Hey everyone, before I introduce you to the wonderful Rutger Haur-blessed world of Ladyhawke, I need to explain why this review is a little on the short side. I don’t discuss my job on this blog because my employer has a fairly, shall we say, broad remit in policing what its staff say about them online and I try to err on the side of caution. That said, I may have hinted over the years that I am…
Currently, work is absolutely crazy owing to the ongoing spectacle of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland going boom boom in its big boy pants. A French minister recently joked that she’d named her cat “Brexit” because it keeps howling to be let out into the garden and then refuses to leave when the door is opened.
I would say that the metaphor is accurate, except that the cat also has a bomb strapped to it and I’m not sure the garden is far enough to be outside the blast radius.
That’s why this review is a little short. As to why I’m only getting around to reviewing it years after the original request…that’s totally Brexit’s fault too. I swear.
Ladyhawke is an eighties fantasy movie with a cult following, he said, redundantly, because every eighties fantasy movie has a cult following. Find me a Wikipedia page for one of the breed that doesn’t include the words “cult following”. Can’t be done.
On dark nights, the adherents of Hawk the Slayer can be heard chanting in the woods, every solistice, the Cult of Krull sacrifices a virgin in a moonlit grove and don’t even get me started on what the Willow fans get up to. But Ladyhawke actually earns its cult status for two reasons:
1) It was a massive flop on release.
2) It’s actually quite good.
Now, let me qualify that. It’s good. But it’s eighties as fuck. In fact, take a look at the opening credits for me and imagine that it’s actually the start of a cop show about a hawk police officer busting cocaine cartels in Miami beach.
You’ll also notice some pretty high calibre talent in those credits. There’s Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Haur of course, Richard Donner who famously directed Superman and Stuart Baird, one of the most respected film editors in Hollywood. But then, he also directed Star Trek Nemesis, so fuck that guy.
Anyway, the movie begins in Ita…Fran…Francitaly, sometime before, during or after one of the crusades. It plays it pretty loose with historical setting, is what I’m saying. Our hero is Phillippe Gaston, commonly known as “The Mouse” and played by Matthew Broderick which, given my usual feelings towards the actor, feels like some kind of cosmic joke. Fair is fair though, he’s actually quite funny and charming in this. Gaston has just escaped from the prison of the Bishop of Aquila, played with imperious menace by John Wood. I knew I was in safe hands with this movie during a scene early on where the Bishop’s captain of the guard, Marquet tells the Bishop that Gaston has escaped into the sewers but it would be a miracle if he survived. The Bishop fixes him with a steely gaze and says “I believe in miracles, Captain. It’s part of my job.”
Gaston flees across the countryside, picking pockets and scamming people as he goes, all the while being followed by a mysterious knight dressed all in black with a hawk, sex unknown. Gaston comes to an inn. He offers to buy a round for everyone there to celebrate having seen the inside of the Bishop’s dungeon and lived to tell the tale. One of the inn patrons chimes in that, big deal, he’s seen the inside of the Bishop’s dungeon too and Mouse is all “What, as a prisoner?” and the guy stands up and reveals that he’s Captain Marquet and Mouse is all “Oooooh I get it. You’ve seen the inside of the dungeon cos, yeah, good one. Good one, sir.”
The guards prepare to give Gaston the worst beating since the siege of…I dunno, guys, my medieval European history is honestly pretty spotty and I could just search Wikipedia but what would that prove, honestly? I mean, I’d just be lying to you and pretending that I’m smarter than I actually am. Anyway, Gaston is rescued by the mysterious knight, who turns out to be Rutger Haur with a crossbow and the movie knows you don’t deserve this, and that’s okay.
This is Captain Navarre, former captain of the bishop’s guard and all round legendary, mysterious badass at large. He rescues Gaston and they ride off into the woods, their pursuers being thrown off by Navarre’s trained hawk. In the forest they encounter a small collection of hovels owned by a husband and wife/brother and sister/all of the above who give the impression that there should be banjos playing in the background whenever they’re around. Well, obviously not banjos, what with them not being invented yet. Perhaps some gitterns.
They sleep in a barn and Navarre tells Gaston not to disturb him while he’s sleeping, as he’s liable to kill him before he realises who he is (oh, that is so badass, I wish I was a threat to everyone around me when I’m sleeping). Gaston decides to make a run for it, but gets ambushed by the creepy inbred hovel owner with an axe. Gaston is saved when the hovel-master is attacked and killed by a massive black wolf that emerges from the forest. Terrified, Gaston runs back to the barn and can’t find Navarre (yeah, you’ve probably guessed where this is going) but he grabs Navarre’s crossbow and is about to shoot the wolf when he is stopped by Aphroditie, loveliest and most fair of all the goddesses of Olympus *checks notes*…
Sorry, I mean, Michelle Pfeiffer circa 1985.
I mean holy moly. You ever look at someone and say “How are we even the same species?”
Anyway, the next day the wolf has vanished and Navarre is back and the lady has vanished but the hawk is back make of that what you will, I’m just reporting the situation on the ground.
Navarre reveals to Gaston why he rescuenapped him, he knows he’s the only one to break out of the bishop’s castle and he wants him to show him how to break in. Navarre wants to kill the bishop but, since the only way for a knight to kill a bishop is to jump at them sideways, he needs Gaston’s help. Gaston pulls the old “I’d love to help you but I’m a filthy coward” ploy, but Navarre refuses to let him go and when night falls he ties Gaston to a tree so he can’t escape. The mysterious lady appears again and Gaston is able to talk her into setting him free and he runs off.
Unfortunately, he runs right into the arms of the bishop’s men and has to be rescued by Navarre again and in the course of the battle the hawk gets hit by a crossbow bolt. Navarre is frantic with grief and throws Gaston on his horse with the wounded bird and tells him to ride like the very wind to the castle of an old priest named Imperious. The priest tells Gaston that he can save the hawk but orders him outside. Gaston sneaks in later that night and finds, well…
So, as you’ve probably guess, the Lady (whose name is Isabeau) is a hawk by day and Navarre is a wolf by night. It is, as the blurb on the back of my DVD is at pains to point out, “a love that can never be consummated”. Like, thanks DVD cover. Thank you for making sure we didn’t harbour suspicions that Rutger Haur was fucking that hawk.
Actually, a word about that hawk. The hawk was played by three different birds, one for flying scenes and two for scenes perched on Haur’s arm. However, adorably, one of the birds liked Haur so much that it kept fluffing up in his presence and looking like a big chicken so none of its footage was used. I thought that was hilarious, and then I thought about it again and got angry. I mean, think about it. The bird was playing Michelle Pfeiffer’s character who is in love with Navarre. It was supposed to be affectionate towards him. That hawk was fired for acting too well.
Gaston asks Imperious what their deal is and the priest tells them that the bishop fell in love with Isabeau but that she spurned his advances and he took that about as well as you’d expect.
When Imperious, who was confessor to both Navarre and Isabeau, accidentally revealed their relationship to the bishop he flew into a jealous rage and made a deal with Satan to curse them both, turning them into a werewolf and wifhawk respectively. And damn, that will not look good on the bishop’s next employee evaluation.
Imperious tells Gaston that he’s been wracked with guilt for the part he played in destroying the lives of Navarre and Isabeau but that he has found a way to break the curse; they have to confront the bishop during a day without a night and a night without a day. Gaston has no idea what this…
Yes, I know, you’ve guessed it’s an eclipse, well done.
Gaston has no idea what this is, but tells the priest that Navarre intends to confront the bishop and kill him. Imperious tells him that killing the bishop will only ensure that the curse can never be broken. Meanwhile, the bishop has learned of Navarre’s return and has hired the greatest wolf hunter in all of Francitaly, Cezar, played by a young Alfred Molina cos-playing as Tom from Father Ted.
The bishop’s guards find Imperious’ castle and try to capture Isabeau. She and Gaston race to the roof and Isabeau falls, seemingly to her death but at the last minute the sun rises and she engages hawk mode. The three are saved by Navarre, who just shows up with crossbow like an absolute boss.
Imperious tells Navarre that he knows how to break the curse, saying “God has forgiven me. He sent me the answer in a vision”. But Navarre coldly replies “He hasn’t forgiven you, he’s made you mad” and sets off, determined to kill the bishop. But Philippe tags along and after a lot of adventuring and battles and what not that I can’t really go into in detail because three years ago the British electorate collectively shat the bed, Gaston convinces Navarre to give the crazy old drunk priest’s plan a shot.
Gaston helps them sneak into Aquila, the bishop’s fortress, and Navarre prepares to confront his enemy. But, because he knows that if he dies Isabeau will be trapped as a hawk forever, he makes Imperious promise that he’ll mercy kill her if Navarre doesn’t come back before the cathedral’s bells ring. Interestingly, no one asks the hawk if it’s cool with this.
Gaston sneaks into the cathedral and unlocks the door and Navarre rides his horse right into church in the middle of mass like he’s from Limerick or something. He’s about to kill the bishop but suddenly there’s a total eclipse! Possibly of the heart, definitely of the sun. Suddenly realising that this is how he can break the curse…
…he battles the bishop’s guards but they manage to ring the bells and Navarre believes that Imperious has killed Isabeau and is already plucking and basting her (it’s the Middle Ages and there’s good eating on a hawk, don’t you dare judge). But of course, she’s still alive and bursts into the church. They both confront the bishop, they break the curse, he attacks them, Navarre throws his sword, knight takes bishop, the whole congregation just stand there watching all this like it’s part of the service and Navarre and Isabeau share a long overdue kiss.
To sum up, movie good, Brexit bad, Mouse on brink of nervous exhaustion.
This is one of those movies that just quietly surprises you. The writing is better than you’d expect, the cast is good to excellent and the story is poignant and original. Don’t have much to say about this one, I just dug it a lot.
Next Update: 25 April 2019
Next time: It’s Christopher Lee…versus Christopher Lee! It’s Me-Lee combat!*
* Right now, this seems like the funniest thing ever. I’ll come back after a good night’s sleep and see if it holds up**
** Oh Jesus Christ.