I recently had the pleasure of watching the 2010 film Black Death directed by Christopher Smith. I went in only expecting a typical medieval adventure type of movie. The opening narration (something I usually dislike a movie to open with) grabbed my attention and actually drew me in. I knew that there was going to be more to the film than I thought.
Its official description reads:
“Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is tasked with learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village.”
Do not be fooled by the vagueness of this; Black Death is much more than that. I was reminded very much of a newer version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. It most certainly is not a remake, just a movie in a similar vein. Black Death saves most of its philosophical problems for the ending, but it hints of the culmination throughout as the plot unfolds.
Flawless acting coupled with striking and believable sets and wardrobes is the best recipe for a good movie. Well written dialogue also never hurt a movie. Black Death also has some great quotes that will stick with you.
For a movie, it was a surprisingly accurate portrayal of life in the dark ages. If you are looking for a prettied up or romanticized depiction of plague ridden England, look elsewhere--Black Death is gritty, cruel and not afraid to show the ugly side of human nature.
I especially liked that it was not afraid to be itself. By that I mean that most movies of recent times try to be everything to everyone and appeal to as broad a demographic as physically possible and end up being completely bland. Black Death is a movie set in Dark Age Britain and the religion, culture and biases that come with that are not cut out.
I should point out that the film is definitely not a pro-Christian propaganda flick. It is not pro anything really. Christians, Pagans and even Atheists are shown in an unflattering light. The characters are not one dimensional stereotypes; they are shown as complex individuals, each with their own reasons for doing and behaving as they do. They are all unique and it is a joy to watch as their personalities are explored.
This is a movie that leaves you thinking afterwards. Life and death; good and evil; mob mentalities and the human tendency to scapegoat others when faced with unimaginably horrific circumstances--these are the main issues explored in this excellently crafted film.