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Getting Medieval With You!
Black Death (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Black Death (DVD)
Advantages: Good performances and story, Cleverly shot.
Disadvantages: Plot structure, a little too pnderous and bleak at times
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)
Summary: A band of mercenaries go in search of a necromancer in a plague ridden land.