Written By Darren
Rating 3 out of 5
Medieval brings all the intense action that you could want from a historical action drama that is heavy on style, even if the screenplay does not nearly reach the heights it aims to.
Director Petr Jákl brings to life the early endeavours of one of the most prominent heroes of the Czech Republic in what is the most expensive Czech film made to date. However, instead of casting Czech actors in the role, Jákl opted for an international cast of prominent actors to help the story reach a wider audience. Knowing this, it is less confusing why none of the actors bothered with a Czech accent for the film, which was something that confused me as I initially questioned why this film has a cast that includes Ben Foster, Michael Caine and Matthew Goode as none of them are remotely Czech.
The film tells the early adventures of Jan Žižka, one of the most famous Czech military commanders who never lost a battle during the Hussite Wars from 1419-1434. For Western audiences, the film tackles a segment of history that most of us know very little about this era of history or Žižka as a figure. Unfortunately, the screenplay does little to enlighten the audience on either of these. The film’s story revolves around a single event which in turn helps build up the turmoil that led to the Hussite Wars. We get a very small glimpse into Žižka as a character, we only get to understand him as a man and a historic figure through the events of the story.
The story itself focuses on Žižka, who is hired by a lord to kidnap a nobleman’s wife to force the nobleman to fall in line behind the King of Bohemia and the Roman Emperor during a time of political unrest. It’s a generic story that scratches the surface of the historical figure it wants to build up in the audiences’ eyes, nor does it help the film that the woman at the centre of the story is written as a plot device rather than a fully developed character. Žižka’s historical importance isn’t revealed until the closing credit title cards, nor do we get anything more than a few answers to a multiple choice quiz on Žižka’s place in history.
Because of this, the cast is not given much material to work with. The film is lucky to have Foster, Caine, Goode, and Til Schweiger in the lead roles, as all four of them are accomplished actors who are able to elevate a weak script. They each latch onto the best elements of the script and develop them as best they can, while trying their best to create a fully fledged character within the narrow confines of this story, as there is so much more to the historical figures that they are portraying. The odd cast member out is Sophie Lowe as Katherine, the nobleman’s wife who is kidnapped. The script does her no favours as she quickly goes from damsel in distress to being at the centre of a forced romance, which gives her character nothing interesting to do. But beyond that, Lowe is still early on in her career and does not possess the experience her co-stars have to elevate her writing above the script, leaving her character as the most frustrating character of the film.
However, what the film does have to offer are some great and brutal action sequences that earn the film its R rating. They are bloody, large in scale, and exciting to watch. Never for a second are the scenes sanitized, as you see body parts cut off and blood flying as a result on multiple occasions throughout the film. The sound editing and mixing aids in this, allowing you to hear every clash of swords, arrow shot, and scream as a body part is removed from a body. Combined with some good cinematography that captures both the large scale of these action sequences in wide shots, the mist filled environment of their settings, and some good close ups of the more intense moments of the action. It is everything you wish for from a historical epic like this.
Also, where Hollywood would construct elaborate sets full of detail, the production design team takes a more simplistic approach to the sets and costumes. While it's not what audiences are used to, it is a more realistic framing of the story as it matches what history tells us of the time period, because not every castle is Versailles or Buckingham Palace. There is enough to enjoy about Medieval, from the grand battle sequences with an unrelinquished intensity and love for blood, even if the cast is left with a script that fails to impress the historical significance of Jan Žižka on the audience.