The Physician is set in the 11th Century, at a time when modern day hospitals are way off and the great unwashed have to rely on travelling barbes with poor knowledge. Meanwhile, an NHS, of sorts, is getting underway on the other side of the world.
In a family with 3 children, their mother dies and the eldest, Rob, is left to fend for himself after his only chance of another family refuse him for being too old to be cared for. Wanting to learn how to heal the sick, he chases after the latest barber, played by Stellan Skarsgård, who offers nonsense health solutions such as kidney ash to solve kidney problems, or to solve forgetfulness, just tie the dried tongue of a hooper bird around your neck.
The Barber sleeps around as a travelling salesman, with promises of curing all ills, even though he’s not a licenced medical practictioner and suggests to one young man that they can help him by cutting off all his toes, telling his young protégé – now a young adult and played by Tom Payne, “the more painful the treatment, the more they respect the barber”. WTF?!
And so with some training while travelling from London, via small villages throughout England, ultimately, Rob finds himself at the medical school at Isfahan, Iran, where along the way he encounters Emma Rigby as a young woman called Rebecca (and doing a dire Persian accent to boot – but I’ll let her off that).
I wanted to see The Physician largely for the presence of Skarsgård and Miss Rigby, but sadly the former’s time in this film is all too brief, since Tom Payne is the lead and it’s his character whose journey we follow as he goes to study under the tutilidge of Ibn Sina (Ben Kingsley) soon gets a crash course in how to deal with those poor individuals suffering big black boils of pus.
Fans of Ms Rigby, via Hollyoaks or films like Plastic, will know she’s rather a fittie. However, given her character’s Iranian heritage, she’s more covered up than the Chilcot Report on Iraq!
Plus, once Rob enters medical school, the film degenerates into one of those plodding desert-based movies which don’t have any real direction and clog up ITV3 on a Sunday afternoon. And aside from the few big names in this production, there’s quite number of cast members who are “Oh, I recognise him/her from somewhere” but you can’t quite place them.
There’s a complete lack of humour in this story, which doesn’t help with its laborious nature and makes you wonder how on earth does it manage to run for two-and-a-half hours??
On the plus side, there’s a decent score courtesy of Ingo Ludwig Frenzel, giving it a Far Eastern feel, but even still, it does come across like an almalgamation of a number of other films. And there’s also Spider from Corrie! aka Martin Hancock as healer Merlin, who helps the Barber regain his failing eyesight.
The film is in its original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and anamorphic widescreen, but whilst there are some sweeping vistas which would really suit the power of the Blu-ray format, these are severely diminished on DVD when watching on a big screen. You might’ve noticed the Blu-ray link atop this review. More on this later.
Sound-wise, the film is in Dolby Digital 5.1, and again there’s not too much going on most of the time. Even in a scene that would normally do well – the sandstorm – it all feels very lacking.
As for the extras, there’s just one – a making of, albeit running 28:37, so a decent length. As well as talking to the key cast and crew members, there’s also mentions of the costumes, locations, some special FX like a ‘stunt leg’ when chopping off toes, and set design including CGI to beef up the amount of content on the sets. It’s quite incredible when you see just how much you *didn’t* really see.
The menu features some subtle animation and a piece of incidental music on a loop, there are a bog-standard number of 12 chapters – quite inadequate for such a long film, and there’s no subtitles – which is a shame given that there’s a lot of mumbling from some cast members.
The Physician is released today on DVD, as well as Blu-ray, but note that there’s a couple of imported Blu-ray discs on Amazon as I type, but the one I’ve just linked to has DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in English, plus subtitles and also a featurette and trailers. And as I type, it’s about £2 cheaper than the UK release! Also, check out the full-size cover by clicking on the packshot.
Oh, and there’s also a 3-hour Blu-ray Extended Edition, but really, it doesn’t need to be any longer! (and it’s £25!)
Running time: 148 minutes
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: October 5th 2015
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 ( Arri Alexa Codex RAW)
Disc Format: DVD9
Director: Philipp Stölzl
Producers: Wolf Bauer and Nico Hofmann
Screenplay: Jan Berger, Philipp Stölzl, Simon Block and Christoph Müller (based on the novel by Noah Gordon)
Music: Ingo Ludwig Frenzel
Rob Cole: Tom Payne
Barber: Stellan Skarsgård
Rebecca: Emma Rigby
Shah Ala ad Daula: Olivier Martinez
Karim: Elyas M’Barek
Davout Hossein: Fahri Yardim
Imam: Makram J Khoury
Mirdin: Michael Marcus
Ibn Sina: Ben Kingsley
Bar Kappara: Stanley Townsend
Tuveh Ben Meir: Emil Marwa
Merlin: Martin Hancock
Rob Cole (10 Years): Adam Wright
Agnes Cole: Jodie McNee
Despina: Dominique Moore
Priest: Aidan Kelly
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.