Runtime – 99 minutes
Director – Dmitry Korobkin
Country – Russia
Certificate (UK) – 15
Starring – Alexander Ivashkevich, Alexei Kravchenko, Svetlana Tchouikina, Victor Verzhbitsky, Valery Zolotukhin
It’s fair to say that low-budget, straight-to-DVD, Russian language, historical, action-thrillers have a very niche audience. If you are in that niche you should excited about the release of Iron Lord.
The setting is 11th Century Russia. Royal warlord Yaroslav (Ivashkevich) is attempting to expand his control by offering to protect settlements regularly attacked by bandits (in return for their taxes). But the bandits are getting stronger and there’s talk of a traitor in their midst. When Yaroslav is taken prisoner by people he hoped would join him, he’s in a fight for his life and his power. It’s all based around the real historical figure Yaroslav the Wise .
This simple story is surprisingly confusing to pick up. An unhelpfully quick prologue is all the introduction we’re given before being propelled into the 11th Century. We’re then introduced the three groups involved, but the problem is that they’re all mostly made up of similar looking big guys who wear beards and brown clothes. The very poor English subtitles don’t help. Place names are ignored and sentences frequently mistranslated. Anyway, it all becomes clear after a little while and there aren’t many nuances to miss.
A film like Iron Lord lives or dies on the quality of its action sequences and they’re actually pretty good. Director Dmitry Korobkin makes the most of his modest budget and number of extras to produce some exciting, fast paced (and quite violent) battles. A good sound mix makes up for the lack of make-up effects (we might hear the blood being spilled but see precious little). What is actually quite impressive is the work done with animals. A huge bear provides some scary moments and the stunt horse riders do some brave work (as do their horses – the BBFC cut a particularly dangerous looking fall on the grounds of cruelty to the horse). As is the law with these kind of movies, it all ends with a one-on-one between the good guy and the bad. Convincing work from the pair in earlier battles makes this climax a fitting one. So, in the all-important action stakes there’s little to complain about.
The other elements of Iron Lord are also quite effective. Two romantic sub-plots work thanks to their simple construction and some earnest performances. A couple of bumbling duos and an odd spiritual guide provide a few laughs. The theme of religion and Yaroslav’s Christianity is handled awkwardly, but adds a little depth to the film.
Iron Lord clearly tries to emulate bigger and better films. Yaroslav does his best Aragorn impression, his father (Verzhbitsky) channels Bernard Hill’s Theoden and the wheatfield visions from Gladiator are copied wholesale. But who cares? In a largely by-the-numbers affair, why not wear your influences on your sleeve?
There aren’t any bonus features on the DVD which may disappoint, but if you’re partial to low-budget historical action movies then you could do much worse than Iron Lord. It won’t blow your mind but gets it right where it needs to.
Iron Lord is released on DVD on 1st August and can be ordered here