Main Cast :
Rutger Hauer - Martin
Jennifer Jason Leigh - Agnes
Brion James - Karsthans
Tom Burlinson - Steven
Fernando Hilbeck - Arnolfini
Jack Thompson - Hawkwood
John Dennis Johnston - Summer
Kitty Courbois - Anna
Hans Veerman - Father George
Susan Tyrrell - Celine
Marina Saura - Polly
Ronald Lacey - Cardinal
Gerard Soeteman and Paul Verhoeven
Awards and Nominations:
1985 - 2 Dutch “Gouden Kalf” Awards for Best Director and Best Film, Nederlands Film Festival
Plot: Martin is a mercenary, serving under Captain Hawkwood, in the army of Arnolfini, a petty nobleman. Arnolfini has promised his troops that if they reclaim his ancestral city, they will have twenty-four hours to ransack the homes of the rich. Instead, he celebrates victory by banishing the soldiers, confiscating their arms and the stolen loot for his own treasury. Led by Martin, a wretched band of mercenaries, including a pregnant whore Celine and a crazed priest who calls himself the Cardinal, they take shelter in an abandoned convent. Steven is the scholarly son of Arnolfini, outraged by the betrayal of the soldiers, even more disturbed by his father’s plans to marry him to a woman he has never met. She is a convent girl, his father assures him, therefore a virgin…and with her comes a sizable dowry, needed to secure the family’s domain. In any case, the matter is decided; she is en route to the city.
Agnes is haughty, adventurous, delighted by each new discovery tha leads beyond her cloistered past. Sex is a subject of some mystery and eager for knowledge Agnes instructs her maidservant to join a willing pikeman, in the bushes by the road where the convoy has camped, for a brief demonstration.
Later the same day, Agnes meets Steven for the first time and takes him to a place of grisly romantic superstition. Beneath the rotting carcass of a hanged man is where the mandrake root grows. If they eat the root as one, they will know eternal love.
Disguised as a band of pilgrims and guided by a weathered wooden statue of St. Martin, the mercenaries raid the wedding caravan. The bride’s dowry is some compensation for their stolen plunder, the girl herself a prize of war to be shared among the men. Martin has the honour of initiating her, since it was his patron saint who brought them this far. But rather than resist him, she feigns pleasure and passion, reversing their roles, mocking him before his comrades. By the time the mercenaries have found a haven in an isolated castle she is Martin’s mistress.
Steven recruits Hawkwood into forming an army and they embarke on a rescue mission, discovering that Agnes is now a hostage of the mercenaries.
Hawkwood falls sick with the plague and Steven is left to fall back on his inventive mind to find a way into the seemingly impenetrable stronghold. He contructs a magnificent piece of machinery to enable a small band of soldiers to scale the castle walls, but Martin has been too clever for him. He has copied one of Steven’s earlier inventions, a rolling bomb. Charging through the gates he blows the infernal machine to smithereens…Steven is captured and all would seem lost.
However, Hawkwood has overcome the dreaded disease and decides to use it to his advantage. He manages to bring the plague into the castle by poisoning the water with the carcass of an infected dog. Inside, Steven watches the group drinking it…
Celine falls ill and the horrible truth begins to dawn on them – the water is contaminated. In terror they fall on Martin, blaming him for their misfortune. Led by the Cardinal they throw him into the infected well.
Steven, who is chained to the castle walls, agrees to help Martin escape from the well and in return he will free Steven from his bonds. However, once free Martin goes back on his word and taking Agnes as a hostage, he sets out to evade Arnolfini and Hawkwood, who by this time have conquered the castle’s defences.
Using the power of a bolt of lightning, Steven escapes from his bonds. Freeing Agnes, he confronts Martin for the last time. In a final desperate choice between the two men Agnes sides with Steven. Leaving Martin for dead, Steven triumphantly takes his newly won bride to greet his father. But as Agnes looks back she sees Martin climbing down the burning castle walls, his bag of loot slung over his shoulder…
Notes: Up to now this remains the last film Rutger and Paul Verhoeven shot together. It is Verhoeven’s first movie made with an American production.
Sites in Rumania, Hungary, Germany, Italy and Yugoslavia were considered, and rejected, before three locations in Spain – Belmonte, Cáceres and Avila – were chosen. The showcase was Belmonte Castle, which was used once before as a film set, in the making of “El Cid”. When the cast and crew arrived there, the fortress was in a state of real disrepair, and in order to make the castle safe for the actors, the construction team had to work under extremely hazardous conditions – floor were reinforced and laid with mosaic tiles, vast cathedral ceilings were repaired, whitewashed, then hung with blazing chandeliers, battlements were built above crumbling stone bastions, a moat was cut into the promontory surrounding the castle. The weather, dependable only in terms of freezing rain and gusting winds, complicated the process. At the end of ten weeks of filming in Belmonte, the sun finally emerged, the summer’s first heatwave set in and the cast and crew celebrated with a “Capae”, a traditional Spanish festival. The company next moved to Cáceres, near the Portuguese border, an area whose history pre-dates the Middle Ages by several hundred centuries. Among its attraction are the Maltraviseo Caves, covered with crude paintings, attributed to prehistoric man.
In Avila, Verhoeven staged the spectacular battle in which Arnolfini’s army regains his birthplace. One of Spain’s highest cities above sea level, it was chosen for its beautifully preserved fortress walls, surrounded by picturesque, sloping hills.
“Flesh & Blood” has been also aired on the Dutch T.V. in episodes, with some scenes that were not included in the theater version.
Its world premiere took place on August 30, 1985 at the Venice International Film Festival.
Rutger, Jennifer and Paul at the “Gouden Kalf” Awards ceremony on September 16, 1985 and the Belmonte Castle
A Japanese leaflet promoting the film and ketches of Rutger, Jennifer and Tom’s costumes made by Yvonne Blake