The Black Death: The Movie

The Black Death (UK 2010, US 2011)

In a time of plague there are no winners, everyone looses. Fear pushes people to do anything that they believe will keep them safe. Everyone is hunting witches, not just the church (as they all did before the plague and long after it).

The central issue in Black Death is that the church has heard that there is a village that has remained safe from the plague through necromancy/witchcraft and sends the knight Ulric with his men to investigate and bring the necromancer back. The monk Osmund is chosen from a local monastery to lead them to the village (but he has his own secondary motives also).

The dichotomy of  bad church vs good pagans is too simple to explain what is going on. There are no good guys. To the church, protecting the faith and preventing social chaos justifies extraordinary brutality and in some cases murder of even those they think are probably innocent. The pagans say they just want to be left alone but they don’t hesitate over murdering anyone who they consider a risk. They are really a risk to the faith and every bit as brutal as Ulric and his men. People come to unexpected fates, and all are tragic in their own way. The ending is maybe the most unexpected, but I won’t spoil that for you.

Its a complex movie of a time soaked in fear. I can see why they didn’t go for a big movie release here. People like happy endings or at least resolutions; Black Death has none to offer. It will make you think and you have to approach it from a 14th century point of view. Otherwise, you won’t understand who got a good or honorable death and who doesn’t; what is mercy and what is not. Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne are both very good as Ulric and Osmond respectively. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well. It is available in the US as a DVD or as a digital movie on iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised by its  courage to show all sides and resist a happy ending. I will watch it again.