EDITOR’S NOTE: Flesh+Blood was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Cannon Tuschinski Film Distribution.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by his frequent collaborator Gerard Soeteman, Flesh+Blood started as ideas that Verhoeven, Soeteman and Hauer didn’t get to do on the TV show Floris. It was filmed as God’s Own Butchers and would be released in the U.S. as The Rose and the Sword.
Verhoeven had previously had his movies paid for by the Dutch government. To escape all of that stress, he got money from Orion Pictures to make this; they soon started asking for changes, like adding a love story. Verhoeven would later say, “The triangular relationship of Martin–Agnes–Steven is now the main story line, but in retrospect I think we should have stuck with Hawkwood and Martin. The failure of Flesh+Blood was a lesson for me: never again compromise on the main storyline of a script.”
Shot in an improvisational style, Hauer went against Verhoeven’s wishes of making the character morally ambiguous. After all of the fighting between the two — the crew demanded they fight in English so they could understand what was happening — they would never work together again. When Hauer died in 2019, Verhoeven revealed that they had made amends.
When his city is lost due to a coup, Arnolfini (Fernando Hilbeck) promises an army of mercenaries an entire day to go wild inside the city walls if they succeed in retaking it. They do; they do. In fact, they go so out of control on that day that Arnolfini wants them gone. He pays Hawkwood (Jack Thompson) to turn on his former soldiers and lead a charge against Martin (Rutger Hauer) and his followers, who soon see their madness as divine mandate when Martin’s son is stillborn and interred under a statue of Saint Martin of Tours, the patron saint of both )winemakers and reformed alcoholics.
Arnolfini’s son Steven (Tom Burlinson) is to marry Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an arranged marriage that is moved forward by a magical ceremony where they eat mandrake together. At that point, the entire wedding party is attacked by Martin’s men. Arnolfini is badly wounded, the dowry is taken, the lady in waiting is stabbed and murdered (it’s Nancy Cartwright, yes, the voice of Bart Simpson) and Agnes is nearly gang raped before Martin does that all by himself. She gives up on her past life and joins with him in ruling the mercenaries. At the same time, Steven has gone mad wanting revenge and forces Hawkwood to leave his now quiet life and destroy his former friends. Thanks to gunpowder, Martin has the upper hand and Steven is taken; Hawkwood cures himself from the plague and decides to use that illness to destroy his enemy, launching a dead dog into the castle.
At the end, nearly everyone must die and everything must be destroyed; Steven and Martin find themselves needing to help one another before battling to what could be the death. Agnes remains aloof and on no side other than her own. Hawkwood yearns to escape all this fighting and return to the nun he’d saved from Martin.
Oh man — Susan Tyrrell shows up in this and so does Bruno Kirby. I did not expect either of them to appear in a medieval war movie!
The financial failure of Flesh+Blood is why Verhoeven moved to America, all to better understand its culture. The central theme of this movie — how horrible the Middle Ages were — didn’t resonate with audiences that wanted fantasy.
Nevertheless, this is a strong film, one filled with big ideas, gorgeous visuals — Jan De Bont was the director of photography — and the ambiguous morality its creator sought.
You can watch this on Tubi.