Niall Glynn goes on a journey to find meaning in Brendan Muldowney’s Pilgrimage, which screened at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh.
Pilgrimage tells the story of a group of Irish monks in the early 13th century called upon by their Vatican superiors to escort a relic of religious significance (and possible supernatural ability) back to Rome to turn the tide of the failing crusades in the Middle-East. Their journey is fraught with peril due to both the perilous landscape and the brutal antagonistic forces in pursuit with Norman invaders and superstitious brutal native tribes to contend with.
Marvel alumni Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal lead a stellar cast alongside a fantastic selection of Irish talent, including John Lynch, Hugh O’ Conor and Rúaidhrí Conroy. Completing the ensemble is Hobbit star Richard Armitage, smouldering in his role as the vicious villain, delivering his occasionally hammy dialogue with relish. Holland reinforces his position as one of the most talented young actors of his generation as he brings an air of honest naivety to his character despite the occasional hiccup with his Irish accent.
Bernthal was wisely cast as a mute given the poor history of American actors struggling with the Irish accent (Back to the Future 3 remaining my favourite example of how not to handle this) and brings a rugged physicality to his performance due to his action experience. The Irish language is utilized brilliantly in immersing viewers in the world of ancient Ireland and the amazing landscapes give a true sense of the scale of the titular pilgrimage and of the bleakness of this world.
Despite this however, the action sequences are easily the weakest aspect of the film. The overuse of shaky cam techniques feels incongruous with the period setting and the rapid cutting makes the fighting difficult to follow at all. Prior to the screening Galway Film Fleadh programme director Gar O’ Brien enthusiastically told the audience to be prepared for extreme violence, yet Pilgrimage uses its gore sparingly with a particularly nasty torture scene working with the themes and narrative rather than for shock value.
The real strength of Pilgrimage is its exploration of its theme of faith in a seemingly uncaring world and its questioning the use of violence in the name of religion. It’s a shame that the decision to focus on action was made rather than keeping it a quieter more meditative experience but, despite this, Pilgrimage remains an incredibly solid film that will keep viewers gripped throughout.
Pilgrimage screened on Thursday, 13th July as part of the 2017 Galway Film Fleadh (11 – 16 July).