Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Review by Kelly
“Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is given the task of learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village.”
Set in 1348, this 2010 medieval romp stars Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne as a religious soldier (bearing the iron cross) and a monk (bearing a small shaved patch on his head) looking to figure out why a certain village seems to have escaped the “pestilence” spreading through the lands. With people dying all around, there are whispers of this certain village containing a necromancer, witch, or some form of ungodly demon. That obviously must be the reason for it, not at all the fact that it is an isolated village surrounded by a swamp!
The general premise is riddled with religious overtones and ideals as the band of travelers work their way to this village. They wonder if the plague is “God’s Will” or is it Satan or one of his witches? They are looking for some sort of blasphemer that could be causing that one particular village to be unscathed by the plague. Once they arrive at the village, the people are welcoming but perhaps things are not as they seem. The village is simple, beautiful and peaceful. As Langiva, the female leader, tends to the Monk’s wounds his pain seems to magically disappear. She is strong, intelligent, beautiful and has ensured this entire village has rejected Christianity. The men then find themselves in a situation they might not make it out of.
I thought this movie was initially strongly related to the idea of witchcraft; however it plays more with the idea of Christian superstitions towards outsiders than it being blatantly about witches. There is a strong leaning towards Langiva being a witch, or having the unnatural ability to bring back the dead. With their incredibly strong Christian beliefs, the group is easily persuaded to believe that something is wrong in this village. They are Godless and therefore heretics. They are easily shaken by those with pagan or non-Christian beliefs so much so that they are willing to kill them because of it.
This is very much is familiar when it comes down to the murders of thousands of women (and men) based on the suspicions of witchcraft. The devout quickly killed those who were perceived to be aligning themselves with the Devil, or going against their monotheistic God. If the crops failed, a reduction in fertility or anything else that they could think of, negatively, happened, they will be trialed (if lucky) and tortured or burned at the stake.
Black Death might not be entirely historically accurate but it is surely very entertaining. Witches weren’t hunted in 14th century England and 138 years later would see the release of the Malleus Maleficarum, a religious text that would clearly state how to identify women as witches. I love a period piece, especially set in medieval times! The acting is fantastic, and Langiva, played incredibly by Carice van Houten, is a sight to behold! The score is wonderful and beautiful, and the last 20 minutes are incredibly upsetting and very intense. I find the deeply religious to be very unsettling to watch.
If you enjoy anything set in the 1300-1400s, then this movie is for you. Obviously, Sean Bean dies at the end. We ALL saw that coming.