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.
41 thoughts on “Perry’s Take on Pilgrimage – with later Spoiler Warning.”
Thank you very much for your review, Perry. I couldn’t resist and read it to the end – and was actually not surprised. Somehow I expected that.
Did you also stay for the Q&A?
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I did. The pics were from that. I thought the Q & A was a little disappointing, since the actor who played the mute was the only good speaker ( LOL), but we learned a few interesting facts. I should have a little more to say later – but not spoiler free. Will give plenty of warning.
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*duh* of course you must have been at the Q&A if you took pictures… Where was my head when I was commenting? Looking forward to your notes on the Q&A.
I didn’t take notes!! But I remember a bit. I think one of the fans put it up on You Tube ( Daphne, maybe?) One funny thing was a question about there being no female in the film, and the director’s ( I think joking, assertion) that if it were required by financiers, they would have switched Monks out for Nuns. They talked a bit about the weather there and later I will go over answers toa good question about how it was determined when to use English and when to use a foreign language with English subtitles. It was erratic, but they had a method – though I’m not sure they stuck to it. It was at least a half-subtitled film, if not more.
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That’s a very interesting subject as speaking the same language was anything but a given and i guess ‘swords talked louder and clearer than words’ 😉
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Thanks a mill for all the details, for me pretty much spoiler free as this is very much what i expected. The bit that i doubt younger audiences will really be able to grasp is how much absolution actually meant to people of those times. Not a concept we can easily comprehend today, even with background information, i hope that element did come across in the acting.. we’ll see i guess/hope. It’s an interesting time for it as i have seen a lot of proper documentaries and films all covering the period pretty much between 700-1300 in these parts of the world, there seems to be a very strong fascination with it. Or at least i find it fascinating, partly because i am trying to understand more of the history here objectively.
Although violence i think does capture the time i wonder if the way it was depicted was or not realistic. I’d be really keen to know in terms of weapons and fighting techniques how accurate it was.. But i doubt we’ll really be able to find out.
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That’s hard for me to say — about the accuracy of the battle scenes and violence. It seemed pretty real to me – but they were trained soldiers against local tribes who probably each had different sorts of training and used different weapons.
Speaking of weapons, I think absolution is also used as a weapon in this film ( and maybe in life at the time). I think there is a good deal of written material on fighting techniques of the time.
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yes i could see how absolution could be an effective weapon..
And i was just wondering about fight techniques in case they had commented on it at the QA 🙂
There was one question by a viewer about whether a weapon used by De Merville was accurate.
Thanks a lot for your impressions. I am very curious about this film and I am quite sure it takes a long time (AGAIN) before we get to see it in Germany. As I am neither a historian nor a highly sensitive person, I guess I could enjoy the show…
I think I will get more out of it if I can bear to watch it another time – this time to pick up a few things I missed and better assess Richard Armitage’s performance ( I’ll know when to close my eyes).
After reading the first review
I have to take back my first and rather flippant remarks. Sounds VERY cruel and I thought that RA would not want to play such roles, especially after ‘Hannibal’….
So he said, but I think practically speaking, he had Pilgrimage lined up before Hannibal, and I think he went directly from filming one to another.
Is there, in this film, allegorically, any idea of denunciation of the faults of our present modern world? Can we speak of depth, a parallel, a comparison with the recent film “Silence” by Martin Scorsese. Or is it just a demonstration of male violence in a grandiose nature, at an unusual period?
Thanks for the very thorough review. It sounds worthwhile to see. Even if bloody.
Worthwhile for the acting alone.
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I’m making a huge effort here to focus on this comment box and not look at any of the comments because I didn’t read the spoilers. Thanks, Perry, for taking the time to talk about the film. I hope I get a chance to see it; that it will be shown where I live. Too bad about the graphic cruelty in some scenes as you mentioned in the beginning of this post. I will not like that, nor do I relish graphic violence, but that’s what my hand is for – I’ll have to cover my eyes!
That’s what I did.
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Thank you for writing such a great review. No real spoilers for me as it was what I was expecting. I am pleased to hear the standard of acting was high but wondering if this is going to be another film I might have to give a miss due to the violence and my own triggers around that ( and especially animal cruelty). I did wonder when I saw the severed head in the trailer!
I didn’t recall a severed head i the trailer. I’ll have to look again. We only see the results of the animal cruelty.
Bolly,, I just re-read these comments,and also rewatched the film. Not very important, but yes, there were severed heads. A few fighters may have lost their heads in battles, but what we saw were the severed heads of enemies on pikes – which was typical in British history ( and other history, and Game of Thrones, as well.
Thanks Perry. Severed heads on pikes I can handle as they never look very realistic but I appreciate the warning.
First of all, I salute you for making the journey. Second, huge thanks for the detailed review. Not looking forward to the gore, but it wont be the first film I’ve watched through my hands. He’s talked about how much the Dolarhyde role took out of him emotionally – it couldn’t have been easy to go directly into another super-dark (if clearly in a different way) role. I’m very intrigued now about Jon Bernthal’s role. See this: http://variety.com/2017/film/news/jon-bernthal-punisher-tom-holland-spider-man-pilgrimage-1202393579/
Thanks for the link. Bernthal was wonderful. I think Raymond was far less complex than Francis Dolarhyde.
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Thanks for the review. I hope that the movie will be released in a theater in my city or in dvd. 🙂
It’s set for wide release, so you should have luck, thought I don’t know where you live.
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In Switzerland. 🙂
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Thanks for this, Perry!
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I see that I’d commented without reading the spoilers. Now I can see you felt the same way I did. This could have been an extraordinary film, but it missed the mark. Too bad.
I think it’s an open question about how much you have to know to understand the film — the more you actually know, the less sense the film makes. I thought I was being a jerk, but Herba just saw it and I just read her review, and without being a trained historian she had many of the same objections to the script that I had. I do think the general level of knowledge about the medieval world is higher in Europe (after all, it is really their history), although one would think that that truism should apply to Jamie Hannigan as well. Maybe it’s just Germans who know more.
I should watch the Q&A tape now to learn about how they picked the language stuff, because it hit me more forcefully last night than it did before that Diarmuid should not be able to understand what Raymond is saying in the scene where Raymond is revealing Geraldus’ past.
I thought Bernthal’s performance better that Holland’s as well, although I was *never* clear on his motivation.
I had the same thought after watching it a second time. I could see more reason to the language choices. I wonder though whether none of them was actually speaking in English when they spoke in English. In other words, were they actually continuing in their language, but for the audience, it was all English. I guess Sir Raymond and his father would know English, but I’m honestly not sure about the other characters.
Re: Tom Holland, I came across an unfortunate reference to him as ” the twerp who now plays Spiderman” somewhere or other. I thought he was good in the role, but there is something about face that I just don’t like. I thought Bernthal was terrific. I thought his motivations were to protect Diarmuid and the other monks, and perhaps, revenge later.
If he’s angry at the church, though, the Mute’s final scenes aren’t a very effective way of taking revenge.
re: the technique as in novels where a first phrase indicates an entire dialogue in another language; I thought that as well except that whole scene in the swamp then doesn’t make sense. Raymond starts in English, then switches to French — apparently to speak only to Geraldus and the Mute — then switches back in English to reveal Geraldus’ past (apparently with the explicit desire that the monks learn about it).
One of Herba’s snippets has a brief moment with Bernthal speaking — he’s cute! And only two years younger than my brother, lol, so potentially crushworthy. It led to a bit of confusion for me. I saw him on screen and thought “yiddishe punim” and then the other character says he’s a converso (you probably already know that the most common usage of that term is for a Jew who converted to Christianity to avoid persecution — the way the film uses it is accurate but very rare).
I like Bernthal’s ruggedness and lack of perfect beauty – but I couldn’t crush on him. I haven’t seen any of his other work because I don’t watch those series, but I wouldn’t mind watching him something to make up my mind. So, what did they mean in the film that the Mute was converso? What did he convert from? And as to my other question – in the swamp scene, except for the audience, who would Raymond be addressing who would understand English? The novice spent his entire life at or near the monastery in Ireland. Would he have learned English? I’m answering my own question – I guess so, because in the woods, he and Raymond also have a conversation in English.
When I spoke of revenge, I meant revenge for Raymond’s killing the other monks.
yeah, he’d have to be in something I would consider watching and Walking Dead doesn’t really qualify.
the other meaning of the term “converso” is, as they say twice in the film, “lay brother.” This is a bit confusing insofar as most lay brothers (tertiaries is another term, or confrater) were not associated with Benedictines but with mendicant orders, and came from a later century. The Benedictines are the only ones who really use the term “converso” in this way — to mean a layman who takes limited religious vows. It was a status held by people who couldn’t become monks for various reasons. I don’t know why the Benedictines used that term, though. I probably have a dictionary in a box somewhere that would explain why.
re: swamp — no one in the film understands English, probably, except the Normans. But then why give this whole speech in French that is directed at the Mute, apparently specifically so that the Irish monks don’t realize what is being said to the Mute, and then switch into English to make sure they understand what he’s saying about Geraldus? That seemed purposeful to me. Or maybe it’s just that they established fairly early on that Brother Ciaran was the only Irish monk who understood French — except that this is reiterated in the last scene, where Diarmuid asks the Mute what Geraldus said to him.
re: revenge — I think I could accept your explanation except that the Mute makes the decision after Geraldus’ last speech about absolution.
He asked the mute?
I looked at again. He asks Geraldus: “what are you saying?” Presumably because he doesn’t understand French.
But then Geraldus doesn’t understand Irish. And Diarmuid is speaking English, which he doesn’t actually speak, I suspect … uch. They should have managed this better.