Skip to main content

Northern Lights

June 2024
1min read

Black Robe

directed by Bruce Beresford, Samuel Goldwyn Company, Vidmark Video, 105 mins.

In this grimly beautiful 1991 film about a Jesuit priest’s ordeal in the seventeenth-century Canadian wilderness, the Canadian actor Lothaire Bluteau plays Father LaForgue, who leaves France in 1634 to convert Indian souls. LaForgue, whose closeset dark eyes show back his stony faith to anything that surprises him, hires Algonquins to guide him upriver; they see him as a spooky figure- a “black robe,” after his Jesuit frock —and he feels only pity for them. LaForgue’s party is ambushed, and several are taken prisoner by the Algonquins’ enemies, the Hurons.

The Australian director Bruce Beresford, who also made Driving Miss Daisy and Breaker Morant , employs a harsh realism. From the first scenes in the New World you see mud everywhere. When the group travels, the water is tin-colored and the sky a winter-gray, and the woods are as menacing as they are unspoiled. When LaForgue finally reaches the Huron colony, his faith has been tortured but is intact.

Despite the best reviews, this film passed almost unnoticed amidst the noise about Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves . Its hard-edged imagining of life in the north three hundred years ago deserves a second chance.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.