Main cast: Tom Holland (Brother Diarmuid), Richard Armitage (Raymond De Merville), Jon Bernthal (The Mute), John Lynch (Brother Ciarán), Stanley Weber (Frère Geraldus), Eric Godon (Baron de Merville), Hugh O’Conor (Brother Cathal), Tristan McConnell (Dugald), Eóin Geoghegan (Crobderg), Rúaidhrí Conroy (Brother Rua)
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Set in 1209 AD, Pilgrimage tells of how a straightforward road trip of a group monks can and will go horribly wrong. It all begins when a French Cistercian monk, Frère Geraldus, arrives at a monastery in Kilmannán, Ireland. This monastery has a holy relic, said to be the remains of the apostle Saint Matthias, and Pope Innocent III wants it in Rome, because its supposed powers will be very useful in rooting out enemies of the faith. The monks in the monastery are not pleased to lose their relic, but with the Crusade recently launched in the Holy Land, it is not politic or safe to act like you’re the enemy of the Church in this particular instance.
Hence, a few monks set out to accompany Geraldus with the relic on a trip to Rome itself, with a mute layperson who remains unnamed through the entire movie at tow to do all the heavy mule work. Ireland is currently the battleground of Norman invaders and the Celtic tribes of the region, however, so Geraldus also enlists the services of the violent, ruthless Raymond de Merville and his men to be their bodyguards. What can go wrong with all these preparations in place, eh? As our protagonist, the novice Brother Diarmund and his mentor Brother Ciarán will sadly soon discover, plenty indeed. Poor Diarmund, this is his first time venturing outside of the monastery grounds too!
One thing is for sure: this is a gorgeous movie. The lighting is fantastic, and the scenery is breathtaking. Every scene seems to be set up to be as atmospheric and haunting as possible, and even then, with the use of appropriately thematic music, these scenes make it apparent that there is something not quite right, perhaps even sinister behind the beauty of the scenery. Thus, there is no way I can accuse this movie of not capturing the tone of the whole story perfectly. While there is nothing truly supernatural in this one to qualify it as horror, there is enough build up and violence to still bring on the tension and chills.
And then Richard Armitage’s character shows up, and it all goes downhill.
Here’s the thing: I enjoy looking at Mr Armitage. I love to listen to his voice. Between him and Jon Bernthal showing off that muscular torso of his the way God intended him to, I have no issues with the scenery here at all. However, with Raymond’s appearance the show begins to resemble a violent cartoon, as Mr Armitage hams up to such a degree that Raymond is always snarling, hissing, yelling, and being a complete Looney Tunes villain, only with extra homicidal mania thrown in. This character loves to monologue a lot too, the cartoon villain that he is. Then the Celts show up and they too behave like large hams to ridiculous degrees.
In case you are wondering, Tom Holland doesn’t really have much to do here aside from being the most blameless and idealistic member of the group – the bulk of the carrying of this movie to the finish line falls onto the shoulders of the older cast such as Mr Armitage, John Lynch, Stanley Weber, and Mr Bernthal, the latter letting his rugged good looks and ooh-mama torso doing most of the acting for him. Because a lot of the acting in the later half of the movie is pure ham and cheese, it becomes increasingly hard to take Pilgrimage seriously as the minutes tick by.
Still, there is enough action to meet the violent drama quota, so this one is a pretty decent film to watch on a lazy day. The hot men don’t hurt, too. Still, it will always be a shame to me that this movie could have easily been something darker and more compelling, only to settle for being a cheesy violent medieval-era crazy-versus-crazy slugfest instead.