This part is spoiler-free.
This may be just part one, but after never getting around to real review of Love, Love, Love, I decided to get right to work on Pilgrimage. I’m not a professional reviewer, so it’s my intention that the first part of this post will be spoiler free – then there will be a few images, after which, the rest of the post will have spoilers. Plenty of warning for you, but I hope no one is disappointed by an unintentional spoiler up here.
So yes, I did the almost ridiculous, and flew from Mexico to New York for a two day stay. I had the opportunity to see the film once, and that’ll be it for me until it’s released.
Just a side note here – despite on line information, the theater was not full packed, though it was decently filled, and with a fair number of rows almost filled with Richard Armitage fans.
I’m assuming that anyone reading this already knows the basic plot that we were told – Irish Monks have to bring their holiest relic on a perilous journey from Ireland to Rome. The journey tests their faith in some cases, and they are concerned about motives of those around them. The travelers are four or five of the monks, including a novice ( Tom Holland) one Cistercian Monk ( Brother Gerladus, played by Stanley Weber) who brings the command from the Pope, and a mute lay person ( John Bernthal )with a mysterious past. The relic is a rock and it’s housed in a rather pricey looking chest. It may or may not have spiritual/magical powers.
Very early in the film, the travelers become aware that war is raging around them and they meet up with some knights fighting that war. Since this occurs about 15 minutes into the film, I’m not giving anything anyway when I tell you that the Norman, Sir Raymond De Merville ( Richard Armitage) and the Cistercian Monk know each other well, and De Merville is later charged by his father, with escorting the monks and the relic at least part way ( not clear). The senior De Merville hopes to receive absolution for this, since he’s too old and occupied either to fight in another crusade or make a Pilgrimage to Rome.
One has to know some history, or at least religious history, or have watched other crusader films or read books, to fully understand what’s promised about absolution, because the practice is alluded to a number of times and directed at a number of characters throughout the film.
The reason the Pope wants the relic, is that he sees hard times coming, what with lots of heretics and barbarians, getting ready for another crusade ( which, in history, doesn’t actually occur) and he thinks the relic will give the Church the power to overcome and destroy all opposition.
The “war” being fought in Ireland is about the De Mervilles trying to tame the local “barbarians” who inhabit the forests and woods – and we know this because we see Pagan signs and the results of some unpleasant animal cruelty along the way. In history, this was King John’s war ( the same John who was Prince in the legend of Robin Hood). Also in history, and this is barely explained in the film, except through one or two sentences by Raymond De Merville, (Armitage) ( something like, ” My king is not so happy with the Holy Father”). King John and the Pope are opposed to one another, and just one year earlier, the Pope issued an interdict and suspended many Christian rights in England.
Also early on, there are some questions about loyalties; who people really are and who can be trusted. Raymond De Merville is one such character. From first sight, although he seems to have a friendship with the Cistercian monk escorting the relic to Rome, there’s something about his dialogue ( whether in French or English or both) which makes the viewer suspect that he’s not a good guy. Part of that may be that he seems, and is, less religious and more political than others, and part of that may be what I thought was pretty open disdain for his own father, who is seeking absolution, but can never go on another Pilgrimage to obtain it.
I think by and large, some of the acting in this film is just superb. I liked Tom Holland from his run in Wolf Hall ( and look forward to more), but I think he”s quite compelling in this as the novice who loses innocence and comes of age in this film. He’s sort of a low key actor, or he’s been directed that way, and he has the ability to use his face as well as his voice.
Speaking of which, John Bernthal grunts his way through the film as the mute. I thought he was amazingly talented and fabulous to emote so much and speak so strongly, without uttering – we don;t know whether he is even able to speak. His character is really fascinating because we know very little about him, except, it’s pretty clear that he was a knight in a crusade at some time and he has some pretty nifty fighting skills.
But you really want to know about Richard Armitage, and I can’t say too much without spoiling a little. I think there was some failing in how he was directed. He did not have the most difficult task of all these actors. His role was more straight forward than others.
I thought the make-up people unprettied him for the role ( I think they played around with his nose) – he was no Guy of Gisborne – I can tell you that.
About the film in general – I didn’t like it much. I thought there was too much guesswork for the viewer. Not enough of the history was explained, so unless one already knew, or did some homework, you could be lost in why things were happening. One could not understand the real conflict unless you knew a little more than Jamie Hannigan was able to tell. I was also unsure whether the writer actually had a point of view about religion, and if he did, I think he came out against organized religion – at least the organized religion of that time in history – but really, who wouldn’t, when one considers the Crusades? More than that, I will not say. I also thought the ending was very unsatisfying.
Finally, before the spoilers, this film is extremely violent, and while there were two good battle scenes, some of it was really hard to watch, and I know I groaned aloud at least twice. ( I also didn’t like the animal cruelty).
I am so sorry to say that I was disappointed in this film, ( but not in Richard Armitage – or any of the actors) I thought it could have been so much better if it were a little longer and had a little more explanation, and a slightly larger budget. It was just not enough for me.
Now here are the photos, that at this point, are going to lead to just a short bit with spoilers – and more tomorrow, because I’m tired now:
Just a bit more for now.
Richard Armitage was the villain in this film. I thought from the first meeting, it was telegraphed that he was the villain, I didn’t see anything ambiguous about it. He even looked like a villain. It’s not really possible to make him look ugly, but he looked really sinister, and snarling and disdainful of everything and anyone. He himelf committed and also ordered brutal acts, and seemed to delight in them. Not in a cartoon way, as Guy of Gisborne, and not in any sort of sympathetic way as Francis Dolarhyde. He was just an old fashioned bad guy. But on the other hand, for him – for our Richard Armitage to be so convincingly bad and evil and hateful, well – it just shows how damned good he is. He was so menacing.
In the final scene, he fights to the death with the Mute ( John Bernthal). No question I was rooting for the Mute.
I thought John Bernthal was just outstanding. I loved his character, but I thought that more should have been explained. I feel able to put his past together, but I would have liked further explanation. I’m guessing he did and saw some horrendous things as a crusader, and then performed a penance of his own for the rest of his life. It was interesting that De Merville’s men, and De Merville thought they knew of him him or recognized him from someplace, but it was never resolved. His character was almost a super hero in terms of his fighting skills – and against better armed and bigger men.
There was next to no explanation about what was going on with the Normans in Ireland, the conflict between King John and the Pope, the need for absolution, how it worked – sometimes just one additional sentence or two in a conversation would have cleared things up. I don’t think the younger set, who would like this film, will get some it. Maybe they won’t mind.
More tomorrow about the views of religion and spirituality in the film.
I hope I’m in the minority and that the critics give it a better review than I am. Perhaps one has to expect less from an Indie film with a low budget.