Sometimes keeping a writer’s blog and having connections means you get perks, like when Home School Enrichment editor Jonathan Lewis (who moonlights as a Saxon infidel in epic homeschool films) pulled some strings and won me both a screening copy of Pendragon: Sword of His Father and an interview with Marilyn Burns, who did WAY more for this film than most actresses do, except perhaps if they’re Emma Thompson.
If you don’t already know about Pendragon , allow me to introduce it by quoting a letter from Aaron Burns, who stars as Artos the Pendragon — a reimagining of Britain’s legendary King Arthur.
“For the past four years, our family’s goal has been to inspire Christians to embrace God’s purpose for their lives — to take up the world-changing task that God has for them. To that end, we are leveraging one of the most heart-penetrating forces of our time — film.
“The Pendragon Team started as a group of two homeschooling families — nine cousins and their parents — with a big idea. As the “Pendragon Project” expanded, God answered our prayers by sending over 500 volunteers to join our team.
“Most of the shooting was done in sets constructed in our backyard. The costumes were sewn in our living room, and the soundtrack was composed in our basement. As we saw Pendragon through to completion, we watched God provide in amazing ways.”
Ok, so by now you’re probably forming ideas. It’s a Christian film — probably hokey. Filmed in the backyard? Small, boxed-in, badly lighted, and marred by errant telephone wires somebody forgot to edit out of the 5th century landscape. You may be thinking “small,” “cheesy,” and “poor.” You’re probably NOT thinking “groundbreaking,” “beautiful,” “exciting,” or “truly epic” — which is too bad, because in this case, you should be.
Pendragon: Sword of His Father is the story of Artos, son of a British chieftain. Rome has withdrawn from the British Isles, leaving the Britons to defend themselves against the marauding Saxons. Justinian the Pendragon is a visionary warrior who dreams of seeing Britain unite to drive the invaders into the sea, and he teaches his son to believe in the Christ and follow God’s plans.
But tragedy, as it so often does, strikes. A Saxon attack destroys Artos’s home and family and leaves him in slavery, where his faith is nearly destroyed by grief and the cruelty of his captors. But while his faith is battered, his spirit is not: Artos lashes out against the Saxons and soon finds himself on the run. He is rescued by his old priest, who is now living Robin-Hood style in the forest, and who reminds him that “The one who gave the vision still calls.”
Vision. That is the driving force of Pendragon , as Artos reclaims his father’s vision and sets out to follow it. He journeys into the Welsh mountains to the city of Arfon, where the British king Ambrosius is gathering an army. Artos’s renewed faith, determination, and integrity lift him high in Ambrosius’s esteem, along with that of the king’s daughter, Wenneveria. But no vision worth having is ever easy to attain, and Artos must face treachery, betrayal, and the battle of his life if he is to answer the call of both his fathers — the earthly father who raised him and the heavenly Father who holds him up.
Pendragon: Sword of His Father is an epic story, and its creators do it justice. The sets and costumes are elaborate, detailed, and often gorgeous. The soundtrack swells and quiets itself, adding emotion in all the right moments. The action scenes are exciting and sometimes surprising; one twist near the end had me just about cheering. The filming itself impressed me most: days after watching Pendragon for the first time, I was still seeing images. This movie is filmed not just passably, but beautifully.
That doesn’t mean that Pendragon is without flaws. This is the first feature-film made by young people who are still learning to be filmmakers, and the tell-tale signs are there. The acting is not Hollywood quality, and the plot, while supported by a well-written script, could stand to be tighter and better developed. One scene in particular seemed to come out of nowhere.
For all that, this is a film worth seeing — and a studio worth keeping an eye on. I’m excited to see more from Burns Family Studios in the future as they continue to fill up the Christian industry void for films of this type and scope.
(Note: I originally posted a version of this review which was, in my opinion, better. A reader informed me this morning that half of it was gone. It seems the Internet ate it. If anyone knows how I can get my original back, let me know!)