Film review: A Knight’s Tale (2001), written and directed by Brian Helgeland
When the knight William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) squires for dies after a jousting match, William decides to finish the tournament in the man’s name. He has wanted to be a knight all his life so this is his big chance! As so happens he wins the next match, and thus the tournament, and that gives him an idea … what if he trained up a bit more and actually entered tournaments himself?
His companions Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk) are sceptical, but if he can pull it off there could be a lot of money in it for all three of them. On the way to Rouens they encounter a naked writer, namely Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), who can provide the (fake) credentials of nobility William will need in order to enter. Jousting tournaments are only for knights, and in order to be a knight you need to be a nobleman, not the son of a thatcher (Christopher Cazenove).
William finds a love interest, noblewoman Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon); a nemesis, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell); and Kate (Laura Fraser), a farrier who can mend his armour. William and friends go on a tour of the tournaments around France, hoping to win gold and the love of the beautiful Lady Jocelyn … by pretending to be Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, from Gelderland in what is now the Netherlands.
And no one ever even bats an eyelid to the whole of Europe seemingly speaking the same language.
Also starring Bérénice Bejo as Jocelyn’s maid Christiana, Scott Handy as Germaine, Leagh Conwell as the younger version of William, and James Purefoy as Sir Colville.
Yeah, the language thing was probably the weirdest part – Jocelyn’s peculiar out-of-time styling aside – because the main gang are Englishmen, with Scottish Kate, and they’re travelling around France pretending to be a Dutch knight with entourage, and everyone understands each other perfectly. The only foreign language that is ever hinted at is when Christiana is bid “au révoir” at one point. Or is the point that they’re so fluent in French that they speak it like it was their native tongue? Or are we meant to believe the whole of medieval France speaks perfect English? Yes, it would be very silly if they all walked around with phony French accents throughout the film, but couldn’t they have made some sort of distinction?
But then the whole film is a medieval romp with some modernities – like the soundtrack. The jousting arena at the very beginning rock out to Queen, and there’s a banquet with David Bowie playing, and so on. It works, sort of. If anything it highlights the fact that this is not a film that takes itself too seriously.
Wat really goes to town with the hot-headed redhead trope, and I absolutely love his bright ginger hair colour. William as a character, with adorably blonde curls, is not just Mr Wannabe-A-Knight, but he’s also flawed, because sometimes he’s really bloody pigheaded – which is good from a storytelling point of view.
None of the other characters get fleshed out. Wat is short-tempered and wants to run a tavern, Roland knows how to sew, Chaucer is a performer, and Kate is the spunky token female who wants to prove to everyone that she’s just as capable as any man. Jocelyn is a Lady, and Adhemar is a vindictive, manipulative swine. You get the gist of who they are as people, but nothing deeper than that, which is a shame.
On the other hand, it’s a very entertaining film. Replace jousting with some kind of modern sport and it wouldn’t be too difficult to upgrade to modern day. Tennis, maybe? (Wimbledon starts next week, or so I’ve heard, and I should really re-watch that film now.) It’s not particularly deep, but then it’s also not stupid. It’s good fun, and that’s fabulous. Such a shame Heath Ledger is no longer with us. Such a splendid actor, he was.
4 out of 5 lances.