Tenacious young orphan Rob Cole (Tom Payne) travels from benighted 11th-century England to cosmopolitan Isfahan in Persia to learn the art of healing at the feet of the great Ibn Sina (Ben Kingsley).
This sweeping historical epic, based on the bestselling book by Noah Gordon, is a German production with a multi-national cast speaking in English. That can often be a recipe for Euro-pudding stodge, yet Philipp Stözl’s film hangs together remarkably well thanks to the cast’s spirited performances.
Kingsley radiates wisdom and there are compelling turns, too, from Stellan Skarsgård as the cranky travelling barber who becomes Rob’s first mentor, Emma Rigby as his forbidden love, a Jewish aristocrat’s bride and Olivier Martinez as the haughty Persian Shah.
The fact that Rob’s life is so crowded with perilous incident gives the film a page-turning drive – he survives sandstorms, skirmishes and the plague, not to mention the self-circumcision he performs so that he can pass as a Jew.
In the story’s medieval world, however, the biggest threat of all is religious intolerance – whether from Christians, Muslims or Jews – which at times gives the film a chilling modern resonance.