Back when I was reviewing Castles And Dreams, the live DVD by Blackmore's Night, I wrote that although I had never stood atop a hillside in Shropshire holding a homemade sword and wearing most of a saucepan on my head, the idea is not entirely without appeal. That's still the case. The move to an area starved of battle re-enactments has not helped matters but there remains a very big step between what sounds like a good idea and actually doing it that one must cross before standing dressed in chainmail and on a windy hill alongside accountants, plumbers and teachers for a make-believe clash of swords.
The characters in Faintheart have no such worries. It is a story of romance, of fatherhood and of Vikings battling the cowardly English. It stars Eddie Marsan as Readmund the Just in the army of the Bloody Broadswords. Or Richard as he's known to his son Martin (Joseph Hamilton) and to his estranged wife Cath (Jessica Hynes), who calls him prior to the commencement of battle to let him know that he's late for his father-in-law's funeral. This proves to be the straw that breaks their marriage. Asking him to leave, Richard moves in with his comic-book-shop-owning, Star Trek-fan friend Julian (Ewen Bremner) - getting the top bunk! - and sets about winning Cath back. But it's not going to be that easy. She's already met someone else, Martin's PE teacher Gary (Paul Nicholls), and all Richard's attempts at wooing Cath are merely shrugged off. He confides in his Bloody Broadswords brothers but is it time that he left them behind?
Faintheart was the result of a collaboration between Vertigo Films, Film 4 and social networking site Myspace and while it has drawn a professional cast, some Myspacers were recruited to fill in the cast and crew. So kudos to you if you can spot one of the cast of the recent confused.com advertisement amongst the cast. The short attention span of the online community seems to have been sated with a straightforward tale of love gone wrong and a romance rediscovered. As such, Faintheart seems to have deeply divided those reviewing it elsewhere. It's possible to draw a line from Faintheart back through Driving Lessons, Three Not Out, The Tall Guy and even Love, Actually to Gregory's Girl, if not further beyond, all of them whimsical British comedies that see some put upon soul find a moment of inspiration to win someone's heart. It's not, then, particularly original but the comedy and the romance are as charming as they are heartwarming and it manages to rise above its small scale to make for a winning film.
The play on the battle re-enactments is particularly well done. Like Free Enterprise filtered through the pages of Bernard Cornwell, this, and other moments, plays to one's inner geek. The Bloody Broadswords are the underdogs, arch enemies of the sneering Alan (Kevin Eldon) and his well-drilled troops. The advice they give Richard is routinely hopeless, if consistent. One knows that a bunch of battle re-enactors telling Richard to re-enact the night that he and Cath first met, complete with an awful pub band and early-eighties make-up, will be an unmitigated disaster but it's no less sad to see the disappointment in their eyes. Ewen Bremner's Julian is the star of the film, as hopeless at romance as he is in battle. The brief glimpse of romance that he enjoys goes as badly as it possibly could but in spite of being a scrape away from a police record, his knowledge of Klingon stands him in good stead and love blossoms. But he also manages the film's most rousing moment, doing so to the tune of Tenpole Tudor's Swords of a Thousand Men. No song suits this film better.
The romance between Richard and Cath is not the only one in the film. Julian, after a spectacularly bad start, finds love with Maggie (Bronagh Gallagher). Together, they set off for Star Trek conventions in a van decorated in the style of a Frank Frazetti painting, she a Klingon, he as someone out of the Federation. Meanwhile, Martin and Emily (Chloe Hesar) bond over the drawing of a dragon, she being the only one who he'll happily tell what it is that his father does on his weekends. But these are mere appetisers to the main course that is Richard's attempt to win Cath back. And that would be the most memorable thing about Faintheart were it not for its very sure-footed way with sci-fi, fantasy and the lovably silly rock music (and people) that they have inspired.
Faintheart looks fine without ever looking particularly exciting. The transfer is very respectable, which, if not especially sharp, does well by the English suburbs in which Faintheart is set and by the misty mornings on which the battles are set. The final such morning, in which the Bloody Broadswords camp out in the grounds of a castle, looks very good indeed but while the film couldn't sustain this given its suburban romance, it makes for a nice break from schoolyards, retail parks and housing developments.
Faintheart comes with a choice of English DD2.0 and DD5.1 Surround audio tracks (with English subtitles) and while there may not be a good deal happening in the rear speakers (nor on the subwoofer) the quality of the audio tracks is still very reasonable.
The battle re-enactments, when we see them, are the most interesting sights in these bonus features, particularly so in Vito Rocco’s MySpace Film Pitch (3m38s), which is played out against one such battle, complete with a far earthier look at those who participate in it than is ever presented in the film. Next is a glimpse of Katie Melua recording Toy Collection for film (3m37s), which is followed by some of the videos (9m41s) recorded, webcam-style, for the MySpace casting sessions.
It does get better, though with the On-set Diaries (20m47s), which does take in a little more than the battle re-enactments, and does a fair job of presenting the making of the film from the point of view of director Vito Rocco. He also takes the viewer through many of the sets in the film including Ludlow Castle and Julian's comic shop. Finally, there is a short film on the Re-enactors (6m12), which takes place early on a very misty morning. This concludes with some web addresses should you want to become involved.