Bloody and Glory review: Sean Else directs this gritty period drama loosely based on the historical events of the second Boer War.

Bloody and Glory review by Ben Read.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, and the technological advances that came with it, cinema has risen to entirely new levels of popularity. The art form is now front and centre in the pantheon of pop culture obsessions. While Hollywood has undoubtedly benefited most from this, it has also greatly enhanced the recognition of international cinema. South African filmmaking has been quietly on the rise for the past decade, with District 9, Invictus, and Dredd greatly increasing its interest and appeal. Now, Sean Else directs Blood and Glory (released in South Africa as Modder En Bloed). A gritty period drama loosely based on the historical events of the second Boer War.

The plot follows a man named Willem Morkel (Stian Bam), a prisoner captured by the British Empire, and sent to the infamous St. Helena Island concentration camp. Willem eventually leads an uprising against the hideous Colonel Swannell (Grant Swanby) through a high stakes game of Rugby. Despite the long history between South Africa and the sport, this strange combination of genres doesn’t always blend well. The film begins as an ultra violent, hyper-realistic interpretation of the real life atrocities that took place in 1901. But, the switch between this and the pseudo-sports drama the film becomes in its final act is a slightly jarring transformation. Despite this minor issue, the gritty visual aesthetic of Blood and Glory is still maintained and carried through the entire narrative. This is largely due to the believable, captivating, and intense performances of its main cast.

Of course, the linchpin is clearly its lead in the excellent Stian Bam. Where the film occasionally veers close to overexaggerated melodrama and abandons the subtlety of its opening act, Bam manages to tie everything together brilliantly. His performance is nuanced and drenched in emotional trauma, conveyed largely through facial expressions. As a clear highlight of the piece, Bam’s character embodies the clear historical and moral message of Blood and Glory (something still extremely relevant to South African audiences). As a result, he easily carries the film on his shoulders and proves himself a star in the making.

Grant Swanby is both convincing and menacing as the villainous Colonel Swannell, with his violence in the opening act leaving a distinctly nasty taste in the mouth. However, this does sometimes stray too close to the sort of ham-fisted antagonists that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Bond movie. In terms of visuals, Else has also crafted some striking and unique imagery, which draws from a beautiful colour palette befitting to the films murky and oppressive tone.

Overall, Blood and Glory is a great example of independent filmmaking at its finest. It may be flawed in some respects, but these are easily overlooked when compared with its positive traits. The script is sometimes heavy-handed with its characters, but it is ultimately moving. More importantly, it shines a light on an often overlooked war, that has oddly bypassed the general awareness of the public. However, this shocking and visceral take on real-life events, while stunningly realized, may also represent more than just a piece of fictionalised South African history. It is also a triumph over Hollywood storytelling, in what will hopefully see international cinema rise even further in the years to come.

Blood and Glory is released on DVD and Digital HD across the UK and Ireland from 23rd April 2018.  

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Blood and Glory