• Publication date: September 23, 2010


In 14th century England a priest's vow to remain celibate was no laughing ...

In 14th century England a priest's vow to remain celibate was no laughing matter. Not to say that it is any different in contemporary times, but a modern man of the cloth would probably not face death or banishment from his own town for illicit sexual behavior. At worst he may be shunned by his community or lose his post; many such cases in recent news have resulted in a mere slap on the wrist. A former priest named Nicholas (Paul Bettany) experienced the church's form of medieval justice (or perhaps injustice) first hand in 1380. Admittedly his offense was more serious than being caught frolicking in a local brothel: Father Nicholas not only broke his sacred vow, but he did so with a married woman. A holy man unable to control himself when left alone with female parishioners would understandably meet opposition from the town's men – specifically those with wives. Nicholas is eventually expelled from the church and his town. He roams the surrounding forests with genuine regret, tormented by his conscience for breaking a religious covenant. Career opportunities for unemployed, shamed priests in the dark ages are not exactly abundant. Luckily Nicholas crosses paths with a traveling acting troupe that specializes in, by popular demand, morality plays. Since the plays are often derived from Biblical tales the fallen priest would be a perfect addition to the troupe. The traveling showmen feel uncertain about Nicholas though, sensing that he is hiding a secret. Since a cast member recently perished, however, the group's leader, Martin (Willem Dafoe) reluctantly accepts the wanderer as a replacement. Their first stop is a town whose inhabitants are determined to execute a young lady. Martha (Elvira Mínguez) is a suspected witch eventually sentenced to death after a string of small boys are slaughtered. Damning testimony from a Benedictine Monk (Ewen Bremner) corroborates authorities' accusations, and Martha's public execution is soon scheduled. Martin and Nicholas intuitively doubt the mute woman's guilt, a feeling reaffirmed after visiting Martha in her dungeon jail cell. Witnesses whose accounts lead to Martha's conviction refuse to answer questions about the validity of their testimony, hinting that they are fearful of retaliations, but from who? In a desperate attempt to uncover the truth the troupe creates a play based upon the murders. The aftermath of their performance indicates who the boys' true killer might be, but further investigation is required and the town's leader, Lord De Guise (Vincent Cassel) is pressuring the actors to leave immediately.