It was inevitable, I suppose. Top Ten Lists, by their very nature, must needs be revised every now and then, and herewith I expand my Top Ten All-Time Movies set in the Middle Ages.
I’ve just watched an inspiring movie about the Middle Ages that literally bridges that era with the current one. It was so terrific that it gets an immediate pass to my top ten lists. Don’t ask me to bump any off the original list. (Click here to see the earlier list Part One and Part Two).
The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey is an Australia/New Zealand production about a small medieval community of people living in Cumbria in the far northwest of England, presumably as a way to escape the Black Death. A small boy has a dream that if they can place a cross on the steeple of a distant church, it will save the community — and possibly the world — from the Plague, which ravaged England and Europe in the 1300s. To reach the church, according to the dream, they must descend a great hole in the earth. A small group of them set out, and when they reach the end of the hole, they are in 20th century Auckland, New Zealand!
It is spine-tingling to see the reaction of this small medieval troupe behold the sight of a 20th century city from a hill, its carpet of lights and towering office spires spreading out below them. It is harrowing, watching them trying to cross a busy highway. A string of unlikely events leads to their finding a foundry, where they cast the copper cross for the cathedral, then make their way to the Auckland church with a missing cross, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Triumphant in their mission, the travelers return to their medieval world where they realize they have all played parts in the boy’s dream. And when they return to their village, the plague has indeed been eradicated. The film ends with a sad twist that I will not ruin for you.
This is a bit of fantasy, but its depiction of medieval peasantry, superstitions, the fear of the plague and the grittiness of life in the Middle Ages is beautifully realized, and reminiscent, in many respects to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. It is also nicely photographed, with the medieval sequences in bleak black and white, and the contemporary world in colour. A director can always take great liberties with plausibility when the story is in the context of a dream, but if the viewer is unable to suspend his or her disbelief, then the film will be difficult to watch. As an enthusiastic medievalist, however, I was more than happy with The Navigator.
Note: Added another new pick for the Medieval Movies List on April 4: The Reckoning. Click here to see the review.
The movie was heartily recommended to me by my good friend, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, an inveterate reader and film buff. When I told him recently about my novel, he began to rattle off books I had to read, films I had to see. He’s since fed me a few others, that I will check out. Alex is also a lovely writer and one of the finest photographers in Canada. Check out his blog here. You can see a wonderful selection of his photography here.