Monday, 14 August 2017

Pilgrimage. An Irish historical drama that's really worth watching.

Last night I watched a film where a man gets his face caved in and another man has his guts slowly pulled out of him. It was horrific. What was the name of this horror film you ask? Well it was no horror. It was a new Irish film called Pilgrimage and it was really rather good.

A group of monks living a simple life on the west coast of Ireland in the 13th century are tasked with bringing their monastery's relic to Rome. Brother's Ciaran, Cathal and Geraldos lead the pilgrimage along with young novice Diarmuid and a mute assistant with a mysterious past and no name. They face a difficult journey through the wilds of Ireland and things are made worse then the true importance of the relic is found out by others.

First things first, this story is nothing new. Mixed groups of warriors and followers wandering through desolate landscapes while being attacked from all sides have been a mainstay of genre cinema and direct to video movies for decades now. It's old hat stuff. But few have casts like this. Scenery like this. A unique blend of language like this.

I liked this a lot. Aside from the obvious hook of being a historical Irish drama/action film it's a very well made film. It's has bucketloads of beautiful Irish scenery that it uses well and it's full of characters you want to see survive the journey. It's well written too, efficient and fast moving yet still finds time to let us get to know our main characters and get a good sense of their motivations and loyalties.

The cast is cracking. The big international names and the ones who hopefully will draw an audience are Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal. Both are now famous because of their work with Marvel (Holland as Peter Parker and Bernthal as The Punisher) and they both do well here. Holland as Brother Diarmuid is very believable as a fresh faced and terrified baby monk and he also pulls off a very passable Irish accent. Bernthal as the Mute brings an immense and convincing physicality to the films more action packed scenes. Thankfully his non speaking role means we don't have to hear him with a brogue. Americans never do it justice.

Delivering meaty support are a handful of seasoned Irish actors, including John Lynch and Hugh O'Connor and both add a lot to the film. Lynch, a quiet dignity as a man prepared to suffer the trials of Job to protect what he finds scared and O'Connor adds a lot of heart in a quieter part. RĂșaidhrĂ­ Conroy appears too along with some other recognisable faces from Irish film and TV. Richard Armitage as the villain of the piece is solid too. A vicious bastard. A proper boo hiss baddie. They all look and sound believable importantly. They look the part. They don't sound like modern characters spouting ye olde timey dialogue.

One novel aspect of the film I really liked was the use of language. The monks speak subtitled Irish for the most part. Others speak French and English is used when they cross over. I liked it. The gaelic spoken adds a lot to the authenticity of it all. Nothing takes you out of a period setting faster than anachronistic use of language.

Some people will take issue with the violence in the film though. It vividly earns it's 18 certificate. Swords and arrows pierce faces. Entrails and brains spill. Blood splatters the landscape a lot. But it was a violent time and the film depicts it truthfully. If a little too gooily at times.

My only real issues with all are what I mentioned above. The story is nothing new and you have any experience of genre movies you will have an idea of what beats will be hit and who will survive. Also, and I know it fits the tone of the story, but the washed out look of the film can be quite dreary in places. It deadens some of the beautiful scenery and makes one big death scene hard to make out. But apart from that it hit the spot for me.

Director Brendan Muldowney and writer Jamie Hannigan have made a film to be proud of. A unique, compelling and exciting look at an Ireland we never see onscreen. Well worth a watch.

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