DIR: Brendan Muldowney • WRI: Jamie Hannigan • PRO: Conor Barry • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Mairead McIvor • Production Desing: Owen Power • MUS: StephenMcKeown CAST: Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal, Richard Armitage John Lynch|
I have long felt that our more distant history has too rarely been explored on screen. By ‘more distant’, I mean any period prior to the 1916 Easter Rising. I was thus eagerly looking forward to Brendan Muldowney’s latest project as director, written by Jamie Hannigan, which is set in 13th century rural Ireland.
There is a degree of risk in taking on unchartered territory and there is a particular challenge in creating a terrain from such a distant era. Muldowney’s ambition has been rewarded with distribution deals for the US rights and ten further territories.
There are themes in this film which have contemporary relevance. One of the principle themes is reliance on blind faith in challenging and dangerous situations. Such faith may not necessarily guarantee deliverance as we see several times in the course of this film. Another theme is the risk of betrayal in situations where there is a struggle for military and political power.
At its heart, the film is a road movie set in Norman times. It has visual and musical echoes of the journey depicted in Roland Joffé’s The Mission. The core plot centres on a cross country journey by a group of monks who are carrying a historic holy relic across Ireland. The relic is bound for Rome at the request of the Pope. But before Rome, they must reach the mecca of Waterford.
It is trip that is fraught with danger and uncertainty in a politically unstable and violent Ireland. Along the way we see some stunning scenery. The photography at times has a bleak and mournful quality in keeping with the physical and internal journeys of the pilgrims. There is a genuine feeling of being transported back to a different Ireland replete with warring tribes, some of whom are in league with the Norman conquerors.
Muldowney’s debut feature film in 2011 was as writer/director of Savage. The production company adopted the title and retained the name of Savage Productions for subsequent productions including this one. That title could equally have been applied to this film even though Pilgrimage is set eight centuries earlier.
Some scenes in Pilgrimage are not for the faint-hearted. The film opens with an execution by stoning. That is mild fare compared to what follows. There is an extended and brutal torture sequence later on. The film felt very authentic in terms of the period detail and it could be argued that such violence was an integral part of that era. But it made for uncomfortable viewing.
There were at least four languages featured in the film (at the last count), which also seemed authentic in the context of the plot.
The ensemble cast were collectively very well cast and credible. This included Tom Holland (who has since been cast as Spiderman) in the role of the Young Novice. Holland is clearly a very talented actor and the story might have benefitted from more development of his internal and external journey in parallel with the journey at the core of the story.
John Lynch and Hugh O’Connor were also well cast among the band of brothers who as the journey progressed seemed to have a growing sense of fear and foreboding.
I had some misgivings around the portrayal of the Monk from Rome who was acting as the Pope’s envoy. This character who was essentially a religious zealot, seemed a little stereotyped.
Jon Bernthal as a Mute, despite having no dialogue, nevertheless managed to convey a great deal.
The score, composed by Stephen McKeon, was impressive from the start. The religious and monastic themes in Pilgrimage were adroitly complemented throughout by the sound-track. The music had a plaintive quality which appeared to resonate especially with the emotional journey of the monks.
Brian O Tiomain
18 (See IFCO for details)
Pilgrimage is released 12th July 2017