Black Death,
directed by Christopher Smith
(Magnet, 2010)

Black Death aspires to be a Wicker Man for the Dark Ages.

It fails.

Ulrich (Sean Bean) is a knight on a holy mission to find a remote village untouched by Bubonic Plague and discover the rumored sorcery that lies at the heart of its unnatural good health. Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), a novice monk, jumps at the chance to lead Ulrich and his motley, unwashed band of mercenaries to the swamp in which it lies because he hopes to find Averill (Kimberley Nixon), the wench with whom he's been breaking a few vows, on the way.

Surviving (for the most part) the effects of plague and bandits along the way, they arrive to find a clean and pastoral village, led by Langiva (Carice van Houten), where Christianity has been abandoned for paganism. This disturbs Sgt. Howie -- I mean, Ulrich -- and leads to inevitable conflict. Of course, given Ulrich's violent intentions toward the villagers from the start -- including a medieval torture device he dragged along to ensure confessions -- one can't much blame the peasants there for taking a dim view of the party's arrival.

I cannot fault the actors overall for their role in this film, but both the plot by screenwriter Dario Poloni and the direction by Christopher Smith are lacking. The film drags for most of its 102 minutes; I kept watching mostly out of curiosity whether the tales of necromancy and resurrection in the village would introduce a fantasy element to the movie or hold to a more realistic storyline. An interesting plot twist near the end is unable to lift Black Death out of its own doldrums, and a dreary coda is a leap completely out of character for one of the leading men.

By the way, basic physics dictates that drawing and quartering a person -- or, in this case, drawing and halving -- doesn't work that way. Also, Smith and Poloni should have figured out how the plague was spread before they started filming, for consistency's sake.

review by
Tom Knapp

9 July 2011

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