Pilgrimage (2017)

  • Time: 96 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama
  • Director: Brendan Muldowney
  • Cast: Richard Armitage, Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal


Ireland, 1209. An island on the edge of the world. A small group of monks begin a reluctant pilgrimage across an island torn between centuries of tribal warfare and the growing power of Norman invaders. Escorting their monastery’s holiest relic to Rome, the monks’ progress is seen through the eyes of a pious young novice and a mute lay-brother with a violent past. As the true material, political and religious significance of the bejeweled relic becomes dangerously apparent, their path to the east coast becomes increasingly fraught with danger. The monks belatedly realize that in this wild land of ancient superstitions, the faith that binds them together may ultimately lead to their destruction.

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  • Faith has been used as both shield and weapon. Pilgrimage, the Irish medieval thriller directed by Brendan Muldowney, reflects upon this with sincerity but the film’s impact lies less on this meditation and more on its thrilling action sequences.

    Part of this is due to Jon Bernthal, who has been proving himself that rare performer who excels at both the physical and emotional. Here he plays a mute living amongst and working for a group of Irish monks tasked with guardian a sacred relic. Set in the early 13th century during the Fourth Crusade, the relic is an especially powerful symbol, not necessarily of faith (though it is that as well) but as a rallying cry for those believing that their faith is the one favoured by God’s infinite whimsy.

    The monks are visited by the white-robed Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber), who bears papal orders to bring the reliquary to Rome as the Pope believes it is the secret to winning the religious war. Four monks, including young Diarmuid (Tom Holland) who has never been outside the monastery, and the Mute are to accompany Geraldus and ensure the relic’s safety. Along the way they encounter Norman troops led by the dastardly Raymond De Merville (Richard Armitage), who soon enough reveals far more mercenary motives.

    Filmed in the West Coast of Ireland, the film offers stunning scenery – rugged landscapes, foreboding woods, endless expanses of sky, and mist slithering everywhere. Muldowney stages some gripping action sequences, using either the wide-open or claustrophobic spaces to maximum effect and certainly not skimping on the gore. Blood is most definitely spilled as heads are chopped off, limbs severed, and bodies impaled.

    Whilst Jamie Hannigan’s screenplay doesn’t allow for deeply textured characterisations, the main actors deliver solid performances that often reinforce how religion and politics are intertwined. Holland effectively conveys Diarmuid’s dawning realisation that the relic is being used as a pawn, whilst Weber finely demonstrates how, once Geraldus witnesses the Mute’s brute strength and believes him to be an extension of the reliquary’s power, his faith, for better or worse, defines his mindset. It is Bernthal, however, who makes the most lasting impression with is mesmerising, nearly wordless portrayal, combining savagery with melancholy grace.

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