When a film about sports in the middle ages begins with two knights trying to unhorse each other with the help of their lances – to a stadium full of, what seems to be, a hippie crowd in medieval clothing, stomping their feet and singing ‘We will rock you’ and breaking into a Mexican wave, you know you’ve put on the right DVD.
Of all the popcorn movies about sports – and there are many that pretend to be that – the one that out-jousts the rest for its romping mix of comedy, drama, romance, sport, medieval history… and, yes, rock music, is Brian Helgeland’s 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale.
On its face, the film is centred around the ancient sport of jousting… it’s about knights, counts, nobles, and it’s even got Edward, the Black Prince and Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English literature, revelling in the madness. But A Knight’s Tale is much more than just that. It’s a genius mix of the old and the contemporary: the setting may be 14th century Europe, but at its heart, it’s a movie about young love, ambition and foolishness, and how history doesn’t have to be as boring as they make it sound.
Heath Ledger plays a peasant, William Thatcher, who dons the garb of his recently deceased master, a knight, Sir Ector, to take his place in jousting championships. Through some luck and a lot of gut, William, now called Sir Ulrich Van Liechtenstein, goes on a winning spree, and somewhere in between, falls in love with a noble lady, Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon). To win her love and to win the world’s respect, William must now overcome Jocelyn’s wealthy suitor, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), the best jousters in the world, and his own humble origins.
The film’s brilliant script, also by Helgeland (who’s written masterpieces like LA Confidential and Mystic River), and its side-splitting support cast, which brings together some of the finest British comic talent (Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Paul Bettany), are just a couple of the reasons why this film’s un-missable.
But mostly, this film is a must-watch for the gifted Ledger’s charming portrayal of a young peasant’s journey to becoming both a knight and a man, and for the clever (and fiercely original) incorporation of ‘an author with a gambling addiction’, Chaucer, in the mix. The film also takes its name from a Chaucer classic – and the throwback to it deserves to be seen!
Starring: Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk
Written By: Brian Helgeland
Directed By: Brian Helgeland
Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, May 2011 issue
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