Black Death

Black Death

Carice Van Houten in BLACK DEATH, a Magnet Release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Black Death (2010/2011)

Opened: 03/11/2011 Limited

Screenings03/11/2011
Cinema Village...03/11/2011 - 03/31/201121 days
Sunset 5/LA03/11/2011 - 03/24/201114 days
DVD05/10/2011

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Historical Horror

Rated: R for for strong brutal violence, and some language.

Synopsis

The year is 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death. As the plague decimates all in its path, fear and superstition are rife. In this apocalyptic environment, the church is losing its grip on the people. There are rumors of a village, hidden in marshland that the plague cannot reach. There is even talk of a necromancer who leads the village and is able to bring the dead back to life. Ulric (Sean Bean), a fearsome knight, is charged by the church to investigate these rumors. He enlists the guidance of a novice monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his band of mercenary soldiers to the marshland, but Osmund has other motives for leaving his monastery. Their journey to the village and events that unfold take them into the heart of darkness and to horrors that will put Osmund's faith in himself and his love for God to the ultimate test.

The History Behind the Film

BLACK DEATH was developed by Robert Bernstein and Ecosse Films who approached Phil Robertson and Chris Curling at Zephyr Films following their success in raising the finance on The Last Station starring Dame Helen Mirren, which was shot and produced in Germany. Bernstein was looking to finance BLACK DEATH out of Germany, so Zephyr immediately took the project to German producer Jens Meurer and his company Egoli Tossell, their partner on The Last Station. "Jens jumped at the chance to be involved," recalls Phil Robertson "he immediately saw the potential of BLACK DEATH and as with The Last Station was able to raise the funding for the film almost entirely out of Germany". Egoli Tossell and Ecosse then produced the film out of Germany in association with Zephyr Films.

"It made complete sense to shoot the whole film in Germany, mostly in Sachsen-Anhalt, because it's the medieval heartland of Germany" explains Robertson, "It's full of castles, monasteries, amazing landscapes, forests, mountains, lakes and marshes, so it was a natural fit for the world of BLACK DEATH. Working again with Jens Meurer was also a natural fit as the team had enjoyed such a successful collaboration on The Last Station which was shot with the support of the government of Sachsen-Anhalt. Meurer was able to raise further financial support from the government for BLACK DEATH along with some regional funds and the support of MDM, MBB, Mecklenburg Vorpommern and the DFFF.

Neither Egoli Tossell nor Zephyr Films had ever embarked on a horror film before, but "I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed. It's a cracking story and Sean Bean was attached from the very beginning and I loved the idea of working with him. Having seen Severance, when Chris Smith came on board I thought this movie was going to be a lot of fun to make" recalls Robertson. "Chris is a force of nature. He's got a natural way about him with people, which is why I think actors adore him and on top of that he has an incredible knowledge of cinema - he never lacks a reference for any scene, he knows film and that helps everyone understand what he's trying to get across. He's got an energy that he infuses people with. I've never worked with anyone like him, he's completely unique - he goes off-piste and like all good directors he fights for what he wants".

The period when the film is set is very evocative -- death and poverty were rife and it's a world modern audiences don't really have any experience of, "It's a fascinating period in history and one we all remember as kids when we were learning about history" notes Robertson, "I think all kids love exploring that stuff -- they want to know what a bubo is, what the Black Death was, what was it like to live surrounded by rats and filth".

Although the setting is far removed from modern times, there are a lot of issues audiences will relate to in terms of the themes of the time, religious intolerance and fear of global pestilence, "You only need to see what's happened in recent years, whether it's SARs or Swine Flu, there's a general fear that something big and nasty might happen in today's world" comments Robertson. "That's exactly what happened in the 14th Century - the Black Death came, the plague ravaged the whole of Europe and half the population died. Today everyone is in fear of something, but they're not sure what it is. Whether it's what's happening in world religion or whether it's natural disasters, there's a kind of expectation that something horrible might happen. The people of the 14th Century had to deal with that and something really horrible did happen".

The script of BLACK DEATH also deals with religious belief. During the 14th Century it was very black and white - you believed in God, God was almighty and you never questioned belief in him. "There's relevance today because there are also believers in the modern world who do not question their faith" says Robertson. "In our film, Ulric (Sean Bean) is the envoy to the Bishop and he doesn't question his faith -- he does everything necessary to abide by the rules. Then, you have our young monk, Osmund (played by Eddie Redmayne) who has been educated in a monastery and has a very concrete belief in God and Christianity, which is then brought into question because of a girl. The drama unfolds when Osmund sends the girl to an unknown place to flee the plague, and as the story progresses he realizes he's sent her to a pretty horrible place - he's sent her to hell on earth."

The Casting

British actor Sean Bean has been a long-time supporter of the project and was attached for a couple of years before the financing was in place. Bean's endorsement of "BLACK DEATH allowed the producers to build a very strong supporting cast around him. "Sean brings a certain gravitas and he inhabits the role of Ulric -- it came totally naturally to him. He's a hard man and he looks fantastic on screen. We're lucky to have him, it's been just great working with him and the other cast all love working with him. His character Ulric is the envoy to the Bishop and is the guy who has presence when he enters a room. Sean has a presence and he brings that onto set and makes everyone lift their game" notes producer Phil Robertson.

Rising British talent Eddie Redmayne was a valuable addition to the cast line-up in the role of Osmund as Robertson explains, "When Chris Smith and I saw Eddie's casting tape we knew we had our Osmund immediately. He's a classically trained; thinking actor and the role of Osmund is one which plays a lot in the head, so we needed an actor with whom you could really feel what they're thinking. Eddie's fantastic and he's thrown himself into the role completely, he's in nearly every scene, it's been physically demanding as he's had to run up mountains, run through forests, then on another level his character is struggling with his faith. It's a hugely demanding role and the way Eddie's tackled it has been absolutely great".

The female lead of Langiva was a critical role to complete the line-up. The character essentially comes from another world so she needed a mesmeric quality. Carice van Houten's name came up during the casting process and both Chris Smith and Phil Robertson were excited by the suggestion of her as a possibility, "She walked into the casting, we took one look and we said, 'we've got our Langiva'. She completes that casting triangle with Sean and Eddie". German producer Jens Meurer had worked previously with van Houten on Paul Verhoeven's Black Book and the Dutch children's film Spoon and he was keen to collaborate with the actress again, "I'm really happy to be reunited with her here in Germany to film again -- she's become an honorary German".

About the Production

Set in England in 1348, directed by a Brit, with a mostly British cast, BLACK DEATH was shot from April 2009 over seven weeks in Germany in the English language but is technically a 100% German film.

Much of the German crew from Zephyr and Egoli Tossell's last collaboration, The Last Station were reunited for BLACK DEATH which was a joy for producer Phil Robertson, "They're so utterly professional and they're all real filmmakers. We have Sebastian Edschmid back as our cinematographer and that gave us that good feeling of being in safe hands".

Langiva's medieval village was created as a fully functioning village by production designer John Frankish with even the wood being specially sourced and his team building everything from scratch, but most of the actual locations in Germany were a gift to the production as producer Jens Meurer from Egoli Tossell explains, "We found just about everything we needed in real locations, mainly in Sachsen-Anhalt and the countryside of Lutharstadt which were very potent parts of Europe in the 14th century and a lot of that is still standing including Querfurt Castle and Blankenburg Castle. The sets we build in original locations are incredibly convincing. For someone like me based in Berlin, I didn't even know that there were mediaeval towns like Quedlinburg that are still intact. We were so lucky we didn't need to do any studio work whatsoever".

Sachsen-Anhalt where much of the film was shot is a German state that was formed as a province of Prussia in 1945. When Prussia was disbanded in 1947 the province became Sachsen-Anhalt. In 1949 it became part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In 1990 it was reintegrated as a state in the course of German reunification after the Berlin Wall came down.

One particularly unusual fact about BLACK DEATH and one that rarely happens on a film production these days is that it was shot in continuous sequence. Filming commenced at the beginning of the story and the last shot of the film was the conclusion of the story: "That somehow welded the crew and especially the cast together in a way that you don't normally see" notes producer Jens Meurer. "When you see our soldiers in the water cages towards the end of the story, the way that they are rallying together and the way that they've been banded together, really isn't fake -- it's what happened to these actors on their journey. I think it lends a quality to their performance that one doesn't usually see in a movie".

The Look and Feel and Themes of the Film

BLACK DEATH is an entertaining, scary, frightening journey through a very intense time in history" explains producer Jens Meurer. "The plague was ravaging Europe, people were dying and it was also a time full of superstition and fanaticism and it's that fanaticism, if you look closely, we can relate it to our present world. Some of the characters in BLACK DEATH actually remind me of Donald Rumsfeld leading us all not to a secret village in mediaeval Sachsen-Anhalt, but into Iraq with a similar argument: "we are on a journey of the righteous; we're battling the axis of evil." I think the extremism and fanaticism of people who are utterly convinced of the validity of their position just hasn't changed, which is frightening in itself. Also, ironically enough, just as we started filming, Swine Flu broke out in Mexico and you could see that nothing's really changed - people's instinct is to be afraid of disease. I think the hysterical reaction that we saw to Swine Flu in 2009, again, shows that it's a very deep-seated human fear of the upheaval that disease can bring just as it did back in the time of the Black Death".

For a modern audience, finding contemporary relevance in a story is always something that appeals and during the course of his research to establish the correct feel for BLACK DEATH production designer John Frankish uncovered some interesting parallels between 14th Century Europe and modern times, "People had no biological or scientific explanation for what was happening to them, so their only options was to run away from the disease, which a lot of rich people did; to blame somebody, which a lot of people also did - they persecuted the Jews at the time; or they could choose to pray very hard. Religion was a crutch to hold on to and it had very strong meaning in their lives; just as does today for a lot of people in various situations around the world today. Religion becomes something by which your life is governed when you're under attack, either from poverty or from disease or conflict and we try to show that in the film".

Director Chris Smith elaborates further on this theme, "Osmund is a young monk who starts off as an innocent boy with faith, his dilemma whether he can love a woman and love God and if the church says no, is that right? What's driven me with this film is the idea of taking this devout boy and turning him into a fundamentalist killer. For this to happen, I needed to look at modern politics: the fundamentalists need something to hate so in this case, the person they hate is someone who hates them - Langiva. She hates Christianity and wants to eradicate it. So, we've shifted the religions around a bit but it's quite clear what we're doing".

Production Designer John Frankish is a regular collaborator with director Chris Smith and Frankish enjoys the freedom Smith gives him as a designer and he found the prospect of designing BLACK DEATH a very attractive one, "The middle ages is a fantastic period to design and there's a lot known about it, so this project was full of opportunities".

Frankish was to keen to keep the authenticity but to make the sets work for the story. In order to achieve the right look for the film, he spent the first four weeks researching the period as thoroughly as he could. The artifacts and records from the time were quite thorough, "But as any archaeologist will tell you that isn't the whole story, so we did as much authentic research as we could, then we just got on with designing the film".

Fortunately for Frankish, the location of Sachsen-Anhalt is very Romanesque, so there were lots of ruins and cathedrals, castles and old monasteries. "We often had to cobble together two or three places to make up one place, so the monastery is comprised of four or five different exteriors, an old castle, a church, but all thankfully all from the period that we're filming in".

One of the most apparent visual elements to any film set in mediaeval times is the presence of smoke. "Wherever you went in the Middle Ages, it was smoky" explains Frankish. "With a film like this, if you don't have smoke, you don't have the right atmosphere. Part of the whole set design, the look of the film and the reason we shot on 16mm was because we wanted a war documentary style. We wanted a lot of hand-held camera work and quite grainy stock to enhance the credibility of what you're seeing".

Although many of the locations were a gift to John Frankish, creating the sets was still a tough challenge for him and his team as he explains, "You might choose a location for one image but you've got to make the rest of the scene work. Reclaimed timber was a major part of the look and it's harder and harder to come by, so we started out by putting adverts in the local press in areas we were filming to see if people had barns that we could come and tear down and literally use timbers from old structures. We did a lot of architectural salvage ourselves to get the raw materials to then build the set. Fortunately we had a great team of carpenters who were happy to work with old oak beams, large pieces of timber, and they were doing authentic mortis and tenon joints. It was really hard work and reclaimed timber is not easy - you've got to clean it up first and put a lot of extra effort in".

Interview with Director Christopher Smith

What attracted you to the project?

As soon as I opened the script and it said 'England 1348' and 'the Black Death' I wanted to do it. I've never seen a film that's dealt with the horror or violence of that period. The last film set during that period that really struck me was In The Name of the Rose which wasn't a horror movie but it was scary and atmospheric, it was filthy mediaeval England, it was always foggy, it was always raining, it was cold and everyone was cruel or a religious nut. I wanted our film to be real, because the reality itself is scary.

I'm interested in what makes people become evil and what makes people do bad things. The Black Death was real and it's a tragedy of epic proportions. I wanted the story to be about what was real in that period. The scariest thing during that time for me, apart from the Black Death itself, was the way people felt about religion. They killed thousands of women for being witches, but not one of them was a witch. I find that terrifying and that religious fanaticism came from fear and hatred at the time of the Black Death - the Jewish population was persecuted and accused of poisoning the wells. People of different religious orders are always blamed when something goes wrong and I think that that's interesting and that's very relevant today.

Religious fanaticism is across the board - Sean Bean's character Ulric is a religious fanatic. He believes in the absolute truth of God and the word of God and the need to enforce the word of God by the sword. Osmund is a more liberal Christian who believes that it's OK to love a woman providing you love God and you are spreading the word of God in a good way by being a Christian in the true sense - someone who will help others before themselves. Because of what Osmund experiences, we turned him into a fundamentalist who has lost the true Christian side of his beliefs and has become like Ulric - a killing machine for Christianity.

When you hear about suicide bombers in the news, it makes you wonder what the stepping stones were that took them down that road. I remember watching the news after 9/11 and a British journalist was interviewing an SAS guy and she asked how he could explain this 'cowardly' act. The SAS guy said he didn't think it took cowardice to hijack a plane, it took determination. What has to happen to give you to that determination is what I find interesting.

Take us through the casting process from the director's viewpoint

Sean Bean was always attached as Ulric. Sean's one of my favorite British actors, so the chance to work with him was a big thing for me. I wanted the character of Ulric to be this almost pathological fundamentalist, someone who believes devoutly in God and that God's will can be carried out by a sword. He was our centerpiece for the male characters, so we had to balance the other men around him.

The character of Wolfstan (played by John Lynch) is in charge of the men, he's the Captain and he's a good career soldier. The guy has seen it all and done it all. I needed an actor with experience, a profile and gravitas. I wanted someone similar to Sean in a way, because I wanted there to be this kind of conflict between the two of them. Putting Sean and John together created this energy. They were at drama school at the same time and they used to hang out together, so that gives a kind of energy too.

With the other actors we had to cast them very methodically. I'd seen Johnny Harris in London to Brighton and I thought he was absolutely awesome, so when his name appeared on a list from the casting director, I immediately cast him, just because I knew that he could bring a gritty quality to the character of Mold. There's a scene in the movie where he's looking at an ant's nest and you see he's trying to work something out, but you can never quite work out whether he's smart, or whether he's slow. All the way through the movie, he's trying to work out why he's doing this and whether he's doing it for money and he's got this ongoing psychology happening which I think is really interesting.

Emun Elliott was a young actor that Karen Lindsay-Stewart our casting director suggested. He plays Swire and he's just amazing. Swire's character was the least developed on the page but as soon as we put Emun in costume he became Prince Charming from the Adam and the Ants song! He looks like a rock star and so we decided maybe his character's is in it for money - he's self serving, he's the kind of guy who would be the fixer in the war, the kind of guy who's a bit of a chancer. He's a carefree character and someone who would annoy Wolfstan. Suddenly we'd found these two people who wouldn't get on and that creates a dynamic which, again, we allowed to come into the script.

Andy Nyman who plays Dalywag, worked with me before on Severance. I love Andy I think he's a great actor. Dalywag was written as a kind of sword-wielding knight but instead we came up with the idea of Andy playing him as a torturer, murderer and hangman and he's brought this twisted edge to the role that's really funny. Andy has a real on-set presence and his energy is infectious.

For the role of Hob who is right-hand man to Langiva I visualized someone who was a real presence behind her, rather like Geoffrey Rush's character in Elizabeth or Robert Duvall's character in The Godfather. I was desperate to work with Tim McInnerny again because I so enjoyed working with him on Severance. Tim's just brilliant in the role -- he'll be smiling, warm and happy but he does this thing where he holds his grins for too long and his body posture's strange -- he's playing Hob in this wonderful twisted way that makes you realize this character behind Langiva is really horrible.

The other really big role is obviously Langiva and I wanted someone who gave a physicality and presence that isn't acted. Carice van Houten has the most stunningly, beautiful face from another generation - I keep telling her she looks like someone who belongs in the 1920s, like a silent movie actress or the 1940s. She was so brilliant in Black Book and Valkyrie. Creating Langiva I had this image in my mind of the girl in the Fritz Lang movie Metropolis.

I didn't want to make Langiva a monster. This woman's a leader, she's a politician, she's someone who runs the village with a hatred of Christianity which comes from the way the church treated her husband and her child. I didn't want her to be a psychopath, I wanted her to be someone who has been corrupted by the influence of power. She's created this kind of utopia in the village, but what's the price to keep that? If someone threatens that village is it OK for her to kill to keep the village safe? I'm very interested in horror movies that have a political subtext because I think it makes them scarier.

I was aware of Eddie Redmayne who plays Osmund because he had such a very strong look which I liked. I felt that Osmund needed to be someone who had a divinity, who looked like a Holy person, who had a Jesus-like quality. On the page his character's written as a young lad, if you cast a lad in that role, it will be to all intents and purposes, a lad in a monk's costume. We suddenly got a bit constipated by the idea that if he's a monk, he can't have a girlfriend, he can't kiss her, he can't have crossed the line, and all these things started to really play on us. I pushed for Eddie because he has these amazing eyes and this very striking look and he was just amazing as a young, innocent guy. With Eddie playing Osmund if he does kiss Averill or even if he's been having sex with her, you're not going to hate him because you've grown to like him and his natural calm, peaceful way.

For the role of Averill I wanted someone who looked sweet who had a real quality to her, I wanted the audience to see that she and Osmund were in love and it wasn't just about sex. I wanted someone who didn't appear too sexually confident. Kimberley Nixon is brilliant. She's got it. She's a free spirit, she's versatile and when she speaks she has this authenticity and you really feel for her in a role.

Casting the Abbot was the final piece of the puzzle. I wanted the audience to recognize his face and realize he's an important character and maybe think he's going to be the necromancer. David Warner is an actor I've always loved ever since The Omen when I was a kid... He's a brilliant actor and to work with him was a real privilege and an honor.

Can you take us through the story briefly?

It's set during the time of the Black Death which wiped out 50% of the population of Europe and is about a young monk called Osmund who is torn between his absolute love for God and his love for Averill a girl he grew up with. He knows she has to leave the village or she'll die, so he tells her to hide in the forest. He prays to God for a sign and God sends him Ulric and his band of men who are on their way to investigate a village that's plague-free. This village, deep in the forest is the one Averill is now in. He leaves the monastery and heads to the village but realizes the men are not on a mercy mission, they're on a mission to kill a necromancer and he must get to Averill before she's killed by this demon.

What was the biggest scene you shot?

The big scene in the movie is a big battle with all the guys with swords. I immediately got the fear thinking about that scene! At worst it could have ended up being one of those re-enactments with loads of guys doing their sword fighting, and at best it could be a kind of Bourne Supremacy version of sword fighting. I wanted to see if there was another way. I like fighting to feel dirty and real with energy and speed. Sword fights can be really boring in films -- the more you let a stunt man work with an actor the more choreographed it will be. The stunt guys on this were great. Johnny Harris used to be a boxer and so he's got a very good physicality, so I knew he wasn't going to sword fight with all these special moves -- I just want him to get in there. I wanted to give the fight scene a kind of football hooligan feel and depending on the character fighting they'd all have their own style. Sean's character is much more slick as he's been trained, John Lynch Wolfstan's is also pretty slick, Johnny Harris' character is an animal, Andy Nyman's Dalywag is a torturer and a madman, he takes pleasure in killing, he's like the Telly Savalas character from The Dirty Dozen - he's rubbing blood on his face and he kills someone and carries on. I really wanted it to have a visceral feel where suddenly you get to this scene where it all just moves up a gear.

Interview with Actor Sean Bean

What did you like about his project when you first read it?

I've always been interested in that period of history. At school I think most kids were fascinated by the period because it was quite macabre, quite gory, quite scary and the fact that millions of people in Europe were wiped out because of it. The symptoms of the Black Death were quite horrendous and the graphic pictures you'd see in history books were almost like a small horror film within a history book. As a kid you wouldn't be very interested in corn laws or people weaving baskets in mediaeval villages but the Black Death was always something that one zoned in on, that was this very dark subject which I think still holds today, certainly for me.

I'm also very interested in how people were governed by religion, the great faith that was attached to religion and the power that was attached to it. When this terrible catastrophe came along it affected the power and the influence of religion for many years to come. I was fascinated by the script because it deals with the moral issues of religion and faith and the moral dilemma of what to believe in when there is such tragedy, chaos and mayhem, almost like hell on earth. The choice was very limited then, you either believed or you didn't believe. If you didn't you were skating on very thin ice from all different quarters. That's why I was attracted to the script because it wasn't just a horror story - it wasn't about people being burned, it wasn't about witches and bats flying around and horror for the sake of horror. The whole structure is based around the dilemma of religion and how far one goes to protect oneself from these horrors by belief.

Tell us about the character you play in this film

I play Ulric, who is an envoy to the Bishop and my task is to seek out disbelievers and people who are aggravating the situation. The Black Death is raging and rampant and the last thing the bishop or the church wants is people turning their back on Christianity and creating heresy. Ulric is a man who wants to seek out these people, not necessarily to massacre the wholesale population but to seek out the leaders of these heretics and destroy them. He believes in punishment from God. He's a very determined, very driven, very complex man. He never questions his faith, unlike Osmund, who is a young monk. As far as Ulric is concerned, you either believe or you don't believe -- if you don't believe then you're going to go to hell.

What's it been like working with Chris as a director?

He's a very good director all round. He's really on the ball with every character and how the story's developing. He's not too reverential to the script or to the period in time and he's very open to suggestion. I think we've brought the words off the page very well.

You come to set you in the morning and things develop into something that is totally surprising. I think Chris has really helped bring it alive -- he's a real artist in that sense and he also has that sense of reality, that pragmatism that he brings to us and to the characters. He has a real talent for bringing out the best in people - we've been working on this for about 4 weeks now and it's been such a joy to work with him. He has a very relaxed manner but he's also very determined and serious. We've achieved a lot without the angst and anxiety that's sometimes associated with making a film of this nature.

What's it been like working in Germany?

It's been wonderful working over here. The landscapes and the locations we've been to have been fantastic. In Sachsen-Anhalt we've had such support and generosity from the people and the community. I think it would be difficult to achieve what we have elsewhere. The buildings, the forests that are here -- they're just perfect locations for making a film like this.

It can be difficult working in another country when there's a language barrier but everybody here has been wonderful. There's a fluidity to this production which is the result of the German crew really getting behind it, really throwing themselves into it.

What scenes have you enjoyed shooting most?

The fight scenes were good because they were so realistic. I think Chris Smith has probably seen quite a lot of fights in his life at Bristol City's football ground! So, he's brought that kind of realism to it - the way he shot those fights was incredible. When you shoot a battle scene, you pick out moments and you shoot bits of the fight, but Chris actually got everybody in a real skirmish. There were swords flashing everywhere, boots flying, fists flying -- it was mayhem. I've worked on a lot of films from Troy to Lord of the Rings and those films had good battle scenes, but I've never seen a director use the time he has available and the people he has available to create such wonderful fights as in this film. Every fight has a story, every moment has a story. It tells you something about the characters and the evil that they are encountering. When you're watching these scenes you're probably thinking you'd do the same thing because you really are fighting for your life. It's not very often that as an audience you feel you can sympathize in that way.

What's the appeal of this film?

I think it's something that will appeal to a wide audience. It has a historical background, it has moral dilemmas that we're still dealing with today and it's depicted in such a way that you can believe that this could happen again if people associate plagues or famines or natural disaster as a punishment for the sinful way we've been living. Today we all have our own choices, but in those days there was no choice, you either believed or you didn't believe and you better be careful if you didn't.

I suppose today most people live in a democratic world and a liberal society, people do have the choice and we're not punished for not having the belief that everybody else has and I think that's a healthy situation for society to be in. But as we know, there are extremists and once that starts to simmer over into fanaticism then it's dangerous. I think it's up to the audience what they want to believe -- I'm sure there are some who will think Ulric has a point and I'm sure others will believe he's a kind of monster. I personally believe he's quite a good man for that period of time.

Can we talk about the relationship between Ulric and Osmund?

One of the most interesting elements of the story is the relationship between these two men. They're both men of God but Osmund is a younger man who questions things, as I suppose we all do when we're younger. He questions the notion, if there's a God, why are there such disasters, why does he allow these things to happen. Ulric has gone beyond that point and he says it's God's will throughout the story. Ulric does respect Osmund. Maybe he can see something of himself in Osmund. Regardless of Ulric's hard line take on religion, Osmund does respect him and he can see what Ulric is trying to get across. Later in the film you see the repercussions of how Ulric has influenced Osmund. It's a very complex situation between the two of them - there is antagonism and conflict but there is also a mutual respect.

There's a very poignant moment between them when Osmund says that Ulric has no heart and Ulric is quite devastated and hurt by that. He's appalled that this should be leveled towards him and he goes on to explain that he had a wife and child but 'they sit at God's side now'. At that moment you see something of the man he was and it makes you question how he came to be who he is today and that's something I always bear in mind when I'm playing a character. Ulric has a history and that's probably always simmering below the surface. There's unhappiness and sadness to him. He's not a cruel man but I believe he has seen many things in his life that are devastating and maybe that's why he's been driven to take such a hard line on religion, on God and continuing his great faith.

 

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