08th Apr2012

‘Shadow of the Sword’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Steven Berkoff, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Julie Cox, Patrick Godfrey, Eddie Marsan | Written by Steve Attridge, Susanne Freund | Directed by Simon Aeby

When writing a story about history it seems that the easy thing to do is look at religion. It’s a subject that has created such division in society it just screams out plenty of themes for a writer to use and manipulate into an entertaining story. Shadow of the Sword is a perfect example of this. It takes a time in history when the church was all powerful in Europe and examines how corruption and greed can destroy not only the churches credibility but also the lives and friendships of the people it believes it controls.

Set in the times of the inquisitions, Shadow of the Sword looks at the friendship of two orphan boys Martin and Georg. One is chosen by the church and the other takes the way of the sword becoming the captain of the churches army. As time passes and Martin the captain returns back to the village a hero he takes the job of executioner which was promised to another more corrupt man, who through his own greed brings about a religious inquisition that not only tests friendships but tests the power of the church its self.

What interested me about Shadow of the Sword was that although it could have walked the path of being yet another film that attacks religion it takes another viewpoint. As an atheist I can take quite a more analytical view of the events and see the greed at play and the corruption. With some films like this it’s easy to try to show the evilness that religion is argued to create and make the story all about that, this one does not fall into that trap. It is more an argument about how people have a right to believe in what they want, and worship whoever they believe in in their own way without having to bow down to the control of the men of the church. Of course the people who have the control do not want this view to infect their congregation and look to control society, pushing their own beliefs onto people, which of course is doomed to fail.

One thing that really pushes this film to work is the cast. This is more a character piece than action, so to make the story progress it’s important that the actors can make the watcher believe the story they are viewing, and but for one or two minor characters they are all up for the task. Being a character piece though there are those moments where the story can drag on, but there are plenty of events taking place to keep the watcher interested and entertained. I was impressed by the number of layers to the story, from the effects events have on friendships, the corruption of the local government officials and the corruption of the church itself. The lack of action of course may not be to some peoples tastes but people interested in the time of the inquisitions or religious films themselves will find it interesting. It may not be up to the quality of films like The Devils but for what it is it’s entertaining enough.

Although this is a film where the storyline is quite predictable, it’s still enjoyable and one of the better pieces that look at this type of religious history. I found it refreshing that Shadow of the Sword was not looking at the “big bad” church and the effect it had on the society it sought to control, but more about how corruption weakens people with power and in turn destroys the control they fight for. It never disrespects religion itself as is easy to do, but more examines the people who try to cling on to power and the measures they take to do it. Slow at times, with surprisingly little action, it’s more a film to think about than to eat popcorn with, even if there are a few blood splattered decapitations to keep the blood thirsty gorehounds happy.

Shadow of the Sword is out now on DVD.

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