“Put anything in a pretty box and people will accept it.” Spoken by arch villain Raymond De Merville (Richard Armitage) and, one of several, skillfully written, woven-in gems from the new, superbly made, film Pilgrimage.
It’s All Around You
Pilgrimage follows a group of monks, carrying a priceless, Christian relic to the Pope in Rome. It is a majestically filmed conglomeration of absorbing images, recalling, for me, 1986’s DeNiro/Irons classic The Mission. For the first time in a very long time, I found myself literally immersed into the world of the film, and I didn’t even see it on the big screen. For Pilgrimage, that is 13th Century Ireland.
Tom Holland plays young Brother Diarmuid, the veritable Frodo Baggins to this Fellowship. He, some fellow friars and a brutish Mute (Jon Bernthal) are commissioned to bring/protect the stone, that killed an ancient, holy martyr, to Rome. As with anything humans deem as a mode to power and glory, the monks find themselves entangled between warring tribes, set upon nabbing the Relic for themselves.
Enter The Players
Re-positioning the usual spotlight from Marvel’s new golden boys, I’d like to focus on a truly stand out performance. Richard Armitage, known mostly to American audiences for his role as Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, brings his most accomplished, focused performance to date. With a quiet, yet domineering presence, he delivers a villain of poise and elegance. From the first moment De Merville is revealed, you know you’re in for a dastardly treat. Armitage contributes a character of simmering rage, refined beauty and caustic color to an otherwise anemic, feral cast of players.
His commitment to this role is unwavering and more confident than I’ve seen in any of his former work. He seems to have shed the hesitancy that’s plagued him in many past roles and traded it for the calm certainty that is earned only after a lifetime of struggle; when one truly comes into their own. Throw in the fact that he speaks a hefty heap of French in this, while naturally English, and that makes his focus even more impressive. Unlike many in the industry, Armitage doesn’t descend from film royalty. His slow rise has been from pure persistence and hard work. In this role, he’s found his acting chops, and it definitely deserves more positive attention.
The remarkable John Lynch plays Brother Ciaran, a wise herbalist and mentor to young Diarmuid. In this short, but exceptionally played role, he and Armitage deliver a powerfully disturbing, scene of torture. Lynch‘s cries of agony are among the most authentic I’ve ever seen performed.
Many a critic out there is complaining about the “gratuitous violence” in Pilgrimage. Clearly they haven’t seen the harrowing The Stoning of Soraya M. Now that was insanely disturbing violence that I couldn’t watch, but stoning isn’t meant to be pretty. However, this is the 13th Century. There were no police. It was literally live or die and the violence here is more than appropriate. I even appreciated director Brendan Muldowney‘s choice, in showing how it takes more than one swipe of a sword to sever a limb.
Pilgrimage isn’t without flaws, but I think its critics are missing a lot. Anyone who knows me, knows I only give credit where credit is due. Muldowney and cinematographer Tom Comerford , bring exceptional beauty to a brutal time that I’m thrilled I never had to live in. Jamie Hannigan‘s script is rife with metaphors that connect the Dark Ages with contemporary human repetitions. Religion was their “thing” of high value back then, because it was the only light to be had in a brutal world.
In retrospect, we could mock their lack of knowledge, but are we so advanced? We still humiliate and kill in our obsession for money and power; we worship flawed humans beings just because they’re famous and support people who treat each other terribly in the name of “Reality TV”. With all of the white supremacy rearing its ugly head in HD today, we have NO room to make a moral argument of the actions of Medieval people. The fact that we have advanced, scientific knowledge, hasn’t helped root out ignorance in all of its other forms.
After all, don’t we still accept everything that’s given to us in a pretty, or even not so pretty, package, as long as it serves us?
What “gems” did you find in Pilgrimage?
Pilgrimage is available on Amazon video, Itunes video and other On Demand platforms.