Before I enter into the more interesting themes of this stellar movie by EnglishChristopher Smith, let’s get the basic story of the film out of the way. The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Osmund, a novice monk living in 14th century England during the time of the Black Death. Osmund is recruited, well more volunteered, by Ulric (Sean Bean), a God-crazed warrior, and his band of mercenaries, to be the guide on a mission from God to a village in the marshes near Osmund’s home of Dunwich Forest.
The village has miraculously avoided infection due to woman believed to be a necromancer who raises people from the dead. Ulric is sent by the bishop to bring this woman back to the clergy for punishment and to restore the gospel to the heathens of the village.
At this point of the review, I suggest you watch the film if you haven’t already. as the rest of the review will involve spoilers and confusion for those who haven’t.
If taken as just an historical adventure/film, Black Death is a disturbingly realistic piece of celluloid that is worth watching, but it is its depiction of the fallacy of belief based on faith, whether toward an institutionalized religion or the less organized sort, that is the real reason to watch this film.
Osmund has a crisis of faith. He is in a romantic relationship with a girl from his village which the tenets of his religion strictly forbids. He asks God for guidance an when Ulric shows up needing a guide, Osmund takes it as a sign. The mission will have the added benefit of bringing him close to his village where he sent his girlfriend earlier in the film to escape the plague.
We see Osmund transform from a humble monk-in-learning to a wrathful mass-murderer by film’s end. When the necromancer (Marianne Graffam) shows Osmund his dead girlfriend stating that the village was too late to save her from marauders, Osmund fills with grief and believes it is God’s wrath put upon him for his dalliances with the girl. Osmund blames himself for her death but also a nugget of hatred for God creeps into his heart as well.
When the necromancer brings Averill (Kimberley Nixon, Osmund’s girlfriend) back from the dead, Osmund is further traumatized. Seeing her as an abomination in the sights of God, he ignores the love he has for her and kills her with his knife.
Later, after the necromancer is defeated she escapes into the marshes with Osmund following. While Osmund searches through the mist we learn that she isn’t a witch at all, but a con-artist skilled in the arts of plant chemistry. She tells Osmund before escaping that Averill wasn’t dead at all, just drugged to make it seem so.
Osmund realizes the truth of her statement and comprehends the horror of his actions. He did not rid the world of an abomination, he murdered the love of his life. Osmund snaps and we see in the final sequences of the film Osmund as an adult transformed into a warrior with a bloody sword spending his life searching in the name of God and personal vengeance the woman who pretended to be a necromancer (killing many women along the way due to him seeing her in every woman he meets).
Because of his belief in Christianity, Osmund also believes that it is physically possible, through the work of evil, to raise people from the dead. The two go hand in hand. We see further examples of cruelty done in the name of God when Ulric, instead of taking a woman to safety, kills her because her villagers believe her to be a witch, and wraps it in morality calling it an act of mercy.
Ulric and his gang of thugs also show Christianity in a poor light. Ulric is a zealot who believes all people who do not conform to the Christian faith are worthy of a cruel and painful death. His cohorts are the dregs of the world, ex-army men and torturers capable of the same violence but their motivation is more financial than religious.
When we see the true colors of the village, they are as cruel as the Christians. In fact their is no real difference in the opposing camps when it comes to actions. The Christians use force to impose their beliefs on the village, the other use force to stop them. Whether the director and writer intended to do so, they showed that beliefs, in order to be just, must be humble. Whether a prophet is right in front of you, seeming to raise people from the dead, or has a 1400 year history supposedly dying on a cross for your sins, he or she could be false. And whether false or not, neither justify using force to impose a belief system.
Every human being has a capacity to believe in something greater than themselves. But without humility, without the understanding that in the end your beliefs could be wrong, you leave yourself open to be led, or to lead yourself and others, into acts that any reasonable person would look on as despicable. Smith does a good job in showing this truth. Just because his film is set in medieval England, and we are supposed to have evolved since then, doesn’t lessen its impact.
Black Death Trailer:
- Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
- Year Released:
- 11 June 2010 (UK)
- Christopher Smith
- Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, David Warner, Kimberley Nixon, Marianne Graffam
- Adventure, Horror, Mystery
- Official URL:
- Black Death film