See & Do

Review: The Pagan Queen

The Pagan Queen is a rare film. There aren’t many movies about paganism during the early medieval period and even less that treat the middle ages in general without Tolkien magic and glamour. In The Pagan Queen, director Constantin Werner gives us a beautiful and realistic look at early medieval paganism in his story about the legendary Slavic queen Libuse.

According to legend, Libuse was one of three daughters of the mythical Czech ruler Krok. Libuse was a seer, Kazi was a healer, and Teta a priestess. The film opens with Krok’s death and although Libuse is the youngest of his daughters, she is chosen to take his place and rule. Libuse is a wise visionary and rules well along with her sisters and an army of women led by her friend Vlasta, but as raiders begin to invade the land, the male part of the tribe forces her into a rocky marriage that ends in the founding of Prague.

The Pagan Queen is not one of those historical movies of epic proportions with hundreds of extras in pristine costumes and computer-generated battles. In fact, in the director’s commentary, Werner says he doesn’t like those kind of special effects and they’re not the point of his film. Werner takes a more traditional approach to filmmaking and the action scenes in The Pagan Queen are short and to the point, if a little disappointing at times. The film has a slow pace and the most of the actors are Eastern Europeans whose first language is not English. It was entirely shot in the Czech Republic.

On the surface, The Pagan Queen looks like a simple film, but it’s full of symbolism and magic, which caused quite a stir when the film was released in the Czech Republic. It’s the sort of magic that is a natural part of life — the rituals, the honoring of family and ancestors, of the land, of the gods, and their people. Werner’s research led him to study folklore, mythology, and esotericism as well as history. I recommend a second viewing of the movie with the director’s commentary.

Refreshingly, The Pagan Queen is devoid of medieval Christian moral commentary. The women in this movie are strong. They are queens, priestesses, healers, and warriors in control of their bodies and their destinies. No apologies are made for that, but it is a movie that marks a transition from a pagan matriarchy to a modern patriarchy. By the time it wraps up, magic is just the stuff of legends.

The Pagan Queen is not rated though it does contain minimal violence and sexual scenes. It is now available for rent and purchase.