TITLE: Black Death
YEAR RELEASED: 2010
DIRECTOR: Christopher Smith
CAST: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, John Lynch, Tim McInnery, Kimberley Nixon, Andy Nyman, Carice van Houten

SIMON BALL reviews this dark bubonic tale about the tensions and hysteria caused by mass death

It’s 1348 and the Black Death is raging through England.

Novice monk Brother Osmund (Redmayne) urges his girlfriend Averill (Fresh Meat’s Kimberley Nixon) to leave town and arranges to meet her in the forest later so they can run away together.

Obviously a monk with serious faith and commitment issues, Osmund then jumps at the opportunity offered by Ulric (Bean) and his warrior gang when they ask the abbot (Warner) to provide a local guide to take them to a mysterious plague-free village in the nearby marches.

On a sacred mission, Ulric has heard that the islanders have turned their back on Christianity and are kept plague free by a necromancer in return for sacrifices to the devil and he can’t be having that.

When Osmund reaches the spot where he was supposed to meet Averill, he sneaks off to meet her. But what he actually discovers are her horse, some blood-stained clothes and a bunch of bandits.

Black Death Poster

Giving chase the bandits are routed by Ulric’s gang, but Osmund is severely wounded.

Still they press on to find the village where they are welcomed by Hob (McInnerny) and Osmund’s wound is treated by the village wise woman Langiva (Van Houten).

However, the villagers have got the measure of Ulric’s his gang. Drugged at their own welcome party they wake up in a cage partially submerged in the marsh.

One by one they are offered their freedom in return for renouncing their faith only to be killed whatever the answer is.

Since Langiva has taken an interest in Osmund she offers to reunite him with Averill, who she claims to have risen from the dead. Langiva takes him to meet Averill, but when he discovers that she can’t speak or recognise him he kills her to free her soul. Langiva then reveals that she’s not actually a witch just a skilled herbalist that that Averill wasn’t resurrected, but just drugged.

As the villagers turn on Osmund, Ulrich reveals a fine set of buboes just as the villagers tear him apart thus infecting the village.

Meanwhile Wolfstan (John Lynch) Ulric’s second in command picks up Osmund’s discarded knife and escapes from the cage. With the villagers defeated Wolfstan returns Osmund to the monastery, but Osmund doesn’t return to the cloth. He takes to the sword vowing to hunt down Langiva.

Black Death is a competently-made film with a stellar British cast who work really well together and great period art direction, costumes and props.

As you would expect with a Sean Bean movie there is plenty of very realistic and gruesome action with some splendidly well-choreographed and bloody fighting, but the subtly intelligent screenplay makes some interesting points about the inflexible attitude of the established church towards older beliefs and non-compliance to its authority.

Simon Ball
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