Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is tasked with learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life, a mission that pulls him toward a village ruler who has made a dark pact with evil forces.Written by
Andy Nyman and Tim McInnery have both worked previously with director Christopher Smith on the film "Severance". See more »
When Wolf dies, Ulric's shoe soles show a modern rubber print, not a flat sole that would be more appropriate. See more »
The fumes of the dead are in the air like poison. The plague, more cruel and more pitiless than war, descended upon us. A pestilence, that would leave half of our kingdom dead. Where did it come from? What carried its germ. The priests told us it was God's punishment. For what sin? What commandment must we break that could earn this? No, we knew the truth. This was not God's work, but devilry. Or witchcraft. But our task, to hunt down a demon, was God's cure.
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The Black Death is a very interesting aspect of history, a plague that killed a third of Europe's population, had a massive social impact during and after the event (e.g. the Peasant's Revolt), an economic impact leading to people becoming wealthy and owning more land and lead to a change in art afterwards. So it is a surprise that this subject has not been look at more often in film and literature. Director Christopher Smith has taken on the challenge.
In 1348 the Black Death is at it's high in England. With people dying all around, a young monk, Osmond (Eddie Redmayne) tells his secret lover, Averill (Kimberley Nixon) to hide in the forest where she said she would wait for one week. At the same time a knight, Ulric (Sean Bean looking like he has just walk in from the set of Lord of the Rings), tells the monastery of a village that has avoided the pestilence by turning their back on God and bringing the dead back to live. Osmond volunteers to be the knights guild, working for his own selfish reasons. As they travel through the infested lands of England and seeing the impact of the plague on society, the group of men end up in a weirdly blissful village led by Langiva (Carice van Houten).
Early on in Black Death the film is interesting at seeing how the Black Death affected people, from the rise of the Flagellants, a group of Christian extremists who believed that they need to show their love for God to avoid the by self-harming and hoped God would forgive them. There was the massive impact of death in the countryside and that the wilds of Medieval Europe was like the Wild West, where bandits lived in the woods. Smith was not afraid to show that Medieval battles, even on a small scale were very bloody and men being ruthless. It was a scene that looked like the filmmakers enjoyed making. I did also enjoy the more natural elements of horror, from the eerie, near paradise like world the village seemed. Black Death also has a twisted ending.
The costumes themselves do not look that believable, with Bean looking like Boromir from Lord of the Rings and the weapons look like there are from a cartoon or a pantomime film. This is not the most realistic depiction of the Medieval era. Also after a very fast start in the first 30 minutes, the quest elements grinds to a halt when they go to the village. The film does not have the strongest narrative ever and it is a basically a B-Movie.
The acting is fine and there is a constant theme about faith, about how people were willing to break and use it: whether it was Osmond who had a forbidden affair or Langiva who uses miracles or the church willingness to torture people. Bean is normally good in any thing he is in and offer gravitas to the film. Ms. Van Houten is a strong actress who does pull off a good English accent. Tim McInnerny is subtle and sinister as a character called Hob who on the surface is softly spoken and a seemingly nice guy, but harbours a dark, ruthless edge. Even more remarkable because he is known for being a comic actor. Redmayne was okay as the lead but did have a good relationship with John Lynch who was a interesting enough character as Ulric's number two.
On a final note, there were many critics in Britain who fell in love with this film and gave it four star reviews. Personally I don't know what they were smoking but at most Black Death is a 3 out of 5; there were good moments, but overall it is not a great film and properly will not be remembered that much.
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