Review: Black Death (15)***

There is a dearth of pestilence in Black Death, Christopher Smith's bloody rendering of 14th-century Europe drenched beneath the creeping horror of bubonic plague.

Is the plague God's new purge to wash away the sins of mankind? Or some form of devilry?

Yet the film is less about disease than faith, casting as it does a God-fearing mercenary and a novice monk against a witch with the power to restore the dead to life.

The plot turns on young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) who experiences a crisis of conscience over a woman.

He agrees to guide Ulric (Sean Bean) and his fellow warriors through treacherous marshes to locate a village untouched by the black death. En-route, he hopes to see his lady love.

On arrival at the settlement, and after encountering the brutality and mob violence of lawless lands, Ulric, Osmund and their companions find a world free of contagion. But something is amiss.

"Nothing here is what it seems," mutters Ulric.

From that point on, Black Death becomes a grisly battle of faith between hard-line Christians and godless pagans led by a necromancer.

In that respect, it is a much deeper and rather more intelligent film than might be suggested at first glance.

Made accessible by a (curious) mix of medieval and contemporary language, this is a credible representation of a dark age.

Corpses and rats are everywhere, yet aside from the occasional glimpse of a tumescent lump, Smith avoids lingering unnecessarily on images

of disease.

His focus remains always on the clash between perceived goodness – Ulric and his men resemble early Templars – and the seductive nature of traditional evil as personified by Langiva (Carice van Houten).

The isolated, insular nature of the village owes something to the atmosphere of The Wicker Man in that people speak the same language but fail to communicate on a shared level.

Underlining it all is the threat of violence and the knowledge that death will be meted out to anyone or anything that breaks the rules of established


Packed with action and intrigue, Black Death is an unusual and surprisingly adept period thriller.