[Contains funeral pyres, totem-poles, and SPOILERS!!!]
The DVD cover for the UK release of The Pagan Queen (2009) is rather misleading, with a pull quote comparing it to Lord of the Rings, and a (heavily manipulated) image of the two leads with their swords up, stood behind a giant rearing snake, surrounded by a sea of armour-clad knights… all of which suggests an action-packed Fantasy flick, rather than the mildly-supernatural political drama that you actually end up with! That said, this wasn’t an impulse purchase for me, and I knew roughly what the film was about before adding it to my watch-list… but even with that forewarning I was still disappointed to see potentially intriguing themes and plot points reduced to a dreary, yawn-inducing dirge. Although it’s a very pretty looking film, I’m a word-man at heart and my mind tends to wander if the dialogue doesn’t spark… while many of the performances here were good, the bland writing and direction let them down, and made it a very hard for me to tune into what was actually happening.
Inspired by old-timey legends regarding the founding of Prague, the story follows a beautiful young chieftain’s daughter named ‘Libuse’ (Winter Ave Zoli), who possesses the power to speak with spirits and see into the future. Following their father’s death, her goth-y priestess sister ‘Teta’ (Vera Filatova) lobbies for Libuse’s promotion to tribal leader, much to the annoyance of their older sister, ‘Kazi’ (Veronika Bellová), who huffs off into the forest, to live with the animals. Libuse also has the support of her tomboy-ish gal-pal ‘Vlasta’ (Lea Mornar), who proves to be a fearsome warrior and loyal bodyguard. Nonetheless, the disgruntled menfolk don’t enjoy taking orders from a a woman, and insist that Libuse find a husband, so that their tribe can have a “proper” leader, and an heir to continue the royal line. Rather than letting the spirits guide her hand, or settling for one of the local landowners, she selects a hunky ploughman she’s been having a secret, sexy affair with. Unfortunately, Libuse has become so distracted by her work, she doesn’t realise that ‘Premysl’ (Csaba Lucas) has fallen out of love with her, and even bedded Vlasta behind her back! Consequently, their marriage is a cold, unequal, and inequitable one. Although he shares Libuse’s ambition to found a city on a cliff overlooking their sacred river, Premysl intends to rule said city as its pitiless patriarch, eschewing his wife’s occult counsel and slamming an “iron fist” down on anyone who opposes him. Vlasta quickly becomes his prime target after training a covert army of wives and daughters to assassinate any men they encounter, in a homicidal campaign to topple his tyranny, and claim Libuse as her own wife!
The duel between Premysl and Vlasta is over before it begins (think The Hound vs. Random Peasant, rather than The Hound vs. Brienne), and this disappointing, anti-climactic showdown is emblematic of the film as a whole, with a potentially explosive conflict between eco-friendly feminism and dick-swinging capitalism sputtering along like a clapped-out car with a dying battery. It’s a crying shame too, because Zoli and Mornar are equally mesmerising in their respective roles, and have an easy, enjoyable chemistry in their scenes together, but their performances are the only bright spots in a grey fog of meh. If only the Game of Thrones team could remake this film, and give these actresses more engaging material to play with!
P.S. I’m keen to check out more of Mornar’s work, and was delighted to discover that she also starred in the video for Muse’s “Uno”, as a confused woman trapped in a maze-like hotel corridor. She could have been number one!!