December 16, 2011 -- “Black Death” is a straightforward film about the clash between Christianity and the older pagan religions, as well as one man's personal struggle with his faith set against the violent, repressive backdrop of the Dark Ages. The story also happens during the time of the Black Death, a bubonic plague that killed millions of people in Europe.
The only actor I recognized in this European production is Sean Bean (“The Lord of the Rings”) who plays Ulrich, leader of a band of religious mercenaries. David Warner (“Titanic”) is also in the movie briefly as the Abbot of a monastery that Ulrich and his band visit, looking for a guide through the marshes to a remote village which has avoided the plague so far. A young novitiate, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne of “My Week With Marilyn”) volunteers to help them find the village, but he has a hidden motive.
Osmund has fallen in love with a girl, Averill (Kimberley Nixon of “Easy Virtue”) and plans to rendezvous with her in a forest location near the path of the group he is leading. When he gets to the rendezvous, he finds Averill's horse and blood, along with a fierce group of bandits. He warns his followers about the bandits just in time and there is a fierce battle. The bandits are defeated, but some of them steal the horses. Ulrich blames Osmund for leading the bandits back to their camp, resulting in the death of one of his men and the loss of the horses.
The journey becomes even more difficult. The wounded Osmund has even less reason to stay with the group when he discovers their purpose. They plan to kill the villagers because they are following a pagan witch who claims to have delivered the village from the deadly plague. The witch, Langiva (Carice van Houten of “Valkyrie”) is clever, however, and sees through Ulrich's deception. She drugs the would-be executioners and captures them. Up to this point in the story, Ulrich's band of torturers and killers seem like the bad guys. It turns out the Pagans are evil in their own right.
Osmund is forced to make a choice between Christianity and paganism. His choice turns tragic, spelling doom for both the villagers and the group he came with. The movie probably should have ended there, but it continues into a kind of tragic epilog with more cruelty and injustice than came before. This is a brutal, bloody film with a lot of blood, beheadings, torture, mutilation and other forms of graphic brutality. It shows the worst things that people do to each other in the name of religion. This could have been more of a thought-provoking film, but it turns into a gore porn display. This film rates a C.
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