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Essentially 108 minutes of woad-daubed Scots and begrimed English settlers slogging it out over a castle on the Scottish border in 1221,Ironclad: Battle for Blood isstructurally much like its predecessor, 2011’s Ironclad, which recounted the siege of Rochester Castle in Kent in 1215. Only this time it’s been rendered with less budget, a much less starry acting ensemble (sadly, there’s no Paul Giamatti chewing the masonry in a bad wig this go round), and less medieval-history-for-dummies backstory. Fans of the first film will be satisfied that the gore levels are about the same though. Directed, as was Ironclad, by Jonathan English (also the film’s co-screenwriter with Steven McDool and one of its producers), Battle for Blood had a miniscule release in the U.K. in March 2014, went straight to ancillary in a few European territories. It will be available on VOD in the U.S. from July 11, a week before it plays there theatrically in select theaters.
Towards the end of the film (and this isn’t really a spoiler), a character heard in voiceover says of another that “he left to fight in the 100 Years War in France.” Hold on a minute, you might think, how did he know that conflict would last a hundred years if it was still going on at the time? As it happens, the 100 Years War didn’t even start until the next century, but that clunky date-dropping, straining to show off a passing acquaintance with history, pretty much defines this franchise. In the first film, it was handled more adeptly, and the stakes felt higher given the story revolved around the refusal by King John (the aforementioned Giamatti) to honor the newly signed Magna Carta, the foundation of English law.
At least the siege of Rochester really did happen, whereas in Battle for Blood the fight is over an unnamed generic castle supposedly on the Scottish border (the movie was actually shot in Serbia) which has been occupied by English nobleman Gilbert de Vesci (David Rintoul), much to the disgruntlement of the local Celts, led by Maddog (Predrag Bjelac). A token effort is made to acknowledge the natives might have a legitimate gripe over this colonialism, but Maddog’s dialogue is mostly confined to howling and blood-thirsty cries for vengeance after his son (Ljubomir Bulajic) is killed in a skirmish. It’s a missed opportunity to exploit resonance with current events, what with the looming referendum on Scottish Independence coming up in September 2014, but the filmmakers are clearly more interested in hacking limbs than the severance of political unions.
On his deathbed after he loses and arm in battle, Gilbert is tended to by his wife Joan (Michelle Fairley from Game of Thrones, wasted here). He summons his young, battle-virgin son Hubert (Tom Rhys Harries) and orders him to find his cousin Guy de Lusignan (Tom Austen), a survivor of the Rochester siege who’s since become a Middle-Ages version of a cage fighter, killing for spectacle down south in England. Fans of the first film will work out that this character must be the same Guy played by Aneurin Barnard before, although the more limited Austen doesn’t have the same soulfulness as Barnard.
Agreeing only to help defend the castle for money, not honor as he ought to, Guy helps Hubert recruit a couple more hired hard men – traumatized Berenger (David Caves) and executioner Pierrepoint (Andy Beckwith) – and one woman, Crazy Mary (Twinnie-Lee Moore), a serial killer whom Pierrepoint was just about to execute. Off they go, in what seems like a ludicrously short space of time, back to Scotland and then it’s pretty much end-to-end slicing and dicing until the credits role. Roxanne McKee and Rosie Day are on hand as Hubert’s feisty and whiny sisters, respectively, to fulfill the required quota for endangered women and help the film pass the Bechdel test by a squeak.
Filmed in period-obligatory shades of sludge by returning cinematographer Zoran Popovic, the film reprises the stuttery, dropped-frame technique used for Ironclad for the action sequences which seems a lot more hackneyed and dated than it did in 2011. Roughly the same amount of fake blood is spilt as before, but the visual effects look a lot cheaper which rather drains away any sense of shock. Andreas Weidinger’s orchestral score, featuring choral elements and plenty of brass, represents a redeeming feature.
Production company(ies): A Content Media Corporation, Matador Pictures presentation of a Mythic International Entertainment production, in association with Red Production
Cast:Tom Austen, Tom Rhys Harries, Michelle Fairley, Roxanne McKee, Danny Webb, Rosie Day, David Caves, Andy Beckwith, Twinnie-Lee Moore, Predrag Bjelac, David Rintoul, Ljubomir Bulajic
Director: Jonathan English
Screenwriters: Steven McDool, Jonathan English
Producers: Rick Benattar, Andrew Curtis, Jonathan English
Executive producers: Jamie Carmichael, Nigel Thomas, Milos Djukelic, Marija Djukelic
Co-executive producer: Al Munteanu
Director of photography: Zoran Popovic
Production designer: Jelena Sopic
Costume designer: Tatjana Strugar
Editor: Laurens van Charante1
Composer: Andreas Weidinger
No Rating, 108 minutes
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