In England circa 1380, a troupe of traveling actors enters a world of strangers by going a stone's throw from home. In London at the time, Geoffrey Chaucer, writing about pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, has his Knight declare:"This world is but a thoroughfare full of woe, And we be pilgrims, passing to and fro. Death is an end to every worldly sore."
The actors conclude the same when they arrive at a village where a mute woman (Minguez), tried for the death of a local boy, has been sentenced, as a witch, to die. The actors, more sophisticated than the villagers, question the woman by sign language, and doubt her guilt. However, they unload their props and costumes from a lumbering covered wagon, and put on their old morality play about Adam and Eve. The locals don't show any interest; being more entertained at the prospect of hanging a witch. The players decide to create a play based on the woman's case, and the more they learn, the more they doubt she's guilty. The village is overrun by suspicion and corruption; nothing but fear has kept things quiet. The actors are stir things up.
One player, Nicholas (Bettany), isn't an actor but a priest who had an affair with a wife from his congregation. As he ran for his life, the troupe's leader Martin (Willem Dafoe) agreed to take him in. Martin's sister Sarah (McKee) is intrigued by Nicholas, but older actor Tobias (Cox) thinks they have too many players as it is. Such tensions arise as the troupe uncovers the village intrigues; Lord Robert de Guise (Cassel) orders them to leave.
Director Paul McGuigan, a Scottish filmmaker, also made "Gangster No. 1", in which hidden evil is revealed, and here shows a world in which characters are rigidly self-confident, under which is venom.
The medieval world in which superstition and ignorance were key in any criminal investigation.("The Reckoning" has elements of a thriller, but works, with a simple plot and eccentric characters. Bettany's priest offers mercy because he himself has needed it, after losing his status. We enter the real Middle Ages here, where peasant and lord alike lived with death and disease, and coped with through sorcery and superstition.
Paul Bettany, Willem Dafoe, Simon McBurney, Gina McKee, Brian Fox, Vincent Cassel, Elvira
Chaucer; witch trials, 1390 C.E.; morality play
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