Dir: Simon Aeby. Aust-Swit-Ger-Lux-Hung-U.K. 2005. 108mins.

While its production values are magnificent, The Headsman is an uneven period drama,too concerned with trying to convince the audience that history is repeatingitself and investing little enough effort into its mysteriously lifelessstoryline.

As such it is ofprimary interest to history buffs, although even they may cry foul at some ofthe dialogue's anachronisms.

It should have alimited run in the UK and US, possibly fare better incontinental Europe - where audiences may be more prone to connect with theirown historical background - and play best on DVD.

Set in16th-century Austria, the story opens as two childhood friends reunite aftermany years. Martin (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)is now a soldier who has fought in a long and bloody war, while Georg (Peter McDonald) has committed his life to thechurch.

Martin returns asa hero, but falls in love with Anna (Anastasia Griffith), whose father is thelocal executioner, and marries her despite the stigma surrounding theirrelationship. He has one job option, given his wife: he must take over the roleof headsman when his father-in-law dies.

The Headsman ultimately becomes a suspenseful race against time,as the headsman, his wife and son are targeted by power-hungry religiouszealots, out to kill them in the name of God. Their ability to escape is boundup in the question of whether the headsman's friend from childhood will remainloyal or succumb to the dark side.

Certainly theplot resonates to an extent, given the current climate of world leadersproclaiming religious affiliations loudly. There are also clear nods toparallels between then and now, in particular the dangers of church and statebecoming far too intertwined.

In several scenesodious power mongers use their twisted notions of religion and higher beings tojustify any matter of insanity - beheadings, burning alive, tongue removal, andso on.

But despite thesubject matter and good production values, TheHeadsman often feels surprisingly lifeless, a rather distant film even withthe gratuitous beheadings and human drama that make up its main constituents.

The cast, for themost part, is strong, although Coster-Waldau looksbetter suited to a Calvin Klein ad rather than an historical epic about thestruggles faced by a reluctant executioner.

Action is wellcaptured with more than capable cinematography. Costumes and sets are ofparticular note, capturing the period beautifully.

Allegro Film
Atrix Films
T&C Film
Home Run Pictures
Samsa Film
Eurofilm Studio
Film & Music Entertainment

Atrix Films/Sola Media

Helmut Grasser
Peter Rommel

Susanne Freund
Steve Attridge

Vladimir Smutny

Production design
Christoph Kanter

Karin Hartusch

Matthias Weber

Main cast
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Peter McDonald
Anastasia Griffith
Steven Berkoff
Eddie Marsan
Lee Ingleby
Julie Cox
Patrick Godfrey
John Shrapnel