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DVD Review

DVD cover

Shadow of the Sword


Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter McDonald, Eddie Marsan, Julie Cox and Steven Berkoff
Arrow Films
RRP: £12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 02 April 2012

In 16th Century Europe, orphans Martin (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Georg (Peter McDonald) rely on each other to survive in a world dominated by the church and its inquisitors. As they grow, their paths in life diverge, with Martin joining the army, rising to the rank of captain, while Georg joins the church, becoming the preeminent figure of authority in the area. Returning from war Martin falls in love with the Headsman’s daughter, eventually taking his place as the town executioner. When a holy relic is stolen, first the local religious dissenters then onto Martin, straining his relationship with Georg...

Shadow of the Sword (2005 - 1 hr, 44 min, 03 sec) is a historical drama directed by Simon Aeby, from a Steve Attridge and Susanne Freund script.

Although the film has much to commend it, the cinematography, sets, costume and direction are all entrancing; Aeby has produced a film whose overall tone is overly muted. It ends up looking good, but struggles to keep the audiences attention.

The relationship between the two boys is dealt with in a very perfunctory manner, only existing to introduce the characters and to have Georg taken away by the local archbishop to refresh the churches battalions. Time then zooms forward to meet both as successful men, Martin as a warrior and Georg as a member of the church.

The story then follows two differing, but converging threads. Martin falls for the daughter of the local executioner, problematic because in this society, whilst it may be a necessary job, the incumbent find themselves and their families treated like pariahs. Initially, this seems like an odd setup until you discover that the town fathers are a corrupt bunch, who think nothing of offing the locals just to get their estates. Georg, meanwhile, is coming under pressure to purge his town of unbelievers.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Martin) makes for an attractive leading man, even though the film gives him little to stretch his acting chops, being mostly restricted to brooding. His relationship with the lovely Anastasia Griffith (Anna) is realistically warm and believable. Peter McDonald (Georg) has less to do until his breakout confrontation with Martin, where a whole back story is briefly revealed and then, sadly, ignored.

The film is supported with some great character actors, including the excellent Steven Berkoff as the Inquisitor and John Shrapnel as the Archbishop. The best supporting actress has to go to Julie Cox who plays the feisty Margaretha.

The film touches on religious intolerance, with a preamble which tries to tie the story with recent states where church and state has become the same thing. Although, it hints at a reflection of fundamentalism, that bird never really flies, but it may explain why the acts of fundamentalist violence against the Anabaptists, or their sociopolitical background, are barely explained. What should have been just a revenge flick seems to have taken an unnecessary thematic layer which only distracts from the central story.

If you don’t mind the slow pace of the film, there is much to admire in the acting, directing and especially the attention to detail in creating this representation of the medieval world.

Technically the film is a reasonable DVD, with a fine detailed widescreen presentation. The disc contains no subtitles or extras.


Charles Packer

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