Mark Addy

A Knight’s Tale

a knights tale

The title, with its promise of medieval adventure, would be enough to entice me. Knights and ladies, stolen identities and fallen heroes, jousting – unless you’re smarting from a bad college experience with Middle English literature, this film would seem a fun escape, a little raucous but not overly trying.

And A Knight’s Tale is some of that. Made in 2001, it predates the moody and heavy-handed historical adventures. The movie doesn’t bury itself in a palette of dark blues and blacks and instead spends most of its time under blazing sunlight, reflecting the optimism of the young squire at the center of the story. Will Thatcher (Heath Ledger) decides to change his fate when his master dies midway through a jousting tournament. Not wanting to face unemployment or a lifetime of service, he competes in the dead man’s stead, wins, and takes up a new identity as Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein. His fellow squires, Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), play along, but the scheme only works with the help of Geoff, last name Chaucer (Paul Bettany), who forges nobility documents that allow Will to enter tournaments.

The movie feels gimmicky at times, though Chaucer the gambling scribe, is an amusing, and sad, idea. In the writer’s most desperate moments, Bettany cuts a pathetic figure. Stripped of his clothes and dignity and cheating his way back to some semblance of respectability, it’s no wonder Chaucer penned a masterpiece that was as bawdy and riotous as it was reflective and admiring.

It’s the film’s many anachronistic elements that are most attention grabbing, however. The movie hurls its story and all its players well into the 21st century, eager to suggest that the 14th century was not so different from our own. The jousting tournaments play out like an adrenaline-fueled weekend of football. Stadiums are packed with superfans who chant ‘70s rock anthems, and the camera obliges by capturing armor catapulting slow-motion through the air and into the crowd like a home run baseball. Star Ledger lends a bit of anarchy to the affair. Looking somewhat shaggy and like he’s just stepped out of a wrestling ring, the actor occasionally flashes a hint of menace, though nothing approaching his Joker. This is 10 Things I Hate About You era Ledger after all.

That’s a good thing because the movie aims closer to the family-friendly crowd, but clocking in at over two hours, it’s easy to lose interest in both the spectacle and Will’s quest. Unlike the sports films it is partly patterned off of, there’s little build up to the main event, making the wins and losses inconsequential. Will’s storyline could use some tightening as well. His main rival (Rufus Sewell) doesn’t seem to pose too great a danger since he’s always coming and going, but the two still compete for the lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon). However, she has as much spark as a pile of wet twigs, unlike the fiery female blacksmith that Will befriends. That relationship doesn’t get much mileage nor does the one he has with his father, which doesn’t ruin Will’s determination to better himself, but it does make the journey feel far more formulaic than it should.

Released: 2001
Prod: Todd Black, Brian Helgeland, Tim Van Rellim
Dir: Brian Helgeland
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany, Bérénice Bejo, Laura Fraser, James Purefoy
Time: 132 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

Robin Hood (2010)

robin hood

Against my better judgment, I approve of this movie. There are problems aplenty, starting with the casting, namely the casting of Russell Crowe. This wasn’t one of those Daniel Craig as James Bond situations where everyone recanted with fawning apologies after watching the movie. No, the outcry continued after the film’s release. To be sure, Crowe is not the worst actor for the part, but Robin of the Hood possesses a certain cheekiness that people love, one that makes his rascally pursuit of the rich in service of the poor all the more winsome. Think merry men, think jaunty (mis-)adventures. Crowe is imposing and someone who you would ask to help steal back your grain, but he’s not someone you’re comfortable sharing a turkey leg with; “cheeky,” “merry,” and “jaunty” are not adjectives in his Venn diagram.

The fault is not entirely Crowe’s though. Director Ridley Scott belongs to the gritty rehash school of filmmaking where dark and weighty reimaginings of old heroes and historical adventures reign (Batman Begins, King Arthur, Kingdom of Heaven). This puts a damper on the storytelling. The bloated script runs about half an hour too long and is really an extended origins story. The movie begins with our hero, Robin Longstride, common archer for the king’s army and veteran of the Crusades, storming a French castle for king and country. He is also nursing some absent father issues, and these are magnified when he stumbles upon a dying Sir Robert Loxley (Douglas Hodge), whom he impersonates in order to get back home. He promises to return the knight’s sword to his old, blind father (Max von Sydow), but back in England, Robin finds he cannot shed his new identity so easily.

This is a fine perspective from which to better understand ye olde Robin, except this movie also has the rumblings of an early constitutional convention. The kingdom is a mess: Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) has just died, felled by a French cook with an excellent shot; his brother John (Oscar Isaac), the royal runt, ascends the throne; the French threaten to invade, aided by English conspirator Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong). The last thing the new king needs is barons bickering over trivial matters of rights and laws. But the hallowed Magna Carta, at least its first draft, worms its way into a stuffed script, thus giving Robin the chance to bellow that “every Englishman’s home is his castle!” Right on.

So what do I like about this movie? The supporting cast carries a lot of extra weight and does so nimbly. Cate Blanchett is the fairest Maid Marian of them all, a medieval, uh, Renaissance woman. No one would doubt that she is capable of running 5000 acres in her husband Loxley’s stead. Blanchett embodies Marian’s tenderness but also lends an emotional, and physical, strength to her character. Strong also satisfies as a duplicitous, self-serving knight, but Isaac proves to be the scene-stealing baddie with something of a Napoleon complex. Meanwhile, the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham is only a footnote here but Matthew Macfadyen makes use of his limited screentime to show a more buffoonish character than we are used to. Robin’s partners in crime (Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes) are also a stalwart bunch who counter their friend’s somber mood with good comedic timing. Despite all efforts to heighten the gravity of this tale, enough lighthearted moments sneak in that recall Robin Hood adventures of yore and why you wanted to watch another adaptation in the first place.

Released: 2010
Prod: Ridley Scott, Brian Grazer, Russell Crowe
Dir: Ridley Scott
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Eileen Atkins, Max von Sydow, Mark Addy, William Hurt, Kevin Durand, Matthew Macfadyen, Lea Seydoux, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle, Danny Huston, Mark Lewis Jones, Douglas Hodge, Jonathan Zaccai
Time: 140 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2014