Sean Bean - ‘Ulric’
Although the setting is far removed from modern times, many issues will frighteningly resonate with audiences today, particularly in terms of the themes of the time: religious intolerance and the fear of global pestilence.
The year is 1348.
In this apocalyptic environment, the church is losing its grip on the people. There are rumours of a village, hidden in marshland that the plague cannot reach. There is even talk of a necromancer who leads the village and is able to bring the dead back to life.
Ulric (Sean Bean), a fearsome knight, is charged by the church to investigate these rumours. He enlists the guidance of a novice monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his band of mercenary soldiers to the marshland, but Osmund has other motives for leaving his monastery.
Their journey to the village and the events that unfold take them into the heart of darkness and to horrors that will put Osmund’s faith in himself and his love for God to the ultimate test.
Sean Bean “Ulric”
RADA trained and award-winning British actor Sean Bean’s distinguished career has spanned film, TV and theatre over the past twenty years. Major highlights have included the role of Boromir in Peter Jackson’s acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy for which Bean received the Best British Actor accolade at the Empire Awards; as well as several other notable prformances including Troy, Ronin, Goldeneye, Don’t Say A Word, National Treasure, Flight Plan, The Island, Silent Hill, Patriot Games, Caravaggio,
Lorna Doone, The Field and Stormy Monday.
He first came to the attention of television audiences in the 1990s in the role of Richard Sharpe in the hugely popular series Sharpe, a role he recently reprised. Other major television dramas have included Channel Four’s celebrated Red Riding, Bravo Two Zero, A Woman’s Guide to Adultery, Lady Chatterley, Fool’s Gold, Inspector Morse, Clarissa, Prince, Tell Me That You Love Me, Wedded, The Loser, Troubles, Small Zone, My Kingdom for a Horse, War Requiem, Winter Flight, Samson & Delilah and The True Bride.
Notable theatre credits include the RSC’s Romeo & Juliet directed by Michael Boghdanov, Trevor Nunn’s RSC Stratford/Mermaid production of Fair Maid of the West, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and more recently Macbeth.
On Playing “Ulric”
“Ulric is an envoy to the Bishop and my task is to seek out disbelievers and people who are aggravating the situation. The Black Death is raging and rampant and the last thing the bishop or the church want are people turning their back on Christianity and creating heresy. Ulric is a man who wants to seek out these people, not necessarily to massacre the wholesale population but to seek out the leaders of these heretics and destroy them. He believes in punishment from God. He’s a very determined, very driven, very complex man. He never questions his faith, unlike Osmund, who is a young monk. As far as Ulric is concerned, you either believe or you don’t believe and if you don’t believe then you’re going to go to hell.”
Chris Smith - Director
Chris Smith graduated from
Smith’s first feature was the horror film, Creep starring Franka Potente and Sean Harris, which premiered in the Midnight Madness section of the 2004 Toronto Film Festival. His follow up feature was the horror/comedy Severance starring Danny Dyer, Toby Stephens, Laura Harris and Tim McInnerny which again premiered in Midnight Madness at
Projects in development include a big screen adaptation of Cherub: The Recruit based on Robert Muchamore’s novel for Sarah Radclyffe Productions and the original comedy Chameleon, which he will write and direct for Dan Films.
The History Behind the Project…
“It made complete sense to shoot the whole film in Germany, mostly in Sachsen-Anhalt, because it’s the medieval heartland of Germany” explains Phil Robertson, “It’s full of castles, monasteries, amazing landscapes, forests, mountains, lakes and marshes, so it was a natural
fit for the world of Black Death”.
“It’s a cracking story and Sean Bean was attached from the very beginning. Having seen Severance, when Chris Smith came on board I thought this movie was going to be a lot of fun to make” recalls Robertson. “Chris is a force of nature. He’s got a natural way about him with people, which is why I think actors adore him and on top of that he has an incredible
knowledge of cinema - he never lacks a reference for any scene, he knows film and that helps everyone understand what he’s trying to get across. He’s got an energy that he infuses people with. I’ve never worked with anyone like him, he’s completely unique - he goes off- piste and like all good directors he fights for what he wants”.
About the Production…
Langiva’s medieval village was created as a fully functioning village by production designer John Frankish with even the wood being specially sourced and his team building everything from scratch, but most of the actual locations in Germany were a gift to the production as producer Jens Meurer from Egoli Tossell explains, “We found just about everything we needed in real locations, mainly in Sachsen-Anhalt and the countryside of
Lutharstadt which were very potent parts of Europe in the 14th century and a lot of that is still standing including Querfurt Castle and Blankenburg Castle. The sets we built in original locations are incredibly convincing. For someone like me based in
One particularly unusual fact about Black Death and one that rarely happens on a film production these days is that it was shot in continuous sequence. Filming commenced at the beginning of the story and the last shot of the film was the conclusion of the story: “That somehow welded the crew and especially the cast together in a way that you don’t normally see”, notes producer Jens Meurer. “When you see our soldiers in the water cages towards the end of the story, the way that they are rallying together and the way that they’ve been banded together, really isn’t fake – it’s what happened to these actors on their journey. I think it lends a quality to their performance that one doesn’t usually see in a movie”.
The Look and Feel and Themes of the Film…
“Black Death is an entertaining, scary, frightening journey through a very intense time in history” explains producer Jens Meurer. “The plague was ravaging
Also, ironically enough, just as we started filming, Swine Flu broke out in
For a modern audience, finding contemporary relevance in a story is always something that appeals and during the course of his research to establish the correct feel for Black Death, production designer John Frankish uncovered some interesting parallels between 14th Century Europe and modern times, “People had no biological or scientific explanation for what was happening to them, so their only option was to run away from the disease, which a lot of rich people did; to blame somebody, which a lot of people also did - they persecuted the Jews at the time; or they could choose to pray very hard. Religion was a crutch to hold on to and it had very strong meaning in their lives; just as it does today for a lot of people in various situations around the world today. Religion becomes something by which your life is governed when you’re under attack, either from poverty or from disease or conflict and we try to show that in the film”.
Director Chris Smith elaborates further on this theme, “Osmund is a young monk who starts off as an innocent boy with faith, his dilemma whether he can love a woman and love God and if the church says no, is that right? What’s driven me with this film, is the idea of taking this devout boy and turning him into a fundamentalist killer. For this to happen, I needed to look at modern politics: the fundamentalists need something to hate so in this case, the person they hate is someone who hates them - Langiva. She hates Christianity and wants to eradicate it. So, we’ve shifted the religions around a bit but it’s quite clear what we’re doing”.
Although many of the locations were a gift to Production Designer John Frankish, creating the sets was still a tough challenge for him and his team as he explains, “You might choose a location for one image but you’ve got to make the rest of the scene work. Reclaimed timber was a major part of the look and it’s harder and harder to come by, so we started out by putting adverts in the local press in areas we were filming to see if people had barns that we could come and tear down and literally use timbers from old structures. We did a lot of architectural salvage ourselves to get the raw materials to then build the set. Fortunately we had a great team of carpenters who were happy to work with old oak beams, large pieces of timber, and they were doing authentic mortis and tenon joints. It was really hard work and reclaimed timber is not easy - you’ve got to clean it up first and put a lot of extra effort in”.
Interviews with Cast and Crew:
Chris Smith - Director
Q: What attracted you to the project?
A: As soon as I opened the script and it said ‘
Religious fanaticism is across the board - Sean Bean’s character Ulric is a religious fanatic. He believes in the absolute truth of God and the word of God and the need to enforce the word of God by the sword. Osmund is a more liberal Christian who believes that it’s OK to love a woman providing you love God and you are spreading the word of God in a good way by being a Christian in the true sense - someone who will help others before themselves. Because of what Osmund experiences, we turned him into a fundamentalist who has lost the true Christian side of his beliefs and has become like Ulric - a killing machine for Christianity. When you hear about suicide bombers in the news, it makes you wonder what the stepping stones were that took them down that road? I remember watching the news after 9/11 and a British journalist was interviewing an SAS guy and she asked how he could explain this ‘cowardly’ act. The SAS guy said he didn’t think it took cowardice to hijack a plane, it took determination. What has to happen to give you to that determination is what I find interesting.
Q: Take us through the casting process from the director’s viewpoint?
A: Sean Bean was always attached as Ulric. Sean’s one of my favourite British actors, so the chance to work with him was a big thing for me. I wanted the character of Ulric to be this almost pathological fundamentalist, someone who believes devoutly in God and that God’s will can be carried out by a sword. He was our centre-piece for the male characters, so we had to balance the other men around him.
The character of Wolfstan (played by John Lynch) is in charge of the men, he’s the Captain and he’s a good career soldier. The guy has seen it all and done it all. I needed an actor with experience, a profile and gravitas. I wanted someone similar to Sean in a way, because I wanted there to be this kind of conflict between the two of them. Putting Sean and John together created this energy. They were at drama school at the same time and they used to hang out together, so that gives a kind of energy too. The other really big role is obviously Langiva and I wanted someone who gave a physicality and presence that isn’t acted.
Carice van Houten has the most stunningly, beautiful face from another generation - I keep telling her she looks like someone who belongs in the 1920s, like a silent movie actress or the 1940s. She was so brilliant in Black Book and Valkyrie. Creating Langiva I had this image in my mind of the girl in the Fritz Lang movie Metropolis. I didn’t want to make Langiva a monster. This woman’s a leader, she’s a politician, she’s someone who runs the village with a hatred of Christianity which comes from the way the church treated her husband and her child. I didn’t want her to be a psychopath, I wanted her to be someone who has been corrupted by the influence of power. She’s created this kind of utopia in the village, but what’s the price to keep that? If someone threatens that village is it OK for her to kill to keep the village safe? I’m very interested in horror movies that have a political subtext because I think it makes them scarier.
I was aware of Eddie Redmayne who plays Osmund because he had such a very strong look which I liked. I felt that Osmund needed to be someone who had a divinity, who looked like a Holy person, who had a Jesus-like quality. On the page his character’s written as a young lad, if you cast a lad in that role, it will be to all intents and purposes, a lad in a monk’s costume. We suddenly got a bit constipated by the idea that if he’s a monk, he can’t have a girlfriend, he can’t kiss her, he can’t have crossed the line, and all these things started to really play on us. I pushed for Eddie because he has these amazing eyes and this very striking look and he was just amazing as a young, innocent guy. With Eddie playing Osmund if he does kiss Averill or even if he’s been having sex with her, you’re not going to hate him because you’ve grown to like him and his natural calm, peaceful way.
Q: What was the biggest scene you shot?
A: The big scene in the movie is a big battle with all the guys with swords. I like fighting to feel dirty and real with energy and speed. Sword fights can be really boring in films – the more you let a stunt man work with an actor the more choreographed it will be. The stunt guys on this were great. I wanted to give the fight scene a kind of football hooligan feel and depending on the character fighting they’d all have their own style. Sean’s character is much more slick as he’s been trained, John Lynch Wolfstan’s is also pretty slick, Johnny Harris’ character is an animal, Andy Nyman’s Dalywag is a torturer and a madman, he takes pleasure in killing, he’s like the Telly Savalas character from The Dirty Dozen - he’s rubbing blood on his face and he kills someone and carries on. I really wanted it to have a visceral feel where suddenly you get to this scene where it all just moves up a gear.
Sean Bean “Ulric”
Q: What did you like about his project when you first read it?
A: I’ve always been interested in that period of history. At school I think most kids were fascinated by the period because it was quite macabre, quite gory, quite scary and the fact that millions of people in
I’m also very interested in how people were governed by religion, the great faith that was attached to religion and the power that was attached to it. When this terrible catastrophe came along it affected the power and the influence of religion for many years to come. I was fascinated by the script because it deals with the moral issues of religion and faith and the moral dilemma of what to believe in when there is such tragedy, chaos and mayhem, almost like hell on earth. The choice was very limited then, you either believed or you didn’t believe. If you didn’t you were skating on very thin ice from all different quarters. That’s why I was attracted to the script because it wasn’t just a horror story - it wasn’t about people being burned, it wasn’t about witches and bats flying around and horror for the sake of horror. The whole structure is based around the dilemma of religion and how far one goes to protect oneself from these horrors by belief.
Q: What’s it been like working with Chris as a director?
A: He’s a very good director all round. He’s really on the ball with every character and how the story’s developing. He’s not too reverential to the script or to the period in time and he’s very open to suggestion. I think we’ve brought the words off the page very well. You come to set you in the morning and things develop into something that is totally surprising. I think Chris has really helped bring it alive – he’s a real artist in that sense and he also has that sense of reality, that pragmatism that he brings to us and to the characters. He has a real talent for bringing out the best in people and it’s been such a joy to work with him. He has a very relaxed manner but he’s also very determined and serious. We’ve achieved a lot without the angst and anxiety that’s sometimes associated with making a film of this nature.
Q: What’s it been like working in
A: It’s been wonderful working over here. The landscapes and the locations we’ve been to have been fantastic. In Sachsen-Anhalt we’ve had such support and generosity from the people and the community. I think it would be difficult to achieve what we have elsewhere. The buildings, the forests that are here – they’re just perfect locations for making a film like this.It can be difficult working in another country when there’s a language barrier but everybody here has been wonderful. There’s a fluidity to this production which is the result of the German crew really getting behind it, really throwing themselves into it.
Q: What scenes have you enjoyed shooting most?
A: The fight scenes were good because they were so realistic. I think Chris Smith has probably seen quite a lot of fights in his life at
Q: What’s the appeal of this film?
A: I think it’s something that will appeal to a wide audience. Today we all have our own choices, but in those days there was no choice, you either believed or you didn’t believe and you better be careful if you didn’t. I suppose today most people live in a democratic world and a liberal society, people do have the choice and we’re not punished for not having the belief that everybody else has and I think that’s a healthy situation for society to be in.
But as we know, there are extremists and once that starts to simmer over into fanaticism then it’s dangerous. I think it’s up to the audience what they want to believe – I’m sure there are some who will think Ulric has a point and I’m sure others will believe he’s a kind of monster. I personally believe he’s quite a good man for that period of time.
Q: Can we talk about the relationship between Ulric and Osmund?
A: One of the most interesting elements of the story is the relationship between these two men. They’re both men of God but Osmund is a younger man who questions things, as I suppose we all do when we’re younger. He questions the notion, if there’s a God, why are there such disasters, why does he allow these things to happen. Ulric has gone beyond that point and he says it’s God’s will throughout the story. Ulric does respect Osmund. Maybe he can see something of himself in Osmund. Regardless of Ulric’s hard line take on religion, Osmund does respect him and he can see what Ulric is trying to get across. Later in the film you see the repercussions of how Ulric has influenced Osmund. It’s a very complex situation between the two of them - there is antagonism and conflict but there is also a mutual respect.
There’s a very poignant moment between them when Osmund says that Ulric has no heart and Ulric is quite devastated and hurt by that. He’s appalled that this should be leveled towards him and he goes on to explain that he had a wife and child but ‘they sit at God’s side now’. At that moment you see something of the man he was and it makes you question how he came to be who he is today and that’s something I always bear in mind when I’m playing a character. Ulric has a history and that’s probably always simmering below the surface. There’s an unhappiness and a sadness to him. He’s not a cruel man but I believe he has seen many things in his life that are devastating and maybe that’s why he’s been driven to take such a hard line on religion, on God and continuing his great faith.
Carice van Houten “Langiva”
Q: What attracted you to this project?
A: When I heard that title I thought, yeah that’s my film and when I met Chris our director and Phil Robertson one of the producers, they completely convinced me that they were going to make something really special and really realistic. We wanted to show what it was like during those times. Chris is such a creative spirit and has such a wonderful smart, brain you just want to go with him.
Q: How’s it been working with Chris Smith as a director?
A: He’s just such a lovable character. There’s no way that you cannot like him. He has this child-like spirit and he’s very, very honest. You want your performance to be good so his face lights up. I really like Chris and would work with him again immediately.
Q: How’s it been working with your co-stars? You’re the female lead in this amongst a lot of British male actors – how’s that been?
A: I don’t think I’ve ever been on a set where there’s so much talent and so little ego. It’s really wonderful and they are all wonderful human beings. They’re all such sweet, loving, caring, interesting and funny men. They gave a lot.
Q: How was it working with Sean Bean?
A: Sean Bean – he’s a star of course. Sean Bean is a name. He’s a very gentle man and he keeps himself to himself which makes him really interesting. There’s no ego with Sean.
Q: How’s it been working in
A: It’s great to work in
Q: Can you tell us about the world of Black Death and what fascinated you?
A: That time wasn’t a happy era. The Black Death was horrid. During these times the power of the church was so enormous and I think that’s when religion started going the wrong way, it was based on guilt. Religion doesn’t work if you have to preach it, if you have to convert people, if you have to feel guilty, if there’s something controlling your life. People should be able to make up their own minds and think for themselves. I think religion can really be a beautiful thing, but you have to take the good out of it. During that period of history, people were so afraid and so controlled by the church. I like playing a woman who is quite a modern-thinking human being. She’s more in contact with the earth than she is with God. She feels you should trust your own spirit and your own thoughts.
I don’t think something else should control your life. You should make your own decisions, you should follow your own intuition, rather than depending on one power that controls everything. That makes people scared and it makes them dependent.
Eddie Redmayne “Osmund”
Q: What did you know about the era of history and what attracted you to the project?
A: I found the era extraordinary. The Plague is something we Brits read about and flit over in history classes, but how insane was it? A massive proportion of the population was taken away in a matter of months. So, I look at that period with fascination. I also thought about those apocalyptic moments, when the world is in a point of change, what does it do to people? It makes them question their faith and everything they knew to be real and actually it becomes about brutal survival which is what this film is about. That’s what interested me – the adventure within that context. The little boy in me got excited even though I didn’t get to be one of the real soldiers and have all the fun fights. I got to witness all the fights and bounce around in a monk’s outfit!
Q: What is it about this project that will appeal to a modern audience?
A: I don’t want to infer too much about religious fanaticism, but the film takes place in circumstances of a crisis in
Q: What are the key themes in the film for you?
A: There are various themes - young love, repression and how heightened emotions can get when everything in your world is suddenly changed within a matter of months. I think there are undertones of fanaticism but also of autocracy. Carice, Tim McInnerny, Chris and I had big discussions about the idea of these people in the village being evil. Actually there’s a great argument that God has been used against them by Christian fanatics. They are up against these incredibly aggressive believers and have created their own kind of island, their own state for the greater good in response to that. I suppose that’s the great argument that came with communism or all these various ‘isms’ that have happened in the world that have been ultimately flawed, but they still came and had certain success at certain times throughout history.
Q: What scenes have you enjoyed most during this shoot?
A: This job has been incredibly difficult from start to finish in a wonderful way. It’s been a lot of fun but Osmund’s story starts bad and just gets worse, so part of you as an actor is trying to work it out as you isolate each part of the experience. Osmund discovers that the forest he’s sent Averill to, is actually filled with savages and necromancers. So, when Ulric tells me that, I’m thrown into crisis again because I thought I’d sent her off to a place where she was going to be free and going to survive the plague. Arriving in the forest and finding the stole that I gave her covered in blood, I assume she’s dead. So, you isolate each experience and you react as if the person you loved was in this situation. Each experience is of pretty epic proportions and pretty extreme.
Q: What was it like working with the other actors?
A: One of the highlights has been working some of the best actors in
Q: You do have a fight scene though don’t you?
A: I’ve never done a fight scene before, but I do have a little moment with a stunt guy. These stuntmen are very strong and this guy was brilliant and he said to me ‘Mate don’t worry, whatever you want to do, kick me, whatever you hit, I’ll be fine’. Chris Smith was really excited about ‘my ninja monk moment’ as he called it, and told me to really go for it. So I did and right at the end I kicked the stunt guy full-on in the nuts! Given that I was meant to be aiming for his face, let’s say that my future career in action films is somewhat threatened I think. It was a lot of fun though.
Q: It’s been quite a physical role generally for you hasn’t it?
A: Yes, exactly. I’ve spent weeks going through swamps in these heavy monastic clothes which was hilarious in a way because my monk’s habit gradually got longer and longer as the water stretched it! I was covered in sand and muck for a large chunk of the film and every day you come home and have a shower and the shower is black and even when you get a couple of days off you’re excavating sand and dirt from ever orifice of your body! When we get to the village it was actually a relief to put on the villager’s costumes. Before that, it was all quite action-packed for Osmund - there was lots of legging it through forests, marshes and taking gulps of frog-filled water. When I first read the script I thought that would be fantastic but probably quite hellish. It has been hellish, but it’s been wonderful and exhausting all at the same time.
Q: What’s it been like working with Chris Smith directing?
A: I love working with Chris. He’s completely unique. I was initially a bit worried because of what Osmund goes through. I wanted to know exactly what his route through the film was. Chris promptly made it clear to me that it was no point trying do that and it’s been very liberating. Every day he comes up with new stuff and new ways to take the framework of the film. He’s made it so much more than what was on the page or what was in our imagination.
He has the most extraordinary imagination. Andy Nyman and Tim McInnerny have worked with Chris before and when we first arrived they both said to me ‘he’s a legend’. He really is and I don’t say that lightly. He’s taught me a lot and really challenged me and he doesn’t
mince his words.
Q: How’s it been working with Sean Bean?
A: One of the reasons I took this job was because I am fulfilling my mother’s fantasy as she’s fancied Sean Bean for years! It’s something we’ve heard her talk about endlessly in our family household. She’s been more excited about this than any job I have ever done. It’s been a real treat working with Sean. The man is not only a legend, he’s kind and brilliant and he’s intuitive as an actor. Also I’ve never seen someone who is built to sit on a horse like Sean. I remember his first day on set and Chris said ‘Sean, maybe when you see the Abbot you can just take your horse and just give him a sort of moody look’. At which point Sean said ‘What, like this?’ and did this look and Chris almost fainted with ecstasy! Sean is just amazing to watch. It’s been a pleasure working with him. Our characters are like chalk and cheese – I’m this soppy monk and he’s this incredibly strong knight!
Ulric - Sean Bean
Osmund - Eddie Redmayne
Langiva - Carice van Houten
Averill - Kimberley Nixon
Wolfstan - John Lynch
Hob - Tim McInnerny
Dalywag - Andy Nyman
Mold - Johnny Harris
Swire - Emun Elliott
Ivo - Tygo Gernandt
Griff - Jamie Ballard
Abbot - David Warner
Director - Christopher Smith
Screenplay - Dario Poloni
Producers - Robert Bernstein & Douglas Rae (Ecosse Films)
- Jens Meurer (Egoli Tossell Film)
- Phil Robertson (Zephyr Films)
Director of Photography - Sebastian Edschmid
Production Designer - John Frankish
Editor - Stuart Gazzard
Costume Designer - Petra Wellenstein
Casting Director - Karen Lindsay-Stewart
Notes to the Editor
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