Paul Verhoeven/ USA Netherlands/ 1985 /128 mins
Available on dual format Blu-ray/ DVD Mon 6 Aug 2018
An opening on-screen caption reads “Western Europe, 1501”. So we could be anywhere in Europeland – Italy, France… Filmed in Spain with an international cast and crew this was Verhoeven’s first English-language film. And all looks ravishing; castles ablaze, velvety costumes, clanking armour, action sequences on horseback. It would be a better movie if watched on mute.
The cast seems to have been on the Brian Blessed laughing gas. The cod-Shakespeare dialogue is transatlantic and quite dire. “What are you trying to pull?” asks 16th century mercenary Martin (Rutger Hauer) while the captured virgin princess (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sounds pure Valley Girl. Even the rain machine can’t produce a realistic downpour. There’s the usual demands for a jug of wine and purse of gold and much sack and pillage with a soupçon of pestilence thrown in.
This is a land devoid of heroes. And that’s what makes film interesting. Bad guys are run through with huge swords and wenches are keen to bed down at the drop of a codpiece. It’s Errol Flynn with added gore, bare norks, galloping hooves and no neat ending.
But wait up. Seen as an expensive satire on the sword and sorcery genre it just about works. There’s a deliciously transgressive anti-religion thread that runs through it and the kind of daring outrageousness fans of Outlander and Game of Thrones will love.
In the extras Verhoeven admits that Flesh +Blood wasn’t European enough for European audiences nor American enough to please the Americans. The movie may not be in the so-bad-it’s-good category of the director’s Showgirls, but it comes close.