BLOOD, MUD, AND THE CZECH NATIONAL IDENTITY:
’s 2022 film Medieval
Reviewed by Kevin J. Harty
La Salle University
The first word that we hear on the screen is “violence” in a voice over by Michael Caine (yes, that Michael Caine, no less), here cast as That one word sets the tone for the two hours which follow. Medieval (released in Europe under the title Jan ) bears no relation to previous examples of cinematic medievalism that were costume dramas, or even bigger-budgeted costume epics. Its closest cinematic antecedent is Mel Gibson’s 1995 film Braveheart, not PG-violent films such as Jerry Zucker’s 1995 film First Knight, or even Guy Ritchie’s 2017 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Like the patriotic roots of the Scots supposedly on display in Mel Gibson’s film, Medieval wants us to know that those of the Czechs are just as mired in blood and mud., ambassador extraordinaire for a Holy Roman Empire in political and religious turmoil.
Director ’s Medieval is an English-language Czech production that recounts the early years of the life of the storied Czech national hero, Jan
’s film, the complications are several. Wenceslaus is already deeply in debt to, but needs further funding from, the overly ambitious and wealthy Henry III of Rosenberg (Til Schweiger) to pave (bribe?) his way to his coronation. Wenceslaus’s half-brother, Sigismund, so far just King of Hungary (Matthew Goode), has the proverbial lean and hungry look and an overly sanctimonious attachment to orthodox Catholicism. Wenceslaus’s daughter, Katherine (Sophie Lowe), is a much sought-after pawn in all the political and religious chaos that surrounds her because she is marriageable (Rosenberg fancies himself her ideal spouse), because she is sympathetic to Hus, and because she is a niece of the King of France, who supports the other (in this case, wrong) pope. And, for good measure, oppressive taxation, political tyranny, and ecclesiastical abuses have so enraged the populace that revolution is already in the air.