Waiting for the Barbarians (2020) Review



Waiting for the Barbarians isn’t exactly a shot of adrenaline but the acting is exceptional with Mark Rylance proving once again he is one of the best actors working today.

Plot: A civil officer in a sleepy border town of an unnamed empire unexpectedly comes face-to-face with the machinations of power in Waiting for the Barbarians

Review: Based on the novel of the same name Waiting for the Barbarians will certainly be an acquired taste due to the deliberate pacing; this is very much a character drama set in an unnamed location in the 19th Century and tells the tale of a Magistrate (played by the incomparable Mark Rylance) working in a distant outpost who begins to question his loyalty to the empire. He is a man of peace and his outpost rarely has any major crimes or excitement however, all that changes when sadistic Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) arrives and begins to torture prisoners for “confessions”. This is a tale that’s every bit as prevalent now as the time it was set with all of the unrest in the world as it explores themes of colonial violence and imperialism.

Rylance has that soft spoken nature which makes The Magistrate an immediately appealing character who we empathize with completely even despite his flaws; the British soldiers in this tale are the real Barbarians with Johnny Depp playing one of the most despicable characters of his career; it’s good to see him in serious cinema again after so many family movies where he is always covered in make-up.  Robert Pattinson doesn’t have a huge role but he is also a total monster who you hate every moment he is on screen; he is fantastic though and as I said in my review for The Lighthouse anyone who doubts his acting chops need look no further.

As I mentioned this isn’t a fast paced tale so if you’re expecting some battle scenes or even serious drama you may be rather bored but I was transfixed by the stellar performances, stunning locations and epic score.

The script is intelligent with subtle moments and the set design is exquisite so it really is a visual feast.

Overall, Waiting for the Barbarians won’t be for everyone due to the slow pacing but the cast are at their best with Mark Rylance once again proving he is one of the best actors working today. If you’re looking for something different then I’d recommend giving this a try but just be patient with it.