30th November 2020 (UK VOD Premiere)
The Mongol Empire had grown to the largest the world had ever known. It's armies now laid siege to much of Eastern Europe. A small village fights for freedom in the frontier landscape of the Carpathian Mountains.
John Wynn, Akhtem Seitablaev
Alison Doody, Tommy Flanagan, Robert Patrick
It took me about an hour to understand what was going on in Fall of a Kingdom.
I shamefully admit I verbatim copy and pasted the below synopsis from Wikipedia because it outlines the story better than I ever could. What it eventually boils down to is basic good vs evil stuff, but its narrative takes the convoluted and unnecessarily difficult route. Once everything clicked though, I found myself enjoying it far more than I anticipated.
During the 13th Century, Zakhar Berkut (Robert Patrick; Terminator 2, Edge of Fear) and his wife Rada (Alison Doody; Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade) lead a group of high-landers in the Carpathian Mountains. Unfortunately, their tranquil existence is soon threatened by Burunda Khan (Tserenbold Tsegmid), a powerful Mongolian general who leads his massive armies west in search of new lands to conquer.
Forced to protect their village, Zakhar and Rada send their sons, Ivan (Rocky Myers) and Maksym (Alex MacNicoll), to ask for help from Tuhar Volk (Tommy Flanagan; Braveheart, American Fighter), a wealthy boyar who has recently arrived from King. After his strong-willed daughter Myroslava (Poppy Drayton) and Maksym survive a dangerous encounter together, Tuhar Vovk pledges to defend the villagers against the Mongols. But when a mutual attraction sparks between Myroslava and Maksym, Tuhar Vovk forbids them from continuing their relationship. Meanwhile, Burunda Khan faces questions from his warriors about his motivation and military strategy for the impending invasion. As war breaks out, both sides suffer devastating casualties. Redoubling his efforts, Burunda Khan unleashes the full fury of his forces. Faced with certain doom, Maksym and Myroslava must choose to flee or make the ultimate sacrifice to save their people.
My knowledge of Mongol and Ukrainian history is a little hazy, but I’d hazard a guess that this isn’t exactly a faithfully detailed account of those times. For starters, I highly doubt fist-bumping was around as a method of congratulating each other on a battle well won. And the dentistry work for most of the peasants on their blindingly white gnashers is exquisite. It also features a collection of folk from around the world, all in one tiny village. Scottish, Welsh and the yet-to-be discovered American accents as well as a Yorkshire regional dialect can be heard. The film is a co-production between the US and Ukraine and at times, it’s painfully obvious. Dubbing is especially noticeable and the audio mix stands out from the rest of the track. To its credit, the enemies speak in Mongolian for one of the few aspects of authenticity.
Robert Patrick leads the pack and headlines the poster, but perhaps unsurprisingly and much like Bruce Willis or Terminator co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s another occasion of a megastar in the twilight of their career now in a supporting role. He does have more screen time than one would usually have in such a role though and, unlike the aforementioned former A-Listers, doesn’t appear to be phoning in a performance for the sake of it. No, Fall of a Kingdom‘s (or The Rising Hawk as it’s also known, in what is a more fitting title) leads are more focused on the brotherly bond between Maksym and Ivan. Alex MacNicoll impresses as the scrappy underdog Maksym, while Rocky Myers convinces as the guardian-like bigger brother Ivan. But it’s Tommy Flanagan who steals the show as Tuhah Volk, a short-tempered ruler who doesn’t even want to be around the villagers, never mind fight alongside them against the commanding presence of ruthless Mongol leader Burunda Khan.
For all its shortcomings with telling its main story, Fall of a Kingdom does succeed in weaving believable relationships between its people and factions. The love angle between Myroslava and Maksym never gets too overbearing, but the film could have done with a few more females involved. It’s no wonder why Maksym fell head over heels for her – it’s slim pickings on the dating front. Apart from his own mother and Ivan’s wife, Myroslava appears to be the only woman of note in the picture. I was particularly enthralled by Volk’s character arc too and appreciated how the film tries to show how personal losses affect both sides of combatants. Much like the 50/50 theory from Thanos in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, it gives the antagonist a purpose as opposed to being cold-blooded killers for the sake of it. Although, maybe applying this to Mongols, widely accepted as one of the most brutal armies in history, wasn’t the best place to do it.
Made on a modest budget of roughly $5 Million, Fall of a Kingdom makes the most of every penny. Its financial restrictions are evident – an early sequence involving a CGI bear being a fine example – but it accomplishes a sense of scale in its battle scenes through clever tactics including crowded close combat camera shots and having the battles take place in confined spaces. The number of action sequences is, I’d say, on the above average side but by the end it does get a little samey with its mass brawls using swords, hand axes and bow ‘n arrows. Especially when it comes to significant deaths. The whole ‘resting in a loved ones arms while they croak out their last words before one final gasp with their eyes open’ is done to, well, death here.
Overall then, Fall of a Kingdom is initially appealing by being set in a time period which doesn’t get enough exposure in film. But to say it casts broad strokes over details in the 13th Century would be like saying the T1000 only wanted a friendly conversation with John Connor. Nevertheless, its battle scenes are entertaining (to a point) and its characters have enough personality to ensure the only thing that potentially falls is the Kingdom, not you. To sleep.
Tommy Flanagan's growling Volk
Makes the most of its small budget with tightly packed action sequences
Convoluted explaining of a simple story
Repetitive battles and death sequences
History buffs will have a field day pointing out the inaccuracies