Having been an amateur aficionado of Genghis Khan for the best part of 15 years it was time to take the plunge with a movie I’d be avoiding for six months least it disappoint.
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We may never know the full answer unless Bodrov decides to do several sequels (which he has intimated he may do at least one), as this pic only covers up until Genghis Khan united most of the tribes that inhabited the steppes of the Mongolian homeland. Time doesn’t permit Bodrov to delve into the tribal chief’s quests in China, Central Asia, Persia and the fringes of Europe. Instead we are treated to the upbringing of what made Genghis Khan such a formidable historical figure.
As a young boy, the young Temudjin (Genghis’s given name) sets out to find a bride with his father, only for his father to be poisoned by a rival clan. So we are introduced into the mores and values of 12th century Mongolia, where friendships and betrayals are intertwined and can change from day-to-day. The young Temudjin and the rest of his family are ostracised by the rest of the tribe, yet fortune smiles on the young warrior when he has a chance meeting with the son of a Khan from another clan, which leads them to becoming blood brothers – a friendship that will show its true value in later years.
Fast-forward to a young adult Temudjin and things are not that much better for the adolescent and his family as they try to eke out a meagre existence on the harsh steppe. However, he is determined to take for his wife Borte, the girl he chose all those years ago. He is soon married, but not long after a raiding party of Merkits take Borte in revenge for Temudjin’s father taking his mother under similar circumstances 25 years earlier.
Desperate to get her back, the clanless Temudjin enlists the aid of his blood brother’s tribe and other flotsam and jetsam to bring her home. A bloody battle ensues with the Merkits vanquished, but Borte is pregnant with his eldest son, Jochi. Although she claims the baby is his, they both know it is unlikely, but Temudjin cares not, which puts paid to the myth of him being a brutal and uncaring man (although Jochi’s paternity would always be a point of contention for Jochi’s son Batu – Khan of the Golden Horde – when Genghis died not long after Jochi in 1227).
While some minor historical matters may be contentious, ditto the costuming, all in all Bodrov and his cast and crew have done an outstanding job in bringing to the screen one of history’s most controversial figures. It could have been easy to give it a populist, cartoonish look (for an example see the God-awful John Wayne vehicle from 1956, The Conqueror). Standout performances are by the fledgling Odnyam Odsuren as the young Temudjin and Honglei Sun as Jamukha, the Khan’s blood brother. Fingers crossed, Bodrov comes through with the backing to make the sequel(s).