The partnership between director František Vláčil and screenwriter Vladimír Körner yielded films including Adelheid (Adelheid, 1969), Pověst o stříbrné jedli (The Legend of the Silver Fir, 1973) and Stín kapradiny (The Shadow of a Ferns, 1984). But it is the historical drama Údolí včel (The Valley of the Bees, 1967) that is widely regarded as the pair’s greatest collaborative achievement. Released in cinemas shortly after Vláčil’s highly acclaimed Marketa Lazarová (Marketa Lazarová, 1967), The Valley of the Bees came about as a result of efforts to reuse the props and costumes from the director’s previous opus – hitherto the most expensive Czechoslovak film of all time. Körner’s compact concept is very different from the ambitious, expansive adaptation of author Vladislav Vančura’s historical novel Marketa Lazarová. While the former film told the story of Christianity’s battle with paganism, The Valley of the Bees is more of a timeless picture representing a battle between asceticism and freedom. Similarly to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Sedmá pečeť, 1957), the film is highly philosophical; a non-romanticised view of the Middle Ages, which, instead of putting forward battle scenes, focuses on the internal conflicts of its characters. The protagonists of the story are two Teutonic Knights of the Cross, Armin von Heide and his Bohemian protégé Ondřej. The young aristocrat, whose father appointed him to the Order in childhood, escapes the castle where he grew up indoctrinated in asceticism and prayer. But the fanatical Armin keeps his companion under surveillance, following him to his hometown of Vlkov, and thwarting Ondřej’s attempts to lead a happy life with the lovely Lenora. The return of the desperate Ondřej to the Order as the only possible home that remains available to him was viewed by “normalisation” era censors as so controversial that for a 1977 TV version, they created a notably different “new” version with a truncated ending. This visually polished piece stars Petr Čepek as Ondřej, and Jan Kačer as Armin. Unlike Marketa Lazarová , the film did not find favour with critics and audiences. But the film has since been reappraised, and is today widely viewed as a Czechoslovak film classic.
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