Review: 'Medieval' goes, well, medieval in this violent historical film

Posted December 06,2022 - 02:27 PM

As someone with a young child participating in her first band concert last night with her shiny new clarinet, I've been inundated with countless renditions of 'Good King Wenceslas' in the last several months. So, imagine my delight when I dug into Medieval and saw King Wenceslas on the screen.

Only one problem, he wasn't THE King Wenceslas of the fabled Christmas carol. Apparently, Kings Wenceslas are as common as Kings Henry in England and this story revolved around Wenceslas IV while the famous song is based on the original King. Five hundred years between them aside, I wasn't prepared at all for all of the exquisite violence that marked the end of the Middle Ages.

It's one thing to learn about the brutality of feuding nobility and the ravages of the plague in a history book. Still, it's something completely different to see it up on the big screen in technicolor.

Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and Academy Award Winner Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules) star in the action-packed historical epic inspired by the true story of daring mercenary leader Jan Zizka, one of the greatest warriors in history. After the death of its emperor, the Holy Roman Empire plummets into chaos while corrupt kings battle for control of the empty throne. To battle the tyranny and greed of those clawing for power, Jan must lead a rebel army in this sweeping saga of war and betrayal.

Right off the bat, if you're expecting all of the charm and romance of say Braveheart, then you'll be severely disappointed. That's not to say that the two middle ages-set films don't have similar parallels, but the sheer brutality of Medieval is probably more accurate than the glossy Hollywood film set in Scotland.

Ben Foster plays legendary Czech mercenary hero Jan Zizka and he certainly brings his usual weight to the complicated historical figure. You see, that's the problem with trying to bring these types of stories to the big screen, there's a wide swath of interpretation. Was Jan good or bad? Well, it depends.

We all are aware that history is written by the victors and as such, they naturally taint the accuracy of events with their own views and prejudices. Case in point, Jan Zizka was painted as both an outlaw by Rosenberg and a hero by Wenceslas IV. Which portrayal is correct? It depends on who you ask, but I assume the truth is somewhere in the gray palette that is featured prominently in Medieval.

As a hired mercenary, Jan probably found himself on both sides of right and wrong in his life and even in the film, his loyalties sway as his personal ethics are challenged by his actions. Political motivations aside, there is no debate that Jan was a legendary military tactician who was unparalleled in his time.

According to Czech folklore, Jan never lost a battle and continued to fight with his men until his death - despite losing both eyes over the course of his many battles. But, this film predominantly showcases the early life of Jan Zizka and the violence certainly takes center stage.

Set during the last vestiges of the Holy Roman Empire, the sheer brutality of this time period is on full display in Medieval. Whether it's death by lions or a nasty mace, violence was omnipresent during this time and the film maintains this reality throughout. While the film sometimes gets bogged down in the minutiae of the exposition, it shines when the words are put away and the battles are allowed to take center stage.

Like it or not, these depictions of violence do more to convey the atmosphere of the late Middle Ages than any history book. Whether the movie is a faithful adaptation of history is anyone's guess, but I think it's safe to say that it comes as close to it as anything that predates it.

Of course, if not, it really opens up the dangers of film as a political tool of misinformation, but I have not found anything in my research for this review to suggest that the broad strokes of Jan Zizka at least are correct. We do tend to glorify our heroes whether they be George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Jan Zizka, so I suppose everything should be taken with a grain of proverbial salt.

That said, I found Medieval to be both entertaining and insightful. While your mileage may vary, I'm confident in saying that if you like historical dramas, especially those with period-accurate violence, then Medieval will be right up your alley.

Featuring a dynamic cast including Michael Caine, Til Schweiger and Matthew Goode along with Foster, there is no shortage of Hollywood star power in this historical depiction. Together, they elevate the story to an even higher level one would equate to Hollywood films set in a similar time period.

Medieval is now available on Blu-ray and DVD, however, Paramount has restricted which accounts can sell it. So, unfortunately, you can't order Medieval from us directly, but you can order it on DVD from Target here.