Another slice of Medieval misery to rival Ironclad, Season of the Witch and Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth / At Worlds End – this time with added Wicker Man! If you can take a thick slice of Dark Ages torture-porn, read on.
1348: the Black Death plague sweeps a superstitious and witch-craft-obsessed Europe. Novice monk Osmond (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited as guide by Inquisitor Ulrich (Sean Bean) as guide to take his cut-throat band to a village said to be controlled by a powerful necromancer. Osmond has already broken his vows and goes in search of his lover Averill who has fled the pestilence.
Our Sean Bean doesn’t exactly have a spotless record, leading a number of cinema turkeys or else turning in pantomime villains for Hollywood. Game of Thrones redeemed him somewhat, but I began Black Death with trepidation.
If you can stomach the Medieval misery, it’s actually a decent reflection of the religious obsession, fear, paranoia, superstition, and barbaric violence of the period. Few outside academia realise what a world away we are from such times. Unfortunately it takes some liberties, throwing in plot elements from all these other movies and history from 1340’s to 1640’s, just to make a decent story arc.
There is a strong thriller element – does witchcraft exist or not? The characters are strong, if stock. Radmayne (My week with Marilyn) does his usual sad-eyed, sour-faced, ginger-on-the-brink of tears routine (trademark Eddie Redmayne, every bloody thing he’s in), Bean is the hard-bitten tough guy, and John Lynch gets to croon the Irish narration as the war-veteran sergeant ahead of a coarse band of mercenaries.
Carice Van Houten (From Time to Time) and oily Tim McInnerny are the suspected witch and necromancer.
Black Death drags on a bit, but is mercifully pacey compared to Valhalla Rising, far less silly than Season of the Witch, befre it turns into Hammer’s Witchfinder General.
All religions take a thumping, Christians and pagans are equally barbaric, good guys don’t exist and the best you can expect is a nasty, violent, bloody end. Still, mustn’t grumble. Turn over to Teletubbies, you’ll feel better in a bit. RC
Director: Christopher Smith
Writer: Dario Poloni
Running time: 1 hr. 41 min.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Historical
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, John Lynch, Carice Van Houten, David Warner, Kimberley Nixon, Tim McInnerny