The 2009 film version of Robert E. Howard’s second most famous fantasy hero, Solomon Kane, came and went almost without my notice. I think many people, even fellow Howard fans, had the same experience. But I caught it on Netflix the other day, and found it considerably better than I expected, though not without faults.
For a writer of no particular religious faith and rather freethinking sexual views, it was an odd choice on Howard’s part to create a character who was an English Puritan. Of course he made up for that by essentially having no idea what Puritans believed, and the movie shares that ignorance. Still he created an interesting character – more a type than a character, really – who lives and travels the world for the sole purpose of fighting evil.
This movie, intended as the first of a trilogy, is an origin story for the character, giving us background Howard never bothered with. In this imagining Solomon is the son of an English West Country nobleman, banished by his father. At first he traveled the world as a sort of pirate, cruel and greedy but unmatched in his fighting skills. Then, after an experience when his lust for gold brought disaster to his crew, he retired to what appears to be a monastery in England (which is historically problematic, as the story date, though uncertain, must be later than Henry VIII’s dissolution of Catholic institutions). There he comes to the questionable conviction that he can achieve redemption by living “a life of peace.”
He then sets out to walk about England, for no apparent purpose except that he’s not permitted to stay in the monastery. That’s when he meets the Crowthorn family, gentle Puritan people on their way to take passage for America. But the family falls prey to the evil minions of “Malachi,” a cruel magician who is conquering great areas of the country, enslaving the populace. Here Kane breaks his vow of non-violence, but gets a new promise that his soul can be saved if he rescues the family’s daughter, Meredith.
The whole thing is pretty standard genre fare, with heavy borrowings from the first Schwarzenegger Conan movie. But the atmosphere is great (lots English gray skies and rain – very little color to see here, really. It’s almost noir) and James Purefoy, who plays Kane, is simply marvelous in the role. Also there’s the late Pete Postlethwaite, always interesting, as the elder Crowthorn, and Max Von Sydow as Solomon’s father.
Not a great movie, but fun and worth a watch. Some profanity, I imagine (I can’t recall), and movie violence on the level of the Lord of the Rings. Also there are sympathetic Christian characters (even if they know no theology), which is rare in a contemporary movie.
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is Hailstone Mountain.