Friday, 13 January 2012

Day of Wrath 2005

The film Day of Wrath “Dies Irae” deals with one aspect of the Spanish Inquisition that period of eternal damnation where the Catholic Church of Spain executed citizens, usually after torture and trial from serious crimes against religious orthodoxy of the time. The number of executions was surprisingly small considering the total number of cases tried, and even these were not fo the same order as the great purges before and since. What the film argues is that those behind the Inquisition were in fact Spanish families with Jewish backgrounds who following the banishment of Jews from Spain and not wishing to leave did a deal to become officially Christians and creating false identities rewriting family histories.

Christopher Lambert plays a Catholic who marries an exceptionally devout woman from Antwerp where he has been sent by his mother from a small Spanish town in the middle of the sixteen century and where his wife has bore him two children. He is then asked by the Governor to return home and become the chief law enforcement officer although the real power rests with the Official Inquisitor and his officers who almost daily test and execute heretics, an aspect not based on the reality.

Lambert is confronted with a series of deaths of prominent men whose bodies together with their escorts he discovers badly disfigured and with the initials D and E cut into their bodies. However when he investigates he discovers all traces of the bodies and blood stained streets have been obliterated and worse still not only there are no witnesses buy the wives claim their husbands have gone on missions abroad.

The Governor is played by Brian Blessed who appears to be a man only interested in splendiferous banquets of fine foods and being entertained by the court fool. We the audience know that there is a group of local worthies who appear to be led by the Chief Inquisitor meeting in secret and expressing concern about what is happening and also about the existence of a list and the possibility of it falling into the wrong hands.

When the Governor goes to the Church for confession instead of the priest he is confronted by someone threatening to disclose a truth unless there good payment.

One of the men who dies is the husband of Lambert’s first love who he is still attracted especially as his wife is sexually frigid seeing the adult relationship has intended to create new life rather than an act of pleasure. This woman also denies the death of her husband.

In a third situation someone he knows from childhood warns that he and his daughter/daughter in law are in peril if they do anything other than continue with the fiction of what happened.

The Sheriff, as he is described in this film, undertakes research and cannot find any trace of the families in published work on family histories. However he is told this is a false book and is referred to one kept by the local clergy, a large old and dusty volume which shows the histories of the families of the murdered. He has noted that in each of the households there is the same style and period created family portrait of ancestors. In one instance it is claimed the portrait is a copy of one held at the family home in the capital.

He eventually comes across the murderer who admits to being a paid assassin and who has been instructed not to kill the Sheriff but to warn him off, including threats to his wife and children. His mother appears to know something which she also refuses to disclose. Eventually he discovers that his assistant is also part of the conspiracy and he man throws himself through a window to his death rather than be captured and tortured to reveal what he know.

Eventually the assassin brings him to the home of Governor with two lists which were held by two further nobles who have been killed in the same manner as before. The Governor explains that when the expulsion of the Jews was enacted a number of families did a deal with the King and had new family histories created as devout Catholics eliminating all trace of Jewish ancestry or of involvement with the Jewish faith. One list covers the original names of the families and the other their assigned names. The decision was taken for the leading families to come to live in one town to provide mutual protection and where their secret was known by the Inquisitor because he was also of a former Jewish family hence the enthusiasm of his actions in order to underline his position. Only the local priest was unaware of the true situation. The Governor discloses that the Sheriff is the son of his sister and his closest legitimate heir someone he hoped would succeed him in the future. He then admits that he had paid a blackmailer but grew tired and assuming it was someone on the list had employed the mercenary to commences to kill everyone else on this list. This later includes the Chief Inquisitor. The Sheriff is at first horrified but comes round to the situation when he finds that is wife wants to report him and the children to the Inquisitor. The film ends with the Sheriff marrying his childhood sweetheart and becoming the governor and being given caskets of jewels and gold coin in gratitude for his protection. Later they are seen practicing the Jewish faiths in the vaults of the Governor’s residence.

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1480 about 80 years before the time when the film is set, The Royal decree demanding that Jews convert or leave was made in 1492 and with that for Muslims made in 1501. The reign of terror lasted for over 300 years. Some of those who converted were allowed to hold office and it was one convert who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus. A few were ennobled. The extent of the Inquisitions is the subject of much research with the numbers surprising low ranging from 50000 to 15000 and the total deaths between 1000 and 3000 with a similar number condemned in their absence so that only their effigies were burned. This is not to minimise what would have been the impact on the population at the time and on those directly affected in particular.

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