If there’s one thing to say about John Wynn’s historical drama Fall of a Kingdom (in the UK – The Rising Hawk elsewhere), it’s that it’s not short on ambition. Set in the 13th century at the height of the Mongols’ power, this film follows brothers Ivan (Lucifer’s Rocky Myers) and Maksim (Alex MacNicoll) as, with the help of a ragtag band of allies, they fight to defend their small village from an invading force and its merciless leader (Tserenbold Tsegmid).
Despite the film’s relatively small budget and production, Wynn wisely incorporates sweeping cinematography and orchestration to make it seem much grander than it is. Impressive panoramic shots of the Carpathian mountains give the feature an impressive sense of scale; add a rich soundscape that consists of melancholic strings and bombastic percussion to match the period, and Wynn’s film looks the part of a historical epic.
But however admirable this stab at period action may be, ambition alone isn’t enough, with every other component falling flat in one way or another. Aside from the heavily clichéd story, one-note writing for every character makes it impossible to remember their names, let alone become invested in their plight. Excluding the main brothers, there’s Robert Patrick as the gruff but wise father, Tommy Flannigan’s conflicted and power-hungry ruler, and Poppy Drayton as the young love interest, whose only distinguishing characteristic is being able to use a bow and arrow. Then there’s the antagonist, who, despite a memorable introduction, ultimately becomes as forgettable as the rest of the cast.
The action sequences themselves are as flat as the writing. Clumsy choreography and (contrary to the gruesome sound design) a distinct absence of blood lacks the weight and crunch needed to raise the dramatic stakes and match the tone set by the soundtrack. When every other scene is some sort of skirmish the experience soon becomes a rather dull one. Even the climactic battle and showdown are disappointingly devoid of energy.
From its archetypal characters, by-numbers plot and grand cinematography, Fall of a Kingdom looks like any other historical drama. But without the punch and dedication desperately needed to meet the filmmaker’s admirable ambition, the action and drama fall flat before the plot can properly get underway.