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 second part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Muldowney about his experience of filming the movie, the influences on the film, and the themes of the film.
Part one of the interview.
was the shoot like in Ireland and Belgium?
had a great Locations Manager, Gordon Wycherley who spent a long time
scouting and showing us around various possibilities for the
locations. We decided on a unit base between Galway and Mayo to give
us access to locations in both counties. I can’t say enough
good things about the west of Ireland but as anyone who has spent
time there knows, it is amazing. It has an awe inspiring, ancient
feel to the landscape.
was easy to decide the split between shooting which parts in each
country. Ireland has the rugged coast and mountains and Belgium is
well known for its forests. So as the story was a journey
through Ireland from one coast to another, we bookended with the
Irish locations, and shot the middle forest section in Belgium.
lasting memory of Ireland is the changeable weather. The first
day of shooting was one of the worst days we
experienced. Gale-force winds and constant driving rain. Then
we experienced a heat wave. I also remember standing on the
beach in the sun and seeing a dark cloud on the horizon.
The AD’s would call out ''storm coming'', and
it would arrive 5 minutes later, and then we’d shelter
for 15 minutes before the sun came out again and resume
was slightly different as our first week was split days and night
shoots. The second week was our big ambush sequence, which we shot in
three days with a huge cast of extras. The logistics of managing that
amount of people was huge. The crew doubled to cope with the extra
demands of costume, make up, catering etc. My first assistant
director, Charlie Endean, went on to first AD the Game of
Thrones episode 'Battle of the Bastards' and told me they had three
weeks to shoot that battle sequence, so I feel proud of what we
achieved in three days.
was a third country involved – Greece. We shot a prologue which was
set in Cappadocia 55AD and needed somewhere hot and desert like. We
ended up in a live volcano on the Island Nisyros, which
was another spectacular location.
did you ensure the budget went as far as it did? The production value
is very high.
was an incredibly ambitious project for a relatively small budget. We
were dealing with period costumes and production design, horses,
stunts and fights, water and boat work, SFX, VFX and four
languages, not to mention 100% of the shoot would be exterior and at
the mercy of the Irish weather. We had to be clever and work out the
best and cheapest ways of shooting the script. I put a lot of work
into location scouting and my own director’s prep.
were some of the films you looked at before starting the movie? Did
the book or film of the original Silence serve as an inspiration in
haven't seen SILENCE (1971) yet so no. I also avoided Game of Thrones
till after I finished shooting. We discussed Werner Herzog’s
AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972), Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961),
Andrei Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV (1966), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s
THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986), Nicolas Winding Refn’s VALHALLA RISING
(2009), Christopher Smith’s BLACK DEATH (2010), Ingmar Berman’s
THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF FEAR
(1953), and John Hillcoat’s THE PROPOSITION(2005).
you feel PILGRIMAGE is essentially a tale of two opposing viewpoints
– of faith versus pragmatism? Is it fair to say the film is wary of
organised religion and more in favour of personal faith?
would be a fair enough appraisal. However, I think how you interpret
the ending and the themes within depend on your own personal faith
and worldview. An atheist will take a different view than a
you believe fear is an important component of faith?
necessarily, I was trying not to dump on people personal faiths but I
do believe that any organisation that becomes as big and powerful as
the Catholic church, more like a corporation in a way, is open to
corruption and using immoral ways to keep its power.
you also feel it was important to show the brutality of the period?
come from the school that violence in films should have consequences.
As in it should be truthful to the ugliness of it. I remember growing
up watching films and TV shows where people would get shot and fall
out of screen bloodlessly and it sanitised it. Made it exciting
rather than repulsive. So when I saw something like TAXI DRIVER (1976), it
felt more raw and real.
was it important to have characters speak in their original
It helped the
films authenticity. It isn't historically accurate as we've replaced
Latin with English and we're using modern French and Gaelic. It
helped delineate the different tribes and allowed them to use
language to keep secrets from each other or even test their
background and where they are from.
would you like audiences to take away from the movie?
I hope they
enjoy the unique setting of monks on the edge of the known world at
the time, the exploration of religion and politics, and a good
old-fashioned action thriller.
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.