Director: Vladimir Bortko
Screenplay: Vladimir Bortko / Nikolai Gogol (story – ‘Taras Bulba’)
Producers: Sergey Danielyan, Ruben Dishdishyan, Aram Movsesyan and Anton Zlatopolski
Starring: Bogdan Stupka, Vladimir Vdovichenko, Igor Petrenko, Magdelena Mielcarz, Mikhail Boyarskiy and Vladimir Ilin
Duration: 125 mins
Iron & Blood starts with a rousing, patriotic speech from Taras Bulba (Stupka) to his weary 16th Century Cossack comrades that would put Mel Gibson’s William Wallace to shame. The film is a historical drama based on the real life Taras Bulba (from Gogol’s 19th Century work); the Ukranian Cossack war leader, fighting against the power-hungry and religiously dominant Polish Catholics. Bulba is Russian Orthodox and the animosity between two sides of the same coin smacks of the ongoing religious issues between Catholics and Protestants.
Bulba takes his two sons Andriy (Igor Petrenko) and Ostep (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) on the bloody campaign to oust the Poles from Ukranian lands but Andriy falls in love for the daughter of the enemy Polish noble. Bulba then has to decide which is more important – family or nation. It doesn’t end well.
Iron & Blood doesn’t really pull any punches with the graphic violence of the time either and one of the first instances of this – a murderer being buried alive under the coffin of his victim – is the standard which the film sets. The torture scenes would also put William Wallace’s to shame – these are real tortures. The film is also choc full of national Russian patriotism and propaganda which, in parts, began to grate. It seemed that most of the ‘featured’ characters had just enough time before dying to say how much they loved their country and comrades etc etc etc, but I suppose that’s what you get with such subject matter.
My one real complaint with Iron & Blood is its length. There can be little argument that the film is beautifully shot with sweeping vistas and huge battle sequences, and (in the main) is well acted, but at 125 minutes it does feel to drag in parts – particularly in the first hour.
The story of Taras Bulba whether truly depicted or ‘massaged’ for propaganda purposes is well worth catching for Iron & Blood’s sheer audacity of scale.
Iron & Blood – The Legend of Taras Bulba is released on DVD 22nd August
Review by Andy Goodman