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. 

What was the shoot like in Ireland and Belgium? 
We 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.

It 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.

My 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 shooting.

Belgium 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.

There 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.

How did you ensure the budget went as far as it did? The production value is very high. 
It 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.

What 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 any way? 
I 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).

Do 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? 
That 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 believer.

Do you believe fear is an important component of faith? 
Not 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.

Did you also feel it was important to show the brutality of the period? 
I 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.

Why was it important to have characters speak in their original languages? 
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.

What 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.

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