The Little Hours – Medieval Misfire

An ensemble cast of talented comedians isn’t enough to save this poorly executed dark comedy lampooning scandalous behavior in the Catholic Church.

This isn’t the first time in history the Catholic Church has faced criticism for corruption and sexual impropriety, and The Little Hours (2017), written and directed by Jeff Baena, wants to remind us of that. Inspired by a fourteenth century Italian satire, this film’s poor quality and lackluster performances landed dead on arrival, missing an opportunity to successfully reboot a classic tale for contemporary audiences.

At an Italian convent run by Sister Maria (Molly Shannon), three young nuns, Alessandra (Alison Brie), Ginevra (Kate Micucci), and Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), are bored with their daily monotony and harass the elderly gardener into quitting. Meanwhile, Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman) discovers a servant named Massetto (Dave Franco) is having an affair with his wife. Massetto flees for his life, and runs into Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who got drunk and lost the convent’s embroidery on his way to the market.

Eager for a friend, Father Tommasso convinces Massetto to return to the convent and work as their new gardener, where he will pretend to be a deaf-mute to avoid being harassed by the sisters. Things get complicated when Alessandra, Ginevra, and Fernanda all scheme for Massetto’s affection. Is Fernanda’s strange behavior just repressed desire bubbling to the surface, or is something more sinister afoot?

The Little Hours is based on stories from The Decameron (c.1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian Renaissance humanist. As English writer Geoffrey Chaucer did for his own country in The Canterbury Tales (c.1400), Decameron satirized life in the Late Medieval Italian states through a series of short stories told by various narrators. The Little Hours takes elements from Day Three, particularly stories one and two.

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Outlaw King: It’s Not Braveheart

This Netflix film praised for its historical accuracy is missing that essential ingredient to make it great.

Robert the Bruce’s fourteenth-century rebellion against England is cinematically recounted in this Netflix feature that tries to cram as much history as possible in 121 minutes. Directed by David Mackenzie, Outlaw King (2018) brings to life all the intrigue and violence of late medieval feudalism. Though the film comes across as authentic and makes a genuine effort to get the history right, it lacks some essential ingredients to break into the top tier.

As the film opens, the defeated Scottish lords are vowing fealty to King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), including Robert Bruce (Chris Pine), Lord John III Comyn (Callan Mulvey), and Aymer de Valence (Sam Spruell). Robert has history with King Edward I’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), a weaker man who just wants his father’s approval. As a parting gift, King Edward I sends his goddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), to become Robert’s wife.

Things get complicated when Robert’s father dies, and Robert is left competing with Lord Comyn for the Scottish throne. When Robert learns King Edward I executed William Wallace, he senses an opportunity to renew the rebellion. Lord Comyn wants to remain loyal to England, so Robert brutally murders him in a church and then gathers an army. Unfortunately, Aymer de Valence has also remained loyal to England, ambushes Robert’s army in a forest, and destroys it.

Robert and a few companions are forced to flee. He sends his wife and daughter into hiding, where Edward, Prince of Wales captures them and brutally murders Robert’s brother. Robert decides to fight a guerilla war, culminating in the Battle of Loudoun Hill, where Robert uses the boggy terrain and clever tactics to his advantage. He defeats the English army and humiliates the Prince of Wales, who is revealed to be a miserable coward. Robert and Elizabeth are reunited and live happily ever after.

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