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Black Death (2010)

In an age of darkness one man will face the ultimate battle against evil

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 102 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Black Death is a film of two halves. One that is a dark historic bloodbath set in a Britain ravaged by the plague and one that is a supernatural torture-fest with a hint of the Saw series. One half that’s pretty good and the other half that’s kind of dire. No prizes for guessing which one is which.

Christopher Smith’s historical horror is set in England during the first bout of the plague. Young Monk Osmund (Redmayne) is having a crisis of confidence and cheating on God with a young lady. Determined to get away from his monastery, he volunteers to help the Pope’s envoy Ulric (Sean Bean – love the guy from when he used to star in TV’s Sharpe series but he does star in a lot of dross) as a guide. Ulric’s job is to find a village in the marshes that the church think is being protected from the plague by a necromancer (Sorcerer to you and me). Ulric, the monk and a band of hardened soldiers battle their way to the village and find the witch (Van Houten) and her helpers (including McInnerny playing against type) raising the dead, refusing to say grace before meals and generally having lovely teeth and bright smiles.

The first section has the grim stench of death all over it. The boys here have created probably one of the most satisfying depictions of the plague seen onscreen so far. The brutal violence and attention to detail (awful teeth on the most part) are excellent and the set up almost has the surreal historic quality of Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath der Zorn Gottes. Unfortunately, Black Death soons gets a little too talky and without the action to back up the religious drivel it never really kicks on. The final drawn-out supernatural-torture set piece is a letdown and it just ends suddenly with a tacked on ‘what happen’s next’ epilogue to straighten things out in next to no time. The acting is hammy – Carice Van Houten’s witch just talks slowly and clearly whilst looking into middle distance like she’s concentrating her damndest to phase out the Dutch accent, Osmund is a monk with a constantly angsty teenage frown and we’ve seen Sean Bean play this same role too many times now.

It's Got: Sean Bean reciting Latin with a Yorkshire accent, attention to detail, a great setting

It Needs: More action, less mindless talking.


Okay but not great, Black Death is deftly moody and unsentimentally brutal in parts but never really hits its stride when it should.