Written and Directed by Petr Jákl.
Starring Ben Foster, Sophie Lowe, Til Schweiger, Matthew Goode, Roland Møller, Michael Caine, William Moseley, Karel Roden, Jan Budař, Marek Vašut, Ondřej Vetchý, Vinzenz Kiefer, Magnus Samuelsson, Werner Daehn, Jennifer Armour, Sean Connor Renwick, Roman Šebrle, Alistair Brammer, David Bowles, Christopher Rygh, Guy Roberts, Martin Kavan, Viktor Krištof, Filip Antonio, Aneta Kernová, Romana Jákl Vítová, Denisa Pfauserová, Kevin Bernhardt, Zhang Lang, and Václav Jiráček.
The story of fifteenth-century Czech icon and warlord Jan Zizka, who defeated armies of the Teutonic Order and the Holy Roman Empire.
Billed as the most expensive Czech movie ever made and homing in on the mercenary years of future Hussite army leader Jan Žižka, one would presume that writer and director Petr Jákl (working from a story by his father, Kevin Bernhardt and Petr Bok, based on historical knowledge from Marek Dobes and Michal Petrus) would choose historical accuracy, going with an accomplished Czech lead to embody this revered soldier in Medieval.
It’s also possible that funding became difficult without an American in the starring role. But regardless of why and how, Ben Foster dons the knightly armor of Jan Žižka, entirely out of place with an inconsistent accent (and a poor attempt at that). That’s not to say this casting decision was never going to work (take a look at Ben Affleck in last year’s The Last Duel, finding a way to embody that character by way of slimy debauchery appropriately), but Ben Foster is a blank slate here and, as much as I hate to admit this, actively had my mind drifting off while trying to take in the dialogue and story.
Thankfully, a good portion of this 2+ hour running time is dedicated to barbaric action sequences. While they contain far too many jump cuts muddling what’s happening, it is nonetheless engaging to watch, considering the number of maimings and gory decapitations. There is a degree of authenticity to the pleasant savagery with convincing 1400- something A.D. period piece wardrobes (including battle armor) and shooting on location in the Czech Republic. If there is one major knock here, it’s that while monochrome photography from Jesper Tøffner fits the era of warfare, tyranny, and oppression, the visuals are aggressively bleak in a manner that drains any anesthetic positives beyond the color red.
Speaking of the ongoing war, the other half of Medieval involves much political scheming with nobleman Rosenberg (Til Schweiger) taking over various lands, clapping back against a rather unsuccessful Holy Roman Empire reign by Wenceslaus IV. Soon, Jan Žižka finds himself embroiled in what feels like a desperate, weak attempt at mimicking Game of Thrones, tasked with kidnapping Rosenberg’s fiancé Katherine (Sophie Lowe). Given the time and setting, marriage with Katherine is one key to ruling, meaning separating the two causes problems for Rosenberg.
Naturally, Rosenberg strikes back, ordering the deaths of some family members of Jan Žižka, escalating this into a personal feud. Over time, Jan Žižka and his mercenaries team up with a band of rebels looking to push back against kingdom terror. However, the more interesting scenes here (aside from the frequent bloodbaths) allow Katherine to use her voice against both her kidnappers and those committing horrible atrocities (there’s an especially horrific impaling of a teenager). The problem is that the only direction Petr Jákl has in mind is developing her and Jan’s dynamic into a corny love story as if everything else here wasn’t formulaic and limp enough.
Following up on the overall genericness of Medieval, it’s also worth pointing out that there are two video games being developed based on this movie. Maybe this will be the rare case where the gaming adaptations are superior to the films. There’s not that much of a bar to clear, and simply hiring a Czech voice actor for the role of Jan Žižka would solve some issues.
Even discounting the accent gripes though, Ben Foster simply doesn’t have the required intensity the role demands. He’s also let down by a script that feels more concerned with guarding for cliché and broad appeal rather than a winning study of this legendary historical figure. But at least there are plenty of decapitations.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com