Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Muldowney takes things seriously, with cinematographer Tom Comerford using the lowering skies and boggy heaviness to his advantage"

Tom Holland takes a break from his Spider-Man web-slinging to step back in time to 13th century Ireland for this muted drama set at the time of the Crusades. But though the time period reaches back even further than that, to the martyring of a man named Matthias, writer Jamie Hannigan and director Brendan Muldowney are about to make an argument regarding the problems of religion breeding violence that has continued to echo down the ages, through to the present day. When one man says "Peace is to be cared for, nurtured," the years fall away, as it could just as easily be someone referring to the Good Friday Agreement.

Religious belief is no saviour here - and Hannigan also shows how the older superstitions of the island persist alongside it, suggesting that when life is tough, it is perhaps no wonder people are willing to hedge their bets.

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Holland plays novice monk Brother Diarmuid, the youngest member of a monastery on the isolated reaches of the island, where the rock said to have killed Matthias is now kept in an ornate reliquary. Life is about to be uprooted for the monks with the arrival of Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber) from Rome - which, at the time the piece is set, seems almost as far away as heaven itself.

With the Crusades in trouble, the Pope has sent his emissary to bring the relic to the Vatican in a bid to strengthen their hand. Though unwilling, for multiple reasons, a small band of monks embark, Hobbit style, on the quest. Among them are Diarmuid and Jon Bernthal as a mysterious mute (aren't they all in this sort of film?), who turns out to have a canny knack at fighting with his shirt off. Before long, they have run across a band of pillaging Normans led by Raymond De Merville (Richard Armitage), whose faith may well be sacramental-wafer thin, and the local clansmen, who are seeking to slay the French invaders.

Muldowney takes things seriously, with cinematographer Tom Comerford using the lowering skies and boggy heaviness of the Irish woodland and heath to his advantage, with Stephen McKeon's Gregorian chant-laced scoring adding to the atmosphere. The violence is bone-crunching and used judiciously, so that it remains rooted in the past rather than fantasy, and showing the two drivers of life are faith and fear - often in combination. The irony that all this bloodshed is happening for a rock is strongly felt, although we're also aware that men have doubtless died for less.

It's a shame the rock-bottom budget means there are one or two continuity issues with the reliquary, which seems to miraculously re-sprout its gems at one point. This is nonetheless a well-crafted piece that provides enough action to please an audience, without overwhelming its sombre mood or its underlying message. The film has gone straight to DVD in Britain, but it's well worth looking out for.

Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2017
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In 13th-century Ireland, a cadre of monks travel through the war-torn countryside on a mission to bring their land’s most sacred relic to Rome.
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Director: Brendan Muldowney

Writer: Jamie Hannigan

Starring: Richard Armitage, Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal, John Lynch, Stanley Weber, Hugh O'Conor, Eric Godon, Lochlann O'Mearáin, Rúaidhrí Conroy, Tristan McConnell, Peter Cosgrove, Diarmuid de Faoite, Tony Condren, Eoin Geoghegan, Jean Law

Year: 2017

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Ireland


Tribeca 2017
EIFF 2017

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