unlooked for arrival in the village of his birth is welcomed only by his dying blind mother. We are introduced to Gilles family – all resentful that the monastic second son has returned. In the simmering tension, Gilles dies, leaving Maria in a strange land surrounded by unfriendly faces. Only Raoul protects her and her growing son, partly out of a sense of duty, partly in admiration at her looks and spirit. Despite Guillemette’s jealous protests, Maria is allowed his mother’s farm house.
Act 3 (Securing the future)
Henry V invades, shattering Maria’s isolated security. The French defeat at Azincourt mirrors their similar failure at Nikopol. Determined to secure her son’s future, Maria travels to Rouen to plead her son’s right to inheritance, with the new master of Normandy, Henry V. Jehan is growing up and is increasingly frustrated with his “foreign” mother. He is jealous of his cousin Jean who has become an effective guerrilla leader against the English.
But with Henry’s untimely death, Maria’s security is shattered. Her farm lies on contested territory. She has to deal with local English and French commanders – the battle-hardened Thomas Rempstone and the wily secular Tanguy de Chastel. In order to save her son, she does not resist Rempstone’s rape. But in the perilous anarchy she cannot stop her son becoming a spy for Tanguy.
As the Hundred Years War nears its end, Maria has to survive the depredations of marauding irregulars. Her neighbour and now friend, Sir Guilbert is murdered in his orchard. Jehan is now safe in the Dauphin’s court, though up to his neck in intrigues, including the betrayal of Jeanne D’Arc. He will be ennobled by a grateful master.
The penultimate scene finds Maria as a difficult old foreign woman in the convent where her son has placed her. She has to be fetched from the cloister and helped into the chapel. As the nuns sing Salve Regina, Maria mutters to herself. Her rosary beaks in her hands, scattering the beads. There are memories of Bulgaria and memories of Gilles.
The last scene Jean and Jehan talk over the grave of this remarkable woman they hardly know.
Nikopol – walled town on south bank of Danube, approached over steep hills. River with galleys. Town surrounded by Tents of Crusaders, no siege engines, Hot September.
Danube Island – wooded deserted, fisherman’s hut,
Mountain pass, steep rocky paths
Gergin’s House – steep valley wooden over wattle and daub, gated yard, herbs hanging to dry.
Journey (1) Along course of river Sava, forest glade
Venice Attic above cloth merchants, overlooking canal, + Jewish counting house
Milan alleys squares and taverns full of threatening mercenaries, Bankers counting house, church with statue of Madonna.
Alpine hamlet church and farmhouse
German Village – muddy February streets, hovels, tavern, suspicious locals, castle overlooking the Rhine.
Barge bundled wares, passengers, views of Rhine banks
Bruges small living room yard and kitchen
French farm house gentle green countryside, church. Kitchen with large open fire/chimney and solid wooden table
Rouen – Stone antechamber to throne room, fire.
Convent with cloister, chapel and simple graveyard