The Reckoning


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Reckoning
"The various torture devices used here are all real but lose much of their horrific impact because the film is so over the top." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

What is it with the dearth of films set in Cromwellian England? There are any number of Medieval epics out there. but from those we generally skip straight to the heritage film. A year after Thomas Clay ventured into this territory with his excellent Fanny Lye Deliver’d comes the latest work from Neil Marshall, aiming to capture the energy of earlier-set feudal films and transfer it to a period when everything was in flux. This is the time of the Great Plague and the great witch panic in England; a time when faith in monarchs had faded but democracy as we know it today was yet to be born. With panic and suspicion everywhere, it has never been more dangerous to be a single, attractive woman.

Grace (Charlotte Kirk) isn't single to begin with, but when her landlord takes a fancy to her, her beloved husband doesn't last long. She buries him herself, comforts their small daughter and tries to find a way to pay the rent. When the landlord makes it clear that there's only one form of payment he wants, trying to force himself on her, she fights back, and that's when she really finds herself in trouble. Arrested and accused of witchcraft, she's thrown into a dungeon and subjected to various tortures in pursuit of a confession. The more she resists, the worse it gets. Inspired by the memory of her husband, determination not to bear false witness and sheer bloody mindedness, Grace sets herself against the system, ready to get justice or die trying.

With her carefully sculpted hair and very 21st Century contour-shaping make-up, Grace looks out of place from the outset, glamorous in a way that was decidedly unsafe for women at the time. That heavy make-up also makes it harder for her to act, at least in any subtle way, so perhaps it's fortunate that Marshall quickly turns the dial up to 11. Whilst her screaming and anger come across well enough, however, they are likely to exhaust the audience in a middle chapter which, for all its emotion, is narratively slow. Marshall has plenty of ideas, playing around with hallucination and possible temptation by the Devil, but there's too much repetitive human interaction to give them room to breathe.

Sean Pertwee clearly has fun along the way, shedding the loveable persona of Alfred in Gotham to play a vicious witchfinder. There's a bit of ham involved in this but his is still by far the strongest performance in the film and he creates a believable, human antagonist despite the exaggerated tone of the story. The various torture devices used here are all real but lose much of their horrific impact because the film is so over the top. Kirk can't really keep up, but comes out swinging in the final stretch when the tables are turned. Marshall told us that he wanted to create a female Braveheart-type character and he succeeds in capturing something of that spirit - for those viewers who are prepared to wait for it.

Lacking the depth of Marshall's previous work, and without much in the way of creepy moments or really gripping action scenes, The Reckoning has inevitably disappointed some of his fans. Despite this, it's easy to imagine it doing well on streaming services. Its unchallenging heroics may well be what people are looking for after their own long, slow plague year. Much of the acting is shaky and the emotions are mostly one-note, but once it gets into the action, it's spirited enough to get you through a slow Friday night with a couple of beers.

Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2021
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A period thriller set in 1665 during the Great Plague and subsequent witch hunts.
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Director: Neil Marshall

Writer: Edward Evers-Swindell, Charlotte Kirk

Starring: Sean Pertwee, Charlotte Kirk, Steven Waddington, Joe Anderson, Ian Whyte

Year: 2020

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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