Flesh and Blood (1985 film)

Flesh and Blood (stylized as Flesh+Blood) is a 1985 romantic historical adventure film directed by Paul Verhoeven, and starring Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Susan Tyrrell, Ronald Lacey, Bruno Kirby and Jack Thompson. The script was written by Verhoeven and Gerard Soeteman. The story is set in the year 1501 in Italy, during the early modern period, and follows two warring groups of mercenaries and their longstanding quarrel.

Poster Flesh & Blood.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Renato Casaro
Directed byPaul Verhoeven
Written byGerard Soeteman
Paul Verhoeven
Story byGerard Soeteman
Produced byGijs Versylus
CinematographyJan de Bont
Edited byIne Schenkkan
Music byBasil Poledouris
  • Riverside Pictures
  • Impala Studios
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release dates
June 10, 1985 (1985-06-10) (SIFF)
August 30, 1985 (1985-08-30) (United States)
Running time
126 minutes
CountriesUnited States
BudgetUS$6.5 million
Box officeUS$100,000 (United States)[1]

The script is partly based on unused material for the Dutch TV series Floris, which was the debut for Verhoeven, Soeteman and Hauer. The film, originally titled God's Own Butchers,[2][3] was also known as The Rose and the Sword on early VHS releases. It was Verhoeven's first English-language film.[4]

The film was a huge box office flop, only managing to make back US$100,000 out of its estimated US$6.5 million budget.


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 well, raping and killing those who stand in their way. 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.

A statue of Saint Martin holding a sword

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; Kathleen, Agnes's lady-in-waiting, is stabbed in the chest and dies; and Agnes is hauled away, concealed among her valuable dowry. Martin discovers Agnes later that 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 them, 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 buboes 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. Before long, all the mercenaries but Martin, Polly, Anna, and Little John are dead.

Martin confronts Agnes. She claims that she loves him, but he prepares to murder her rather than allow her to return to Steven. As Martin is strangling Agnes, Steven attacks. Martin, a cunning and hardened mercenary, overpowers Steven. He almost drowns him, but Agnes strikes Martin on the head, and she and Steven flee the blazing castle and reunite with Hawkwood. As Agnes and Steven embrace, Agnes sees Martin over Steven's shoulder, escaping from the castle, a sack of loot on his shoulder. She says nothing.[5]



After tiring of attempting to have his controversial Dutch films subsidized by the government, Verhoeven looked elsewhere for funding for Flesh and Blood, eventually securing most of the budget from Hollywood studio Orion Pictures.[3] However, Orion soon requested changes, feeling that the film needed a love interest; thus, instead of focusing on the relationship between Hawkwood and Martin, Agnes was introduced and attention turned to her romantic entanglement with both Martin and Steven.[3] Verhoeven later said: "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 and Blood was a lesson for me: never again compromise on the main story line of a script."[3]

In addition to a cast featuring American, Australian, British and Dutch actors, attempting to handle an international co-production funded by multiple sources who all wanted to take the film in different directions overwhelmed Verhoeven, who had also not storyboarded the film in a bid to achieve a "looser visual approach".[3] There were a number of delays and disagreements because of the subsequent improvisational style of filming; many members of the cast and crew also arrived and left when they pleased to party on a local beach.[3] One of the most notable disagreements was between Verhoeven and Hauer, who wanted to cultivate a reputation for playing heroic characters rather than villains, as he did in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982).[3] This was at odds with Verhoeven's intent to portray the moral ambiguity of its characters and the Middle Ages as a "stinking time in which to live" to distance it from typical medieval fantasy depictions of the period.[3] This caused a bitter rift to develop between the two, who did not work together again.[3]

Some of the film was censored, including the rape sequence. This upset Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was opposed to censorship. "It's a hard scene to watch," she said. "Brutal and ugly as rape is, I know it's going to upset a lot of people. But the film is extraordinary. Paul Verhoeven is so gifted."[6]

Flesh and Blood was shot in Spain, in Belmonte (Cuenca), Cáceres and Ávila.

Flesh and Blood's musical score was composed by Basil Poledouris, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.[7] La-La Land Records released an extended CD of the score in 2013 with almost twice as much music as the original 1985 LP/CD release by Varèse Sarabande.


Though the film received worldwide release in the summer of 1985, in the United States, Orion Pictures gave the film a limited theatrical release on August 16, 1985, in Los Angeles and New York City. Thus, the film did not gross a large amount in the country, and by most accounts, performed poorly.[3] By 1986, the film was showing in the U.S. on HBO, a business partner of Orion Pictures.


Box officeEdit

Verhoeven has hypothesized on the reasons for the film's failure at the American box office in the years since its release, including statements that it was "too cynical and downbeat" to be a hit.[3] Professor of film and literature at California Polytechnic State University Douglas Keesey suggested that the film had "no hero to root for and no happy fantasy element to lighten its unpleasantly realistic depiction of the Middle Ages".[3]

The film's financial failure caused Verhoeven to move to the United States in September 1985 in order to better understand American culture and what films would be suited to its audience.[3] In addition to this, his previous films, notably Spetters (1980), had been protested by members of the Dutch public and it had become difficult to gain financing to shoot productions in his home country.[3]

Critical responseEdit

Although unsuccessful at the box office upon release, the film has become a critical and cult favorite.[3] It maintains an 86% approval rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.1/10.[8]

Noel Murray of The A.V. Club wrote in his review: "From the start of his career, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has mostly focused on making violent, sexy genre pieces—often punishing, often absurd, and always placed in the context of a moralistic pessimism. Verhoeven’s 1985 English-language film debut Flesh and Blood wallows in mud and misery, with Rutger Hauer playing an early-16th-century mercenary who leads a troupe of undesirables in a revolt against a deadbeat lord, and Jennifer Jason Leigh playing a virginal lady who’s kidnapped by the rebels and becomes Hauer’s (mostly) willing mate."[9]

Cultural impactEdit

The movie inspired Berserk creator Kentaro Miura, who said in a 2003 interview when he won the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize's Award for Excellence (2002) that he based the design of Berserk protagonist Guts on the character Martin as portrayed by actor Rutger Hauer.



  1. ^ "Flesh & Blood (1985)". The Numbers. Beverly Hills, California: Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  2. ^ Flesh + Blood (1985), by Dan Owen 08-10-2018, Dans Media Digest
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Keesey 2005, pp. 86–93.
  4. ^ Maltin 2017, p. 475.
  5. ^ Fischer 2017, p. 633.
  6. ^ Mann, Roderick (August 17, 1985). "MAKING A NAME--HERS--FOR HERSELF". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  7. ^ Young 2000, p. 218.
  8. ^ "Flesh & Blood (Flesh+Blood) (The Rose and the Sword)". Rotten Tomatoes. United States: Fandango Media. Retrieved November 3, 2020.
  9. ^ Murray, Noel (December 11, 2012). "Paul Verhoeven's Flesh + Blood—it's all right there in the title". The A.V. Club. Chicago: Onion, Inc. Retrieved September 6, 2019.


External linksEdit