08th Oct2015

‘The Physician’ DVD Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Tom Payne, Ben Kingsley, Stellan Skarsgard, Olivier Martinez, Emma Rigby, Elyas M’Barek, Fahri Yardim, Makram Khoury, Michael Marcus, Stanley Townsend | Written by Jan Berger, Philipp Stölzl, Simon Block, Christoph Müller | Directed by Philipp Stölzl


When nine-year-old Rob Cole (Tom Payne) feels the life force slipping from his mother’s hand upon her death he is unaware that his gift of sensing impending death would lead him from 11th Century England to a medical school at Ispahan. At a time when Christians are banned from becoming a student at the school, Cole disguises himself as a Jew to become famed physician Avicenna’s (Ben Kingsley) student.

The Physician uses the history of medicine as the foundations of a story that focuses on the power of superstition and religion to hold back progress. In it we see how the Barber (Stellan Skarsgard) is held back from saving lives as to stand in the way of God’s judgement on sick people would be witchcraft. Through experiencing the work of Jewish doctors Cole realises that he must travel to Ispahan to learn true medicine, instead of the basic practices used in England. In the Muslim world we also see the power of religion as it not only views medicine with suspicions but the religious tensions and territorial battles cause a hostile environment just waiting to explode.

While Rob Cole’s search for enlightenment and knowledge is admirable his character is a very selfish one. Part of his fatal flaw which leads to danger not only for him but people around him is his acts of stupidity all in the aim of learning more. While it can be argued that this is how progress is made, the act of one individual to push knowledge to new extremes, to risk the lives of others and to disrespect the wishes of patients is not a good trait for the character to have.

Another issue with The Physician is the historical accuracy of the source material it uses. Ben Kingsley’s character for example has his story altered to fit a better narrative for the film. For the historically minded watching the film, this has a certain disrespect for an important person in medical history. Which is why what we see on the screen should be taken with a pinch of salt.

While historically inaccurate this doesn’t mean that The Physician is a bad film, in fact it is quite the opposite. Put aside the inaccuracies and take it as it is, a work of fiction and the film becomes an interesting and very well shot movie. Thankfully the religious tensions don’t overtake the medical side of the story and our focus is pushed towards important events such as fighting off the Plague, which I was thankful for. While religion does play a part, some films allow it to dominate the story and follow well tread paths. The Physician thankfully decides not to fall into this trap.

If you want a film that is purely entertainment, then The Physician is well worth a watch. At two and a half hours it does drag on a little bit too long, but at the end doesn’t feel like it wasted the time it was given. With commanding performances from the likes of Ben Kingsley, Stellan Skarsgard, and Tom Payne, The Physician is a very interesting tale, just don’t look for historical accuracy.

**** 4/5

The Physician is out on DVD in the UK now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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