Ladyhawke (1985)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Once in a lifetime there comes along a film that leaves the viewer in a spell that refuses to be broken. It is the type of film that dreams are made of and the moral and message, along with the romance, beauty, and adventure, linger with you long after the screen has gone dark. This is the case of LadyHawke, a spellbinding blend of forbidden romance, passion, magic, and mystery that forever shaped the realm of fantasy films, jump-started Michelle Pfeiffer in her all-star career, and remains one of the most beloved cult classics in film history.

 

The film opens in the dungeons of Aquila, a city under the control of the domineering and cruel Bishop. No one has ever before escaped from the massive stronghold, but a young pickpocket, formerly titled Phillipe (Matthew Broaderick) but known as "Mouse" due to his ability to manipulate his body out of the most impossible escape routes, has found his way through the sewers and into the river beyond. Escaping beneath the castle itself, he evades the guards and forges his way to freedom, slipping away under the cover of darkness. Enraged, the Bishop (John Wood) sends out a fleet of his men under the command of his equally cruel captain of the guard to seek out and kill the escapee. But Mouse is already far into the French countryside, little knowing that he is being trailed by a mysterious knight and his hawk. Overestimating his success, he announces to the group at the local tavern that he has successfully escaped the dungeons. Unfortunately among the cloaked figures in the room are the very men who he was hoping to elude.

 

Mouse only escapes death by the intervention of a mysterious "Captain Navarre," who seems to be well-known and even loathed by the palace guards. Accompanied by a hawk, Navarre (Rutger Hayer) carries Mouse off and makes him a manservant. The young thief is reluctant but bound by what little honor he still possesses and agrees to serve his new master, little knowing Navarre's true reasons for saving his life. By night, they take shelter in a weathered barn... and in the darkness, Mouse is stalked by a deadly black wolf... and a sees a beautiful woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). He soon finds himself drawn into the deadly network of a forbidden romance, a tragic curse, and the lost key to it all... an evasive chance to break the spell cast upon a pair of ill-fated lovers, and restore light into the world.

 

Navarre would give his life to save his hawk from death, and yet in the darkness he and his pet vanish, replaced by a spellbinding woman of mystery and beauty, and a dangerous black wolf. Only a misplaced pickpocket, a solar eclipse, and a misguided monk can rescue the ill-fated lovers from the interlocked spell of evil that binds them to a cruel fate. This blend of fiction and fantasy made a name for Michelle Pfeiffer, gave Warner Brothers a blockbuster triumph, and created a network of fans who are still to-the-death loyal to the long-lived Captain Navarre and his LadyHawke. The first time I chanced to see this film, I was not overly impressed. It seemed dark and sinister and without redeeming elements. But after some time had passed, I gave it another chance and learned to love this dark romance with its many magical elements. The story is original and powerful: the tale of two lovers cast under a terrible spell. The production quality is exceptional, the music spellbinding, the overall build to the climax captivating. 

 

Soon you grow to love and respect the hauntingly beautiful story and witty moments of irony.... a stallion named Goliath, to whom Mouse tells the story of a "wee little man named David," a paunchy and forgetful but well-meaning monk, even a dark and sinister spell. Broaderick plays Mouse with a lovable enthusiasm while the supporting cast, which includes John Wood in perhaps his most evil role, perform excellently the difficult parts they have been assigned to play. While LadyHawke is pretty much void of language (about seven mild profanities) and completely without sexual situations or innuendo, it does contain some intense violence. People are killed by the sword or crossbow. Wolves attack and non-graphically maul dangerous foes. A hunter is strangled by his own wolf trap. The villain is impaled with a sword.  There's occasional blood from wounds and a scene in which we fear for the hawk's life when it's impaled by an arrow.

 

There are also some intense thematic elements -- a main character nearly drowns saving someone's life, a woman is believed to have fallen to her death, and there's a climatic sequence in which Isobel runs through a darkened wood searching for Navarre, only to run into a wolf hunter. The violence is not overly graphic or too visually apparent; but the film is much too potentially dark and threatening for younger viewers. The extent of suggestive content is some cleavage in one or two scenes in which an arrow must be pulled from her shoulder. Probably the most disconcerting possible problem with LadyHawke is the mix of fantasy and reality that lends itself to a crossroads of the Christian faith. Mouse often "talks to God," but most of it consists of mild banter and witty dialogue. He flippantly remarks, "I know I said never again, Lord [in reference to stealing] but I also know that You know what a weak-willed person I am." The Bishop, as were many members of the church in that dark point in time, is corrupted.

 

Violently in love with Isabeau (LadyHawke in human form), he "sold his soul to the Evil One" in exchange for the power to curse them. However, Navarre's beliefs are that God has sent Mouse to help him break the spell. A monk plays a large part in the ending climax. Magic, sorcery, and the devil are thrown into a bad light. The wit and banter of the film is clean-minded and often amusing. Some may be offended by the portrayal of the Bishop but I choose to view it rather in truth that appearances can be deceiving. Those whom we believe to be good, Godly men and women can in fact be ploys of the devil. Without Christ we are meaningless and self-pursuing, just like the villain. The story is good-hearted if a bit flawed with situations and dilemmas characteristic of a good fairy story. And above all, it appeals widely. Both men and women will find this a charming and often heart-rendering story of triumph.

 


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