You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Reckoning

If you take on a topic as unmarketable as a morality play set in 14th century England, you might as well assemble a killer cast and let the actors do what they do best. That's what Scottish helmer Paul McGuigan ("Gangster No.1") does with "The Reckoning," a mystery tale in which a troupe of thesps affects justice in a medieval village.

Nicholas - Paul Bettany Martin - Willem Dafoe Tobias - Brian Cox Sarah - Gina McKee Simon Damian - Ewen Bremner Lord De Guise - Vincent Cassel Martha - Elvira Minguez

If you take on a topic as unmarketable as a morality play set in 14th century England, you might as well assemble a killer cast and let the actors do what they do best. That’s what Scottish helmer Paul McGuigan (“Gangster No.1”) does with “The Reckoning,” a mystery tale in which a troupe of thesps affects justice in a medieval village. Paramount Classics is apparently hoping to build positive critical buzz with fest appearances leading up to pic’s theatrical bow this spring. But without rousing action scenes to lure younger auds, “The Reckoning” is going to be a tough sell.

“The Reckoning” has its flaws, among them a certain self-righteousness and a complicated storyline, but it is never less than gripping thanks to its gifted international cast. McGuigan, working from a script by Mark Mills (from the Barry Unsworth novel “Morality Play”), rightly gets things rolling with a compelling sense of urgency, brisk pacing, and a whiff of mystery.

Having committed carnal sins, Nicholas (Paul Bettany) is a priest on the lam. Alone in the woods, he happens upon a traveling actors’ troupe. Spiritually bereft and desperate, Nicholas asks if he can join them. Their fair-minded leader Martin (Willem Dafoe) agrees, despite the objections of the burly Tobias (Brian Cox) among others. Martin’s sister Sarah (the radiant Gina McKee) is drawn to Nicholas, though she senses that he conceals a dark secret.

Arriving at a village, the actors stumble upon the public trial of a mute woman (Elvira Minguez), sentenced to hang for witchcraft and the murder of an adolescent boy. Later they perform their stock material, “The Fall of Adam and Eve” to a tiny and disenchanted audience. Tired of small crowds and meager tips, Martin makes a radical suggestion: Why not perform a play based on the woman’s crime? It’s the 14th century variation on reality TV.

Seeking to flesh out their play, Martin and Nicholas question the villagers about the crime, but the townsfolk are uncooperative. They interview the accused murderer, who defends her innocence through sign language. Though tempted to believe her, Martin knows he must nonetheless stage the crime as the townspeople believe it took place. To their credit, McGuigan and Mills retain just enough ambiguity to cast doubt on any number of potential culprits.

The actors perform the new play to a large and zealous crowd, but when a villager demands to see a play about “the other boys,” the throng erupts in chaos. Monk Simon Damian (Ewen Bremner), rushes to inform the local authority, Lord Robert de Guise (Vincent Cassel, emanating sleaze), who banishes the players.

In a third act overflowing with red herrings and plot twists, Nicholas and Martin try to solve the boy’s murder and in the process discover sordid information about prominent townsfolk.

McGuigan elicits uniformly solid performances from actors whose individual styles are very different. McKee holds her own with the more visibly demonstrative Dafoe, who sounds distractingly American alongside the British cast. He contorts his body to perform physically rigorous gymnastics (Martin’s stage warm-up) and has never appeared so lithe.

Cox tempers Tobias to blend in with his fellow actors where appropriate, while rising star Bettany shows he can anchor a picture.

“The Reckoning”‘s most impressive player, however, is its stunning set. When scouting expeditions in England failed to yield a viable medieval village, the producers opted to create one in Spain. On the ruins of an abandoned gold mine, production designer Andrew McAlpine and his team built a thoroughly convincing 14th century town, complete with a castle for de Guise. Expertly lensed by Peter Sova, pic is rife with atmosphere.

The Reckoning

Production: A Paramount Classics release of a Renaissance Films production in association with Kanzaman/MDA Films. Produced by Caroline Wood. Executive producers, Stephen Evans, Angus Finney. Co-producers, Denise O'Dell, Sarah Halioua. Directed by Paul McGuigan. Screenplay, Mark Mills, based on the book "Morality Play" by Barry Unsworth.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Peter Sova; editor, Andrew Hulme; music, Mark Mancina, Adrian Lee; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; supervising art director, John Ralph; art director, Jillian Ashby; set decorator, Anna Pinnock; costume designer, Yvonne Blake; sound (Dolby digital/SDDS), Antonia Bloch, Matt Grime; associate producer, Mark Albela; assistant directors, Yousaf Bokhari (Spain), Mary Soan (U.K.); casting, Jina Jay. Reviewed Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 17, 2004. (Also in Santa Barbara Film Festival -- closing night.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With: Nicholas - Paul Bettany Martin - Willem Dafoe Tobias - Brian Cox Sarah - Gina McKee Simon Damian - Ewen Bremner Lord De Guise - Vincent Cassel Martha - Elvira Minguez

More Film

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

  • El silencio de otros

    Film Review: 'The Silence of Others'

    “Forgiven but not forgotten” is a platitude we routinely use to end disputes both petty and grievous, but it’s the reverse outcome — the mass forgetting of crimes and conflicts never truly resolved — that itches away at a post-Franco Spain in “The Silence of Others.” Soberly chronicling the ongoing legal battle of General Franco’s [...]

  • A Womans Work-The NFLs Cheerleader Problem

    Tribeca Documentaries Explore Gender Issues in Sport

    Up until recently, what it meant to be a professional female athlete in a world dominated by men wasn’t an issue that garnered high volumes of public interest, let alone national headlines. But that all changed in October 2017 when stories from the New York Times and the New Yorker detailing sexual allegations and improper [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content