A Knight's TaleI think all historians who are passionate about what they study and approach the medieval period with sincerity had better look away now because Brian Helgeland’s 2001 film will most likely make you want to throw up. For those of you still looking let me explain this curiosity: Imagine if you will medieval jousting reimagined with the bombast of a modern day sporting event complete with cheerleaders, Mexican waves, screaming fans, idolising of those who partake and rock music (more about that later…). Safe to say we are entering the realms of fiction, of parody and ridicule, even of satire. Indeed the tale of Heath Ledger – he’s not actually a knight – could be viewed as an intelligent satire on our society’s obsessions with sports stardom and celebrity, were it not quite so clumsily handled. The film does offer an excellent concept or idea but is let down (as so many films are these days) by a lack of development, clunky dialogue and most annoyingly, an alarming lack of plot.

The film opens promisingly as poor squire William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) is forced to step into his dead master’s armour and take up jousting in his stead. Of course he likes it so much that he decides he may as well continue, masquerading as Ulrich von Lichtenstein, touring around French jousting tournaments and eventually coming up against bad-guy-knight and nemesis Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell) and catching the eye of Shannyn Sossamon as the princess Jocelyn. After that it gets a bit hazy. Ledger is joined by some likeable companions including Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk and Paul Bettany (whose pre-match announcements are among the film’s highlights although trying to sell his as Geoffrey Chaucer is a bit rich), there’s a lot of manly sporting to be done and an introduction of a series of flashbacks, introducing Ledger’s father which, although they’re a nice touch add nothing significant to proceedings.

The acting ranges from very good (Bettany) through to terrible (Sossamon). Ledger does a good job but even he can’t always rescue the film from the terrible dialogue or set pieces such as an almost embarrassing dance scene. Rufus Sewell’s baddie simply pouts around the place without purpose and the script forgets to explain why exactly he and Ledger can’t just be mates. Laura Fraser’s blacksmith role is also just there and confusing as to why. Still, there is very decent entertainment to be had from the jousting sequences which are quite spectacular, especially in slow motion and some of the humour is genuine. And for the fact that the whole thing should be taken as parody, the film looks fantastic, the sets, the “stadiums”, everything. Well, except for Sossamon’s hairdos which are among the worst in memorable history.

A Knight's Tale OSTTo be quite honest, I was sceptical about the whole rock music thing from the word go. But to my great surprise it wasn’t completely out of place. Ok, so knights joust along to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or ride into London with “The Boys are Back in Town” as a backing track. That’s actually fine with me. But I’m not so sure was it fine with Helgeland, because strangely enough he keeps the rock music away from some of the biggest set pieces, and towards the end of the film they become fewer and fewer. Maybe even the director wasn’t quite sure whether or not this “gimmick” could actually work alongside the pictures. There’s also an underscore composed by Carter Burwell which gets a little squashed in between all the songs. Burwell seems to me an odd choice because his scores are rarely loud and bombastic, someone like Hans Zimmer could have delivered so much more. The songs are classics in their own right and do not need rating by me. The score on the other hand is is underwhelming to say the least.

“A Knight’s Tale” confuses me. Yet even if I try to see it from the least serious side, as loosely as possible, I find myself being distracted by the mess of the dialogue, thin story and the prospect of what could have been an excellent film in different hands. As it stands the movie is good entertainment, and a refreshing alternative to most other things medieval. However this for me is not one for repeat viewing.

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