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Trial By Combat

No Award
1976

‘…a strain to watch even when the bar is set low…’

Let’s take a deep dive into the most obscure of sub-genres; British modern-day medieval-themed revenge thrillers, anyone, anyone? Nope? Well, I feel your pain, but Trial by Combat aka Dirty Knight’s Work aka A Choice of Weapons is one of the least heralded films ever made, and deservedly so. In over thirty years of film-criticism, I’ve never heard any mention of Kevin Connor’s oddball thriller, despite a ridiculous cast and premise; having finally seen the result, I’m surprised it even exists at all. In a near half century since it came out, Trial by Combat has barely notched up a handful of reviews, from critics or the general public, and we’re about to find out why…

John Mills, in tweeds, plays a British policeman called Bertie Cook, who has the gift of being able to talk to animals; his office is filled with pigeons. He’s charged with tracking down Sir Giles Marley (Donald Pleasence), who has been running a secret vigilante militia in the English countryside, disguised as a medieval jousting competition. Sir Edward Gifford (Peter Cushing) stumbles on one of the executions by the Knights of Avalon, and his American son John (unexciting US import David Birney) joins the investigation to seek revenge. Tangling with diverse characters including Ma Gore (Margaret Leighton) and Marion Evans (a young Barbara Hershey), Cook and Gifford save the day by taking on Marley’s crew in the gladiatorial arena…

That must be one of the worst outlines for a film every written; if that sounds like a must see for you, please feel free to get in touch and explain why. This aims for the artful sub-genre of The Avengers tv show, but instead just seems banal and out of date; the secret society drive around in a yellow Rolls Royce, throwing dead bodies into the rush-hour traffic, and yet the whole enterprise is somehow a comedy caper that feels like it was made by the Children’s Film Foundation.

And yet completists will find something to engage with, not least an all-star cast, even down to support from Brian Glover (Alien 3) and Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings). But Trial By Combat is a strain to watch even when the bar is set low; Cushing exits before the pre-credits, and all but the most fool-hardy cinematic adventurer should do the same.

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  1. “British modern-day medieval-themed revenge thrillers, anyone, anyone? Nope?”….you didn’t hear me screaming over my ironing?🤔🤔
    Man of course this is a must see….I mean what’s not to like here? The premise alone sounds like Oscar material, we have a wonderful cast, and well…hang on there’s someone at the door…🤔🤔
    Erm….there are some people in white coats that are taking me away….it was nice knowing you…😢

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