Taglines: Betrayed by power. Corrupted by love. Bound by honor.
When an attempted political coup in 16th century Northern Italy fails, most of the mercenaries hired by the coup leaders disperse. Not so Martin (Rutger Hauer), who intends to rob his duplicitous former employer Arnolfini (Fernando Hillbeck). Martin is able to raise his own army by using a stolen religious artifact as a talisman.
He later kidnaps Arnolfini’s prospective daughter-in-law Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who saves herself from gang rape by feigning eternal devotion to her captor. Weeks of plunder and destruction follow, with a deadly plague thrown into the stew. Flesh and Blood has also been released under the title The Rose and the Sword.
Flesh and Blood (stylized as Flesh+Blood) is a 1985 American-Dutch-Spanish dramatic adventure film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson and Jack Thompson. The script was written by Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman. The story is set in the year 1501 in Italy, during the passing of the Late Middle Ages to the Early modern period, and follows two warring groups of mercenaries and their longstanding quarrel.
About the Story
In 1501, a city in Italy has been taken by a coup d’état while its rightful ruler, Arnolfini (Fernando Hilbeck), is away. Arnolfini promises some mercenaries 24 hours of looting if they succeed in retaking the city, and they do so. But in their revelry, Arnolfini decides that he wants them gone. Hawkwood (Jack Thompson), the commander of the troops, is caring for a young nun he mistakenly attacked during the siege.
Arnolfini promises to get medical attention for her and Hawkwood leads Arnolfini’s cavalry, betraying his former lieutenant, Martin (Rutger Hauer). The cavalry ejects the mercenaries from the city without their loot. Soon after, Martin’s son is stillborn. Burying the infant unearths a wooden statue of Saint Martin of Tours – a saint with a sword. The mercenaries’ cardinal views this as a sign from God to follow Martin as their new leader.
Arnolfini’s son, Steven (Tom Burlinson), is betrothed to Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They meet for the first time and eat from a mandrake to magically fall in love, then the entourage is attacked and robbed by Martin’s band. Arnolfini is seriously injured, and Agnes is hauled away, concealed among her valuable dowry. Martin discovers Agnes later evening as they strip the caravan of valuables. The men desire to gang rape her but Martin decides to take her himself. He rapes Agnes while she at first taunts him and then begins to flirt with him, hoping to gain Martin’s protection.
The mercenaries come upon a castle where, unknown to the mercenaries, the inhabitants are infected with the Plague. They capture the castle easily with the help of Agnes. She induces Martin to fall in love with her and works on the other mercenaries to accept her. She appears to have given up on her former life. Meanwhile, Steven is determined to rescue her and turns to Hawkwood.
Hawkwood only wants to live a quiet life, married to the former nun he had injured. Steven, becoming as ruthless as his father, seizes the nun to force Hawkwood to help his pursuit of Martin. They locate Martin and the mercenaries. They do not have sufficient force to take the castle and lay siege to it. In the castle, Martin asks Agnes where her true loyalty lies; she is noncommittal, hinting that the winner takes all. Outside, the Plague spreads among Steven’s forces and infects Hawkwood.
Steven builds a siege tower to storm the castle, and Martin destroys it with something Steven had tried earlier: gunpowder. Steven’s soldiers are killed as Steven scales the tower’s ladders, and he falls into the castle grounds. The mercenaries capture Steven and shackle him in the courtyard. Agnes pretends to join in the abuse of the captive Steven and even makes love to Martin in his presence.
Using a new medical technique Steven had learned (cutting the black sores on the infected body), Hawkwood cures his plague. He cannot continue the siege alone but, before leaving for additional troops, he catapults pieces of an infected dog into the castle. One chunk lands near the chained Steven, who flings it into the castle’s water well. Agnes sees this and Steven tells her that she can decide whether to tell the mercenaries.
The mercenaries wish to leave the castle, fearing the Plague, but Martin persuades them to stay. At the next meal, Agnes watches as they drink infected water. As Martin begins to drink, she slaps the cup from his hand. Many mercenaries soon show signs of the Plague sickness and hurl Martin into the well. As she did after Steven’s capture, Agnes pretends to join in the abuse of Martin.
Hawkwood and Arnolfini have recovered from their wounds and return with an army. Inside the castle, Steven needs Martin’s key to escape from the shackles, and Martin needs Steven to get out of the well. The two cooperate, but upon seeing the besieging army, Martin flees to the belfry. Steven frees himself and, as the battle rages, races to find Agnes. During the fighting, the belfry catches fire.
Flesh and Blood (1985)
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Fernando Hilbeck, Susan Tyrrell, Ronald Lacey, Brion James
Screenplay by: Gerard Soeteman
Cinematography by: Jan de Bont
Film Editing by: Ine Schenkkan
Costume Design by: Yvonne Blake
Art Direction by: Félix Murcia
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Release Date: August 30, 1985