’Jan Žižka’: Trailer drops for most expensive Czech film ever made

The medieval action flick featuring Sir Michael Caine in one of his last roles before retiring comes to cinemas in September.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 06.05.2022 12:20:00 (updated on 07.05.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Have a look at the most expensive Czech film ever made. The trailer for “Jan Žižka,” which will be called “Medieval” outside the Czech Republic, has finally been released. The historical action romance film, shot in English, features Sir Michael Caine in one of his last roles, as he has since announced his retirement.

With an estimated budget of over CZK 500 million (about $22 million), the film is a historical tale based on the early life of the one-eyed Hussite leader in the early 1400s.

While there have been more expensive films shot in the Czech Republic, this one is mainly a Czech production and not a Hollywood one like the recent “The Gray Man.” It was written and directed by Petr Jákl, a former stuntman and Olympic athlete who has now turned his attention behind the camera.

The lead role of Žižka is played by Ben Foster, known for his intense roles in “Hell or High Water” and “3:10 to Yuma.” The main cast also includes Til Schweiger and Sophie Lowe. Czech actors with large parts are Karel Roden, Ondřej Vetchý, Marek Vašut, and Jan Budař.

Ben Foster in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.
Ben Foster in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.

Jákl said that due to the big budget, he had to not only film in English but cast well-known names so the film would be able to succeed in the intentional market. Czech actors were used, though, whenever possible for the supporting roles.

“It's a story about the birth of a warlord, and I think people will be surprised at how the story is conceived. Everything takes place in 1402, that is during Žižka’s youth, before the Hussite wars. It contains everything you need to know about that time in order to understand it. Also enough fights, but above all a very strong story that leads you to the end,” Jákl said.

Michael Caine in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.
Michael Caine in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.

In the film, Žižka is a servant and protector of King Wenceslas IV (Roden). He becomes mixed up in a plot to kidnap Kateřina (Lowe), the fiancee of a rival nobleman. Žižka and Kateřina fall in love as the political situation starts to boil over, with Žižka fighting for justice, equality, and the common person.

Sir Michael Caine has a small but crucial role.

“I think it's a great story. There was an amazing atmosphere all around, and I enjoyed it very much,” Caine said in 2018 while filming his scenes at Křivoklát Castle.

Caine was fascinated by the Czech cast and crew. “The Czechs are really nice. And tall! Just from the film, the director, my assistant, all my acting colleagues [were tall]. How do you do that?” he said jokingly.

Karel Roden and Michael Caine in  'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.
Karel Roden and Michael Caine in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.

Director Jákl said Caine was easy to work with. “Michael did not want anyone on the film to call him Sir. … He gave me a chance and trusted me so much. I appreciate incredibly that he believed in me, and it is a tremendous honor for me to say that,” Jákl said.

Foster said was attracted to the project because of the “universal and specific” script.

“I was not familiar with this history, with the story of Jan Žižka. But it touched me very deeply as it speaks to a value system that fills my heart, where a man can inspire those who have not been trained to reclaim their dignity. … The script is strong, muscular, and heartfelt,” Foster said shortly after filming began.

The project was under preparation for eight years before filming began. The first scenes were shot at a rock quarry, which from the trailer looks like it could have been Velká Amerika, a location also used in the Prime Video miniseries “Wheel of Time.” The hilltop castle with the sun behind it looks like Bezděz, a landmark in the Liberec region.

Supporting actors Guy Roberts and Václav Jiráček. Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.
Supporting actors Guy Roberts and Václav Jiráček. Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.

Prague’s Charles Bridge, stripped of most of its statues by CGI, can also be spotted, along with the cityscape on the horizon including Prague Castle, without the modern version of St. Vitus’ Cathedral, and a small version of Malá Strana beneath it.

“Period scenes take place in Křivoklát, Točník, Kokořín, and Zvíkov and its surroundings. Charles Bridge and the medieval city built around it will have an irreplaceable place. But there are also a lot of other beautiful places and forests. … I want to show the world the beauty of our country as much as possible and connect it with history,” Jákl said during production.

Sophie Loew in  'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.
Sophie Loew in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.

Jákl said he did not pick the release date, but he is glad the film is finally going to come out. “It was assigned to me by the Americans. And since we have to have a premiere in America and our country, I accepted it,” he said. While the film is primarily a Czech one, it does have some international financial backing.

The film was shot in 2018 and slated for release in 2020, but then Covid closed movie theaters worldwide. The new release date is Sept. 8.

“I'm really looking forward to the movie being in theaters. It's a terrible feeling to have a movie ready for a long time, but you can't show it to anyone. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there are a lot of creators in a similar situation,” Jákl said.

Petr Jákl directing Michael Caine in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.
Petr Jákl directing Michael Caine in 'Jan Žižka.' Photo: © Stanislav Honzík.

During the pandemic, some films went straight to streaming or video on demand. People asked Jákl if his film would have the same fate.

“Basically, over the last two years my meetings with anyone would begin with the words: ‘So when will ‘Žižka’ be released?’ For fun, I started telling everyone that it would probably be just a home video in the end, because it probably won't see the cinema,” he said jokingly.

In the Czech Republic, the film will play in both the original English and a Czech-dubbed version.

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