PILGRIMAGE is a new film from Irish filmmaker Brendan Muldowney, the man behind the revenge thriller SAVAGE (2009) and the mystery drama LOVE ETERNAL (2013). Set in 13th century Ireland, PILGRIMAGE is a brutal, thought-provoking religious adventure drama telling the story of a group of monks transporting a Holy relic to Rome, and coming up against not only the unforgiving climate and vast wilderness but also treacherous pacts, and dark secrets from within their group. The film stars Tom Holland (SPIDER MAN: HOMECOMING), Jon Bernthal (TV's The Punisher), John Lynch (CAL, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER), and Richard Armitage (TV's Spooks/ M:I5, THE HOBBIT trilogy). It's a fascinating historical story, atmospherically and compellingly told, with committed performances from its cast. In the first part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Muldowney about what attracted him to the project, and the pre-production of the movie.  

When did you first come across the screenplay? What initially attracted you to it? 
The writer, Jamie Hannigan, pitched me the idea of monks travelling through 13th century Ireland dragging a relic and they are ambushed. I liked this period in Irish history that hasn’t really been explored before, I liked the religious and political themes, I liked the fact that we could utilize the Irish landscape and I liked the suggestion of an ambush and some action.

Do you feel the story has a special relevance for modern audiences? 
I think that themes dealing with faith and a belief in God are always relevant and never go out of date.

What is your biggest personal connection to the material? 
I was brought up in a country that still had the church very firmly in control of society. Not so much now but I saw the use of fear to control and I also witnessed hypocrisy as certain revaluations came to light in recent years - clerical abuse and cover ups and mother and baby home deaths.

What excites your imagination the most about the medieval period? 
I'm not sure, but I have explored it before in a short film called THE HONOURABLE SCAFFOLDER (2003). I suppose it's the raw and brutal lives people lead back then. It allows very primal drama and conflict to be on the surface.

How historically accurate is the film? 
As accurate as we could afford on our budget. The writer, Jamie Hannigan, did five years of research. I started reading selected books about a year before and my Production Designer, Owen Power, began research and discussions with me about six months before shooting.

Did the project take a long while to get financed? 
First it was a pitch, then a treatment, which was submitted to the Irish Film Board. Then it went through a development process which took four or five years with as many drafts. I worked closely with the writer throughout the whole process. Once our exec producers and sales agents (XYZ Films) came on board, it was probably a year to finance and cast.

What made you decide to cast Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage?
It was a combination of our casting director Dan Hubbard and XYZ Films, the executive producers that dealt with the agencies and got cast books put together for me. I watched Tom Holland in THE IMPOSIBLE (2012) and HOW I LIVE NOW (2013) and thought he was excellent. I had a Skype call with him and offered the role to him on the spot. Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage were cast soon after from the same agency – WME.

Were you privy to Tom and John's emotions as they prepared to audition for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING and The Punisher? Did you give any advice? 
Not really. They were very professional and kept it to themselves for the most part. I did know and wished them the best of luck.

Part two of the interview. 

Trailer 1 and 2 for the movie.  

PILGRIMAGE is now available on VOD and in select theaters. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

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