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Modern British Cult Cinema: Solomon Kane

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After a lifetime of murder and mayhem, remorseless mercenary, Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) renounces violence after discovering that his immoral crusade has condemned his soul to hell. Yet when he returns back to his home in Devonshire, England he discovers that an even worse evil has taken reign in his lands, but will fighting back against this malefic threat ultimately result in his redemption or infernal suffering.

Cast: James Purefoy, Max Von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Flemyng, Mackenzie Crook. Director: Michael J. Basset. Writers: Robert E. Howard (creator) Michael J. Basset (screenplay)

Solomon Kane was ushered into existence by early 1900’s novelist Robert E. Howard, who is probably most noted for his creation of sword swinging, kingdom usurping – Conan The Barbarian. Kane’s inaugural introduction was in a 1928 issue of Weird Tales, Howard described his character as a – “sombre, gloomy man with a pale complexion and cold eyes” dressed head to toe in black, carrying two pistols and a rapier, Kane wandered the world fighting witchcraft, black magic and evil men.

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The films opening takes place during Kane’s murderous past as he and his cut-throat army of brigands invade and pillage a large fortress in Africa in 1600 AD. Whilst fighting their way to the riches and glory contained within the fortress throne room, Kane becomes separated from his heinous henchmen and confronted by the Devil’s Reaper, who discloses that Kane’s nefarious lifestyle has forfeit his soul, and the Reaper is there to deliver it unto his master, Kane refusing to yield to the demand leaps from the throne room balcony into the tempestuous seas below.

A year passes, and we catch up with Solomon in an Abbey in England where he has taken refuge to recant his former murderous ways and live a life of peace in a desperate attempt to save his soul from damnation. However, a prophetic vision of Solomon’s future by the lead Abbot, leads to Solomon being told to immediately leave the sanctity of the Abbey, as his ensuing fate does not reside within it’s sacred grounds. Deciding to return to his land of noble birth in Devonshire, Solomon is set upon by a trio of vicious mercenaries, who leave him for dead after he refuses to break his vow of peace and fight back. Found and nursed back to health by Meredith Crowthorn (Rachel Hurd-Wood) daughter of a travelling puritan family, he ends up temporarily joining them on their pilgrimage. 

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But when an encounter with a strange masked warrior and his band of zombie like minions ends with the death of the Crowthorns and kidnapping of Meredith for their necromancer master – Malachi (Jason Flemyng) Solomon breaks his vow of peace and sets out to rescue Meredith and end Malachi’s demonic reign. Thus ensues a bloody path of vengeance and retribution that will either condemn Solomon’s soul to hell or redeem it for all eternity.

British director, Michael J. Basset’s cinematic interpretation of Howard’s classic evil smiting, puritanical warrior is as close to its original source material as any fan could hope to get, it really is as if Solomon had leapt onto the silver screen from the very pages of the novels and comic-books themselves. Basset’s reverence for Howard’s original books is tangible, and the casting of native Devonshire actor James Purefoy is the icing on the proverbial cake. Purefoy is an amazing and rather underrated Brit actor, and gives his all in this superb adaptation, going from an evil, detestable character to one you actively feel pity towards, and eventually end up rooting for as the film unfolds, plus being a native of Devon, of course, his accent is spot on (trust me, I live in Devon!) Backed up by a supporting stable of excellent actors including the late Max Von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, and the ever entertaining Mackenzie Crook.

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The films myriad fight scenes choreographed by sword master – Richard Ryan are superbly put together, savage and brutal, akin to the era, with limbs hacked off at an alarming rate and Kane’s notoriety as a peerless warrior shine through in these stunning sequence,with Purefoy himself doing the majority of his own sword and stunt work.

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Beautifully shot by Dan Lausten in England and Prague, the film is a dark and foreboding cinematic delight, and like it’s filmic counterpart, the fantastic – Black Death, retains a classic Hammer movie feel. The English landscape is littered with broken down churches, soulless graveyards and eerie hanging corpses, replete with carrion crows and a constant deluge of rain and mud (much like the UK still is!) The film’s original soundtrack by Klaus Badelt is also outstanding, rousing and haunting in equal measure and has become one of my very favourite movie compositions. 

Though mostly receiving positive reviews when released, amongst both fans and critics, it unfortunately, initially only recouped about a third of its original budget (such is the case with a large swathe of films emanating from the UK) though thankfully it has gone on since its initial launch in 2009 to surpass its £33,000,000 budget through Blu-Ray and DVD sales, deservedly so as Solomon Kane is one of the greatest sword and sorcery movies ever made, and comes highly recommended.

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