Thursday, 14 June 2012

Movie Review: Black Death

Director: Christopher Smith, 2010

Pros: realistic medieval settings/costumes/ideas

Cons: witch finder is both worldly and naive, inauthentic execution methods

The bubonic plague is devastating England when news of an untouched village reaches the pope.  Convinced that the village is practicing black magic, a witch finder, Ulrich (Sean Bean), and several guards are sent to bring back the necromancer.  A young monk (Eddie Redmayne) who has had an indiscretion with a local woman, agrees to lead them to the remote village in hopes of reuniting with her along the way.

Black Death shows the middle ages in all its dirty, superstitious splendor.  The characters are surprisingly complex, given the way medieval historical films typically portray religion and superstition.

Despite having fantastic (and realistic) costumes and sets, the movie was ultimately disappointing.  The witch finder and his guards, quite worldly at the start of the film, are surprisingly naive when they reach the village, eating and drinking food prepared by people they know killed the previous witch finders who were sent.  

And the execution and torture methods used were... not typical for this time or place.  Witches were burned on the continent.  In England they tended to be hung.  Similarly, crucifixion was specifically Roman and, to the best of my knowledge, not used in England (a quick check of wikipedia varifies my belief but explains that crucifixion was used by more than just the Romans).

The ending was similarly disappointing.  I'm ok with films not having a happy ending, but at least give it an ending.  This seemed to peter off into nothing.

If you want a better - and more satisfying - medieval based movie, try The Name of the Rose.  There's an unnecessarily graphic love scene, but beyond that the film's pretty good.  Or, better yet, since the film messes with the ending, read Umberto Eco's book by the same name.


Cursed Armada said...

I really loved this film. I thought Bean gave a wonderful performance (like always) and Redmayne was also great. The music was eerie and intense, and the fight scenes were executed in a very realistic way. If you're a big Medieval History buff then I'm sure there were some things your could pick out in this movie, but overall it was pretty good;) Good thoughts!

Jessica Strider said...

It's always good to hear different opinions. I saw the film because one of my friends recommended it. And you're right, Sean Bean was fantastic.