“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 2010 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Christopher Smith / Actors: Sean Bean, Carice van Houten, Eddie Redmayne, David Warner, Kimberley Nixon ... / DVD released 2010-10-18 at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Colour, PAL, Widescreen „
* Prices may differ from that shown
Star - Sean Bean
Genre - Horror
County - UK/GDR
Certificate - 18R
Run Time - 102 minutes
Blockbusters - £0.99 per night rental
Amazon - £3.86 DVD (£6.79 Blue Ray)
We are scared to mock Islam as many Muslim followers are medieval in their fervent belief, occasionally inflicting violence in the defense of the said peaceful prophet. But Christianity was once no different, how the Crusades and Conquistadors took the Americas and the Middle East, and like Islam, the peasants realized fear was the real power of religion. A religions job, like any multinational, is to get more and more punters paid up and so make money. We can mock Christianity through films like the Life of Brian because it's our religion, a religion that has been diluted through science in the progressive west, offering more answers than a 'pretendy' bearded bloke ever could. But we can't with Islam, that fear still present.
This rather gothic, grim and bloody affair (starring Northern crumpet Sean Bean!) explores that fear religion thrives on and how Christianity in the Middle Ages was all powerful to the meek, as Islam is today, any capricious natural disaster declared as the ire of God and down to anything but evolution and chance, the Black Death a case in point. It killed around one third of Europeans and around a quarter of the earths population, all religions of the world choosing to say it was their particular God judging them, rather than they don't have the science yet to fight it. Once you do conquer diseases and petulance you don't need God so much. When nothing else works then you can pray to God. Most would say the cult of scientology was invented to adapt and deal with that technology and progress undermining the power of religion, someone from the future, not the past, inventing all this stuff we live in. You just have to amend your religion to keep the people obedient and so the collection tray will still fill with coins for their place in paradise. The idea of death being the end kind of sucks.
So has Sean Bean ever done a great movie, or even a decent one? He is more famous for his machismo and ability to bed women than deliver bankable films yet still going strong. He seems to have done very well as a rent a villain for most of his career, peaking that stereotype in Goldeneye, yet another naff Pierce Brosnan Bond, beating up more good guys than ex wives in the process. He is cinema's alpha male and every woman wants to bed him and every man wants to be out on the lash with him. Any man that threatens to break mouthy football manager Neil Warnock's legs gets my vote, the life long Sheffield United fan attempting exactly that.
Like most English actors he started his career in The Bill (1984 and playing a hooligan, of course!) and came to prominence with his turn as the IRA guy trying to kill Harrison Ford in the Tom Clancy movie. But it was Lady Chatterley's Lover that got the ladies hearts a fluttering and forever typecast thereafter as the rough and ready northerner that liked a pint, a punch up and the ladies. He carried that on with the swashbuckling Sharpe series. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would certain boost his lifestyle and cinema standing but for me nothing of note as a leading man. I wouldn't say that changed much in Black Death and still his biggest flaw but not bad all the same.
Sean Bean ... Ulrich
Eddie Redmayne ... Osmund
David Warner ... Abbot
Kimberley Nixon ... Averill
Tobias Kasimirowicz ... Grimbold
Carice van Houten ...Lavigna
Emun Elliott ... Swire
Johnny Harris ... Mold
Andy Nyman ... Dalywag
Tygo Gernandt ... Ivo
John Lynch ... Wolfstan
Jamie Ballard ... Griff
Keith Dunphy ... Witch Finder
Tim McInnerny ... Hob
=== The Plot ===
It's 1348 in Medieval England and the Black Death is doing its worse, the scared people only having their religious leaders to cling to for that hope as the plague sweeps the land. The masses believe the plague was sent by God to punish them for their sins, or by the Devil to torment them. Those who have survived the cloak of death so far cower in their villages, burning witches and unbelievers they feel have bought this fete upon them, doing the job of the plague.
The sickness is rearing up on a monastery where young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) is having a secret romance with pretty village girl Averill (Kimberley Nixon), who he makes return to the forest to escape the pestilence, loyal to his vows to God and not joining her just yet. She will wait one week at the edge of the forest for him and then leave for ever. Osmund will wait for a sign from God to decide whether to go after her.
That sign arrives in the shape of gruff knight Ulric (Sean Bean), also God-fearing, in search of a guide to take his men to a village that is believed to be untouched by the plague, not far from where Averill will be. The village is in remote marshland and the soldiers and Osmond need to go quickly as the illness will soon be upon the monastery.
On the way they face the infected, and those soon to be, Ulric resolving any conflicts that get in his way with the sweep of his mighty broadsword, rather than the wisdom of the tongue. Its Gods will after all. But when they find the village, it's an eerie and clean utopia, led by the phlegmatic and wordy Hob (Tim 'Captain Darling' McInnerny) and Langiva (Carice van Houten). There is no sign of illness and Ulric feels that evil is at play here, the work of the living necromancer, Ulric telling the townsfolk he and his soldiers are simply seeking a place to rest so he can investigate further. Seeing the church falling into disrepair from lack of use, Ulric is suspicious of their inability to bow to the Lord, but nonetheless accepts an invitation for him and his soldiers to come to dinner. Why is this village so clean and have the people done a deal with the devil?
=== Results ===
Well, it's surprisingly watchable and atmospheric folks, being that it's a Sean Bean movie. Its perfect casting for the northern crumpet as his character is yet another Neanderthal amongst likewise, the killing suitably violent to earn the horror genre X-Rating. It's Gothic and gory throughout and any excuse to wield the broadsword is taken by Bean and his men as heads and limbs are loped off. If you like that sort of thing you will like this movie, more chainmail than your inbox.
It's the work of director Christopher Smith, he of 'Creep', the surprisingly funny 'Severance' and the mind boggling Triangle, a director to keep an eye on, the suggestion of supernatural and foreboding working well here, as they do in all of his films. He seems to have an intelligent eye for the horror genre.
It's quite a simple movie and flows as well as the blood from the stumps, the conclusion pretty obvious to why the village is free from petulance. It does, however, get to grips with why religion was so effective in the Dark ages and why people need to believe in the supernatural to mask the grim reality of our own mortality. But in fairness this is more an action movie than creepy horror - The Holy Grail without Python. Who doesn't like it when a movie delivers when you least expect it to. Think Sharpe without bayonets and muskets but broadswords, blood, grunting and decapitation...
=== Ratings ===
Imdb.com - 6.4/10.0 (22,576 votes)
Metacritc.com - 71% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com -68 % critic's approval rating
Film Freak Review -'Built on the fascinating premise that God is actually kind of an a**hole'.
Los Angeles Times -'Early on "Black Death" falls victim to its own sluggish sickness, its narrative drive proving no match for the aggressively rotted pallor'.
Seattle Messenger -'Going medieval" on your enemies isn't just a figure of speech in Christopher Smith's stylish spatter-horror exercise, which uses desperation-fueled religious fervor to interrogate the intersection of fear and faith'.
The Times -'Black Death is the feel bad movie of the year, a film with an unrelentingly bleak view of humankind's barbaric nature and the notion that, no matter what your creed, violence only ever begets more violence'.
The Guardian -'I was agnostic about horror director Chris Smith's first film, Creep, but this has an insistent, dour darkness and narrative energy that is very watchable indeed'.
Hollywood Reporter -'Religion and morality are both found wanting in this medieval horror-drama devoid of good guys'.
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Eddie Redmayne is Osmund the monk, tasked with finding out why a small village is apparently untouched by the Black Death which is ravaging Europe. He is accompanied by Sean Bean's Ulrich and his rough band of crusaders.
The protagonists are well acted, having several shades of grey in their personalities and conflicts. Tim McInnery did well in a serious role, it took a few scenes with him in to get over thinking of him in terms of his idiotic Blackadder character.
The plot walks a tightrope between the supernatural and the tangible, only in the final act do things crystallise in time for the bloody ending. Osmund is a little unbelievable at times, making some stupid/bad decisions.
The film is very violent and deals with adult themes. There's a lot of gruesome bits and fighting. None of it is gratuitous and only reflects the brutality of the middle ages.
The 'strait-laced people visiting the weird remote village' has been done a lot, most notably in the Wickerman. There is enough separation in Black Death in terms of characters and setting to ensure it can stand on its on feet. A good little film.
When you see the trailer to this movie, sadly, you don't have to see no more. So, if you expect a good history mystery, don't. Beside the elements, and just elements, of mystery it's a movie with a very predictable plot about an estranged monk, a vengefull knight and a pale maiden who just happens to be a witch.
"Black death" (2010.), drama/horror
Director: Christopher Smith
Carice van Houten....Langiva
Duration: 1hr 37 min
In 1348. Bubonic plague sows death all over England. A young monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) fears for the life of his beloved, Averill, and sends her away to the woods near the marshes. Averill (Kimberley Nixon) promises she'll wait for him in the woods at dawn for a week. Looking for a way to join his girlfriend Osmund volunteers to be a guide to a group of mercenaries sent by the Bishop to investigate a village at the border of a marsh, untouched by the plague and suspected of hiding a magician who bringins back the dead. The group's leader is Ulric (Sean Bean), a bloodthursty knight eager to destroy the people who turned their back to Church.
Ulric's group is consisted of men who have seen many deaths and have faith or a fee as a reason to go after the presumed witches and the pagans in the untouched village. The oldest, Wolfstan (John Lynch) takes care of Osmond. His mates Dalywag (Andy Nyman), Griff (Jamie Ballard) and Mold (Johhny Harris) are rude men but firm belivers ready to die for God and kill some witches along the way.
The group arrives at the point where Averill promised to wait for Osmund but there he finds her bloody cape and, calling for help from his companions, he actually leads them into an ambush. Wounded and tired the group crosses the marsh to finally arrive to the untouched village, pretending to seek only for a place to rest. Villager Hob (Tim McInnerny) offers them to stay and rest before they move on.
Lady Langiva (Carice van Houten), who seems to be the matron of the village, takes care of their wounds and invites them to be honorary guests at dinner. While the group drinks and eats with seemigly friendly villagers Langiva calls Osmund to show him Averill's body. He is devastated but there is more to be added to his suffering when, led by Langiva into the woods to a group of maidens dressed in white hoods, Osmund sees Averill rising from the dead. He is petrified, relizing the stories about the village are true and that Langiva knows why Ulric and the others came to the village.
The morning after, waking up from the drug that was sipped into their wine, the mercenaries and Osmund are held hostage and Langiva gives them a choice- to renounce God and live or remain belivers and die. Osmund is even offered to stay and live in the village with Averill. Each of them makes his own choice. And the choice Osmund makes turnes his soul into one filled with doubt, grief and the wish to make amends.
Eddie Redmayne is good as a confused young monk wondering if it's right to deliver faith to a lost soul by killing it's body.
Sean Bean's performance of a witch hunter is pretty lame since his role has just one dimension - a knight slaying the pagans in the name of God. On the other hand, this role is shadowed by the role of Boromir from the Lord of the rings where Bean played a more vivid and not such a flat character.
Carice van Houten is a good actress, but here she cartooned her character of a witch by overdoing the dangerous-mysterious look that was supposed to frighten Osmund, and the viewers. I think Carice focused only on being the wicked witch, putting the matron and the throne elements of a wicca Priestess figure aside.
Those of you used to see Tim McInnerny as a funny face will be pleasantly surprised to see him as Langiva's cruel servant Hob. Comedians playing sociopaths - pretty creepy, in a thrilling way.
Still, the characters all together didn't seem to manage bringing a witch hunt story to life.
The thing that mends the movie a bit is the scenery - a dark convent revealed only by the candle lights, filthy abbey yard filled with corpses and misty forests and marshes. Put together with random shots of burned and decapitated women supposed to be witches the scenery truly conjures the gloom and doom of the Black death ages.
If you're a history mystery fan don't expect more then what you can read in school books about the witch hunts and the usual prejudice people had, and still have, about the witches.
England 1342, the land is ravaged by plague, the infamous Black Death. Cities, towns and villages are decimated by the horrific disease. In desperation the people look for answers, is the plague divine retribution for the sins of the world? Is it some dastardly plot hatched by their fiercest enemy the French or are there darker more sinister forces at work?
Witch hunts are commonplace as ordinary people look for someone to blame for all the death and suffering that they cannot explain with their limited view of the world. In a outlying corner of this dying land word reaches the local bishop of a small isolated village that has not suffered from the black death, furthermore there are stories of dark magic and the dead being brought back to life. If the stories are true then a necromancer is at work and has to be found and brought forth to face God's justice. A group of mercenaries led by the Bishop's envoy Ulric (Sean Bean) a battle hardened Knight, is tasked with journeying into the treacherous isolated marshlands to discover the truth about the strange village. Their guide for this perilous journey is a young monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) a novice from the local abbey who knows the area well from his childhood. However Osmund has another secret motive for taking the journey. Many of you will recognise Eddie Redmayne from his recent starring role in the TV mini-series adaptation of Ken Follett's 'Pillars of the Earth', where he played a similar character.
What will the group find in the village? Are dark forces at work there? What terrible secrets will they uncover?
As you'd expect from a film about such a troubled historical period this is quite a dark story, not many laughs to be had! Like the sombre, murky lighting that seems to constantly pervade almost every scene the tone of the story is suitably threatening and bleak. Although not directly comparable think of the 'The Village' and to a lesser extent the 'Wicker Man' and you get a feel of the strange oppressing atmosphere of the film.
The group that Ulric is leading are all hardened fighters, ex soldiers, some out to make some money others believing they are doing God's will at the point of a sword. These were violent times and not long on their journey into the dark forest leading to the marshlands our group of mercenaries need to show off their fighting skills in order to survive and complete their mission.
The film is cleverly shot and makes good use of the claustrophobic forest backdrops and the mist-clad marshland. Around every corner and behind every tree danger seems to lurk. The director Christopher Smith is a dab hand at creating ominous, disturbing films that keep audiences uncomfortably on edge of their seats. He was responsible for the clever low budget horror thriller 'Creep' (2004) and more recently the unexpectedly entertaining if rather ludicrous 'Triangle' (2009), so I thought I had a good deal to look forward to in this movie. Those expectations were partially met by 'Black Death', it does look good throughout the medieval world on show is looks authentic and believable. The film is filled with a high standard of performances and solid cameos by some very accomplished British character actors and yet despite all this something was missing. For the more bloodthirsty amongst you there is enough blood and gore to keep most medieval fans happy and whilst it never quite descends into pure horror there are some genuinely creepy moments.
Sean Bean is at his brooding best and 'buckles his swash' or 'swashes his buckle' with the best of them, stabbing, dismembering and decapitating his fair share of foes along the way. Maybe not quite as alluring for the female viewers in this one but medieval muck and sweat will do that to you ...but then again I'm not the best judge!
Good solid performances are also on view by John Lynch playing the religiously motivated ex soldier Wolfstan and an unexpected serious big screen outing for Tim McInnerny still best known for playing Percy/ Captain Darling in the classic Blackadder series. It's also good to see that David Warner a veteran of horror and fantasy over the years still has great screen presence even in a shortish cameo role. Male viewers (and possibly other genders for that matter) are suitably catered for by the presence of Carice van Houten as Langiva the beautiful and mysterious woman they meet at the end of their journey.
If we were to get a little more serious in examining the film's themes... and I think we can... then we could conclude that the story represents a journey not only physical but also spiritual for the characters. All are looking for answers. Ulric, whose family has died possibly at the hands of the plague (although this is never made clear), is looking to reaffirm that there is a higher purpose to this senseless waste of life. Osmund the young monk is questioning his own faith and believes that this task he has taken on his a test from God, which will help him make a vital decision about his future path in the world. Every character suffers from self doubt.
Their previous certainties about the world, their reliance on and the dominance of religion and the Church had been shattered. The very structure of their society is under threat from forces they can't understand and in truth no easy answers are to be found. In this sense the film does explore some quite lofty themes about spirituality and man's purpose and place in the world. The effects of the Black Death were so severe on medieval society that it changed and shaped a new world paradoxically benefitting the lucky survivors especially those in the lowest levels of society by weakening the grip of feudalism, church and royalty. I wouldn't say that this film is totally successful as an exploration of these high brow themes. In essence it still primarily an action adventure but it does try convey through the characters some of the momentous changes that were occurring at the time and should be commended for this.
Now for the negative bits...well the film is dark and sometimes ponderous, not to say that the pacing is slow, it isn't but I felt the gloom and doom was a little overdone. The other thing I'd mention being careful not to spoil the film for anyone who hasn't seen it yet is the ending, in fact you could almost say there are two endings or at least protracted ending in two stages. Nothing wrong with that but it felt a little cumbersome and slightly at odds with the rest of the film. It would be interesting to know if the director was asked to add something to the original film in order to satisfy the producers or some audiences.
On balance the film wasn't has successful critically or at the box-office as the makers would've liked but it is still worth watching and continues to show promise on the part of its relatively young director Christopher Smith.
(Film score: 7/10)
On the version I watched there wasn't much on offer in the way of bonus material.
Bringing Black Death to Life Featurette-
This is a fairly standard 'making of' documentary. As you'd expect there are comments and anecdotes from cast and crew and insight into how the film's look and atmosphere was created. It is interesting enough without being essential viewing.
Well ...this is the theatrical trailer....not sure why they bother including this in so many DVDs
Technical Details and Other Stuff
Screen Widescreen 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Languages English - Dolby Digital (5.1)
Duration 1 hour and 37 minutes
The UK 15 certificate is certainly warranted since there is a lot of explicit gore and visceral violence in the film although no sex and nudity.
(DVD score 5/10)
Sean Bean ... Ulric
Eddie Redmayne ... Osmund
David Warner ... The Abbot
Carice van Houten ... Langiva
Kimberley Nixon ... Averill
Tim McInnerny ... Hob
John Lynch ... Wolfstan
Andy Nyman ... Dalywag
Johnny Harris ... Mold
Tygo Gernandt ... Ivo
Directed by Christopher Smith
Screenplay by Dario Poloni
All things taken into account this is not a bad film. It has good production values and it tries to be a little bit more than a simple action/horror/adventure, which is to its credit. I certainly enjoyed watching it without being overly impressed or feel the need to own the DVD (I borrowed this copy). It is certainly a good view for anyone interested in the period or genre and any fans of Sean Bean. Once again Christopher Smith has showed himself to be a competent director but we are still waiting for his 'masterpiece'.
'Black Death' can be bought from Amazon.co.uk for £7.00 (including p&p)at the time this review was written.
Recommended (I would have given it 3 and half stars if possible)