The Golden Empire (a.k.a The Horde), 2012.
Directed by Andrei Proshkin.
Starring Maksim Sukhanov, Roza Khairullina, Innokenti Dakaiarov, Vitaliy Khaev and Aleksandr Yatsenko.
It is 1357. In the capital of the Mongol Empire the new Khan's mother has lost her sight. A healer must be found...
At its height, the Mongol Empire stretched over half of Europe and Asia, battering cities with a mixture of guile, cunning and sheer ferocity. Known for their ruthlessness and distrust of city dwelling and 'settling down', the Mongol horde scared the bejeesus out of pretty much everyone they came across. In short, the brood of Genghis meant business wherever they went. A bit like rampaging Hells Angels, but y'know, on horseback instead of Harleys.
Known as 'The Golden Horde', this team of medieval shit-stirrers were extremely bad news if you had the misfortune to come across them. And for a long time, they were literally banging on Western Europe's door.
Some of that sheer terror and sense of barbarian splendour comes across very well in this Russian historical film. Concentrating on events in the year 1357 - actually, after the height of their power, but this isn't supposed to be a history lesson - this production has the look and feel of an old fashioned epic.
Following a bitter fraternal fall out leading to murder and a terrifying matriarch's (Khairullina) loss of vision, the new Khan sends a pair of underlings in search of a miracle for his blinded mother. They think they find one in Moscow - then more of a hamlet of a town than a city - in the shape of the Metropolitan of Moscow Aleksei (Maksim Sukhanov).
The followers of the Khan don't give old Aleksei much of a choice; you and your son the Prince come with us and cure Taidula or we burn down your city. Simple.
The plot, such as it is, doesn't divert too much from this start point. But there are a lot of distractions, to put it mildly. From the Catholic missionary mocking kick off, the film is a riot of grimness; Russians being beheaded for being 'too tall', incestuous love games and a sham wizard receiving a viscous beating are just some of the pieces of local colour on offer.
Despite these (or maybe, because of them in these post Game of Thrones times) more 'suitable for older viewers' treats the whole has a distinctly TV movie atmosphere about it. On occasion, the script goes missing and the story seems hazy and confused. Plus, random grimness and suffering do not instantly lend sympathy to a character - it just happens to be there...
Still, having said this, history geeks might well find something of interest here. Although, merely saying at the film's conclusion that the Mongol (or known here as the Tartars) Empire fell and they became integrated into Russia isn't really good enough. We all know that direct descendent s of Genghis ended up in India to become the Mughal Empire lasting right through to the Victorian age... Ok, ok. Lesson over.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.