Two British directors and writers really standout for me in recent years, Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Descent and Doomsday) and Christopher Smith (Creep, Triangle and Severance). Smith’s latest offering has left its mark with a blend of swords, Catholicism and Wicker. It was released the same year as Neil Marshall’s well advertised (on DVD & Blu-Ray) Centurion, sadly both missed a good theatrical run.
Set in 1348 the Black Death is at it peak, however, one village appears to be immune to the plague. Ulric (Sean Bean) devoted Christian enlist the help of a Monk (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his men through dangerous lands to this unholy village where it is said the dead are being brought back to life.
With marshes, fog and mists across the lands it oozes atmosphere. The gritty realistic sets and settings are note worthy, everything looks authentic and aged, perfect for first outbreak of bubonic plague. There’s some great practical effects, cadavers, dismemberment’s and blood. The flights are finely choreographed and swordplay is raw and relentless as limbs are hacked off.
The latter part of the film slows down, building tension in the seemingly safe village, Smith’s develops the eerie strangeness of the rural superbly, reminiscent of the Wickerman (1973 & 2006), In the Name of the Rose (1986) and The Village (2004).
Although in fear of being typecast as another chain armoured soldier Bean gives a passionate and gripping performance, and newcomer Redmayne plays the confounded monk Osmund’s admirably. The supporting cast, even though another band mercenaries are memorable and the characters are developed. Comedy actor Tim McInnerny is satisfactory in an unusual serious role as the village head. There’s a notable cameo by David Warner as The Abbot. However, it’s Carice van Houten who steals the show as Langiva the striking necromancer.
There’s a little too much shaky hand held camera work at times, that aside the cinematography is first rate. Dario Poloni screenplay is the icing on the cake, as the dialogue feels authentic and unforced, compared to the aforementioned other period piece. It explores religious beliefs, faith, witch hunts, occultism and much more.
With low expectation’s for another period piece, I was pleasantly surprised by Smith’s vision. Certainly not perfect or the grandest film; however, it’s a gripping medieval, satanic mystery action that has a nice original twist at the end.
Talented and left of the middle director Neil Marshall returns with a 117 A.D story of a group of Roman soldiers who must fight for their lives as they are hunted down by the Picts the savage, elusive and remorseless inhabitants of Northern Britain.
In the vein of Beowulf & Grendel (2005) 13th Warrior (1999) and of course Gladiator (2000), Centurion oddly missed a long running large screen release. It has an excellent diverse cast ensemble, including Olga Kurylenko, Imogene Poots, David Morrissey and the great Liam Cunningham. With excellent make-up design, costumes and fantastic breathtaking settings, it’s only hankered by some strained dialogue which lacks the conviction of that in the Black Death (2010).
Centurion is modest constructed period piece, there’s Etain (Kurylenko) and Michael Fassbender’s excellent performance as Quintus, violence, blood and decapitations. Supporting actors are the backbone with the likes of Axelle Carolyn and Dave Legeno to name a few but they are not given enough to do or say. You can forgive at times Ilan Eshkeri great, yet, at times intrusive theatrical score, as Marshall delivers some great set ups, action, the wolf hunt and ambush to name a few and Centurion grips you and creates tension like his unsurpassed earlier work.
Well there we have it, what did you think?