I love Sean Bean as an actor and all around upstanding and cool guy. This weekend I watched him in the sequel to Silent Hill, which as an aside, was an excellent movie and superior to the first — which in and of itself wasn’t a bad movie.
Sean Bean is one of those extremely talented actors who is able to successfully portray practically any character. He can play various levels of good or bad characters whilst conveying that he’s 100% consumed by the role he’s in. After coming home and reflecting on how much I enjoyed Silent Hill, I came across Black Death on Netflix. Black Death is movie set in the 13th century, at the onset of the bubonic plague. I read no spoilers or watched any trailers prior to watching this film, so I went into it not really knowing what to expect.
I must admit that near the beginning of the film, I had suspected that it would go the direction of a supernatural action-adventure, as Bean’s character — Ulrich, speaks of people being resurrected from the dead in another village. As the story unravels and nears the denouement, I was pleasantly surprised.
Spoiler alert: don’t read any further until you watch the film.
Ulrich arrives at the Staveley monastery looking for a man who has the knowledge and familiarity with Dentwich forest. This man would go on to lead his men beyond the forest, across the great marsh to a small village. The village is believed to be lead by a necromancer (someone who can raise the dead), however it also remains untouched by the pestilence that has killed half of the cities population.
Osmund, a young monk decides to volunteer for the task — as he sees it as a sign from God to reunite with his beloved Averill (who he sends away to Dentwich forest so that she would remain untouched by disease).
During their travels through the forest, the men encounter a group of people who have captured an innocent woman who they are accusing of being a witch (as you would in this time period). The only thing that would quell the mobs rage would be to burn her. Ulrich steps in and frees the woman — only to end her life by slitting her throat. Naturally Osmund is mortified and demands a reason why Ulrich decided to murder this poor soul. Ulrich gives the only reason a man of this period could — to simply end her suffering quickly by the knife, which was an act of mercy (that’s much better than being burnt to a crisp!).
Ulrich’s men take refuge in the forest overnight. Whilst everyone is fast asleep, Osmund decides to take a stroll through Dentwich forest, to the spot where Averill promised she would wait for him. Regrettably he finds the remains of her bloody clothes, however no body is discovered. Osmund assumes the worst at this point and mourns his lost love. Unfortunately for him though, by venturing out alone into the forest, he discovers a small army of angry, armed to the hilt individuals. In a panic, he races back to the camp in order to wake up Ulrich — et al. that people are coming. They barely have time to shake the sleep off before they have an opportunity to grab their swords and shields to defend themselves. A relatively quick battle is fought, which results in Osmund getting impaled and Ivo to lose his life (whilst saving him). Osmund learns that his selfish act has now caused the death of another person, something he must live with for the rest of his life. There’s a great little interplay between Ulrich and Osmund as well in this scene.
Ulrich: Why did you leave the camp? Speak!
Osmund: I came here to meet a woman.
Ulrich: And where is she?
Osmund: She did not survive the forest. God has punished me for leaving his monastery.
Ulrich: God has better things to think of. Because of you, one of my men is dead!
After arriving at their destination, the group is greeted by the two village leaders: Hob (Tim McInnerny from Black Adder fame) and Langiva, the alchemist. They kindly offer to tend to their wounds, offer them food, and shelter. Langiva seems a bit attached to the young Osmund. She unravels the mystery of what happened to Averill, and expounds on the situation they uncovered in the forest and how she didn’t survive.
Not all is as peaceful as it seems in this quaint village. The people and its leaders are hiding something heinous. Ulrich knows that evil lurks in the hearts of the towns folk. The sole purpose for his being there is simply because word carried over that there was a necromancer amongst the villagers — however the identity of this person remains a mystery.
We discover towards the end of the film that the people of the village have been sacrificing Christians. They believe that by spilling their blood, they have been able to keep the pestilence at bay and their people safe. Ulrich, his men, and Osmund are captured and are given two options by Hob and Langiva: either renounce their faith, or be horribly slaughtered. When something is offered to you that seems too good to be true, it most likely is. This is why when Swire volunteers to renounce his faith, after the promise that he would be taken to the edge of the village and set free, the camera cuts to a scene where we see him dangling by a noose (Oh, by being “set free,” we meant we would hang you. By doing that, we are setting you free of evil!).
Langiva reveals to Osmund that he has the opportunity to reunite with Averill. She points in the direction of a hut and says she is waiting for him. Naturally, Osmund at this point would do anything to see her again, even if he may believe that she was raised from the dead by a necromancer. He enters the hut and discovers her, but something doesn’t quite seem right. Averill’s eyes are rolling back into their sockets and she can’t formulate any sort of coherent speech. Osmund unsheathes his knife and decides to kill her — believing his love is stuck in purgatory and must be spared pain and suffering.
As this is all happening, Ulrich’s men are able to escape the cage they are in and fight back. Chaos ensues during the battle, and Langiva flees from the scene — Osmund takes notice and follows her into the forest. As the two cross paths, Langiva divulges the entire truth of the story. Averill never died in the first place. Osmund did not discover her body as we know from earlier on in the film, yet he assumed she perished in the forest. Langiva tells him that she never died — she simply had her drugged (remember she’s an alchemist), and Averill’s blood is now entirely on Osmund’s hands. How incredibly cruel can one person be to another, just to teach them a lesson about how wrong their beliefs are? Although Osmund was naive and ignorant, Langiva is just as bad here. Through extreme manipulation and telling half truths, she is just as to blame for Averill’s death.
The last bit of the film has some narration by Wolfstan. We get a flash forward in time where we see an older, more grizzled Osmund. Wracked by grief, and full of rage, he takes up the sword. Vengeance consumes him as he leads a crusade to find Langiva. Only, he ends up becoming a murderer as he takes the lives of innocent woman who he believes are witches. It’s said by Wolfstan that he only sees the face of Langiva everywhere he goes — in other words, he’s completely stark raving mad.
The Overarching Moral
In summation, Black Death is a story that conveys just how dangerous human beings can be when they are blinded by unwavering conviction and faith. I’m not just talking about faith in the religious sense, but that’s certainly a large part of it. In this film, we have the noble Christian knights in service to the Bishop, lead by Ulrich and the young monk Osmund. We also have the people of the small village, who have renounced their faith in a higher power. Two completely different factions with incredibly different perspectives, however both are capable of committing acts of violence based on ignorance and mistrust.
It’s easy to look at this and justify the situation these characters are in because society during this time period was barbaric and uncultured. I posit that you can quite easily look at the world we live in today and see many similarities in humans. In so many aspects, we are far more intelligent, educated, and understanding of one another. In many other ways, we are still just as barbaric, only the tools we wield to cause others pain involves advanced technological weaponry. I whole heartedly enjoyed Black Death. It’s a great film with excellent casting, acting, and a narrative that is pushed forward at a great pace.