Modern British Cult Cinema: Black Death

Black-Death-Poster1 14th Century England and the Bubonic plague is spreading it’s touch of death throughout the land, as towns and cities fall victim to this grisly disease, yet one isolated village is seemingly untouched by the horror. A devout monk accompanied by a small band of Knights are sent by the church to determine whether the rumours of witchcraft and necromancy protecting the villagers are true.

Cast: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice Van Houten, Andy Nyman, Tim McInnerny, David Warner. Writer: Dario Poloni. Director: Christopher Smith.

Black Death is the fourth movie by English genre director Christopher Smith following on from his previous horror movies, Creep, Severance and Triangle. Smith tackles a very dark period in English history with the movie being set in the 14th century, during the time of the bubonic plague and the systematic hunting down and killing of those believed to be practitioners of black magic and witchcraft.

Black Death 3

Lord of the Rings this isn’t!

Sean Bean plays Ulric, knight-crusader for the church and  leader of a small group of mercenary warriors, tasked with the mission to travel to a remote village to determine whether it is through black magic and necromancy that this community has remained untouched from the plague, whilst it has ravaged the rest of the country.

Joined on their expedition by initiate monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) as guide, the band of warriors wend their way through plague ridden towns and blighted forests encountering on their way, savage brigands and superstitious witch burning townsfolk. Upon finally reaching the village all at first seems normal, with the villagers friendly and helpful though untouched and seemingly unaware of the disease wreaking havoc across England, but a growing unease forms in Ulric as he investigates the town’s charismatic yet perplexing matriarch Langiva (Carice Van Houten).

Black death 2

A bleak tale of witchcraft and pestilence

Christopher Smith like fellow Brit director Neil Marshall is a master of dark and creepy horror, and also like Marshall likes nothing more than to show the viewers the outcome of the barbarous nature of violence, this film does not shy away from showing us man’s inhumanity to man with realistic and brutal fight sequences and squirm inducing torture scenes, this is of course done for dramatic effect as opposed to shock value as the film encompasses a time when Britain was a brutal and cruel place, Smith effortlessly throws us headlong into the dark ages and a land divided by wars, pestilence and superstition. The acting is superlative throughout, the always watchable Sean Bean plays Ulric as a troubled, violent and pious holy knight, but ultimately he is a sympathetic and moral man caught up in an horrendous time.

Eddie Redmayne’s turn as Osmund the young monk looking for a direction in life, is amazing, his character grows emotionally throughout the movie, until, in the last sequence of the film he is almost unrecognisable in it’s fantastic twist ending. Carice Van Houten as village matriarch Langiva is beautiful, haunting and enigmatic but is deep down duplicitous and surprisingly more dangerous than the barbarous knights that were sent there to seek the truth. Other notable performances are by Smith’s regular stalwart actors Andy Nyman and Tim McInnerny, and classic English thespian David Warner appears briefly as Osmund’s superior Abbot.


Osmund entranced by the beautiful Langiva

Black Death is a bleak and harrowing look at a desperate time in English history, it is beautifully shot and magnificently directed by Chris Smith from an original story by Dario Poloni. Evoking a feel of both early gothic Hammer movies and at times the original version of The Wicker man, this is a dark and tragic film that presents you with morally ambiguous characters and no clear division between right and wrong. The film draws you into its gloomy, desolate world and keeps you on the edge of your seat as its morbidly enthralling story slowly unravels like the characters in the film itself. Recommended to all fans of supernatural horror and classic Hammer films.

Precinct1313 Rating: 5 ‘Witch Burning Zealots’ out of 5

About Bruce Hodder (formerly known as ArcaneHalloween)

Fanatical about comics, gaming and horror movies... but then isn't everyone?

Posted on January 11, 2015, in Horror, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. And, once again, I completely agree with you on a film. This was a damn good one. Dark. Scary. Violent, as it surely must have been back then, and superbly filmed, acted and directed. You’re right, too, in that it evokes, and feels like, an old Hammer horror film. I’d forgotten I’d seen this until I read your review here. Thanks for reminding me. Oh, thanks for mentioning my blog in your award acceptance speech earlier, too. Much appreciated. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BTW, have you ever seen a Starz series called, “Pillars of the Earth”? I’ve got it coming to watch. It looks like something I’ll enjoy, as does “Arn: Knight Templar,” another series I’m about to watch. I figure they may be shows you’ve seen as your tastes run similar to mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen either of those to be honest, though I have heard of Arn. Along with my love of greek myths, I also love the whole Knights Templar stories and fables, another great british movie in the vein of these is Ironclad, the first is fantastic and feels very much like a more action oriented version of Black Death.


  3. Great review! I watched it last year and I loved it!
    I’ll let you in on a secret- Sean Bean will always be my favorite Eddard (Ned) Stark! I absolutely love him ❤
    Are you into ASOIAF???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Heena, yes it really is a great movie and Sean Bean is awesome in everything he does, such a versatile actor. I haven’t actually read the books themselves, but do watch the Game of Thrones series. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yea, I second that! I’m actually not into the TV series but I love the series (though I plan to watch them soon!) But I’ve seen some parts of the series, and to be honest, I still can’t get over his death in the first part… I hope he comes back in some or the other form… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, it was such a shame when he died, he was without doubt my favourite character in Game of Thrones.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OMG! He’s my fav. too 🙂
        Let’s hope “The Winds Of Winter” gets a surprise with it (but I seriously hope he doesn’t come back as the Headless Ned!)
        I guess Bran was being directed to the North by Ned’s spirit or something… well… let’s see! Finger’s Crossed! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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