A Knight’s Tale

Posted on April 27, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , |

A Knight’s Tale almost falls into that category of films not enough people know about. It’s not exactly a cult or unheard of movie, but it rarely pops up on blogs or lists of must-see movies, which I think is a shame because it’s a really great film.  In fact, every time I watch it, I’m always surprised by how good it actually is, and so I thought a post was in order.

For those who don’t know, A Knight’s Tale is based on one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and tells the story of William, a peasant who decides to pose as a Knight in order to achieve fame and fortune on the Jousting circuit.  What writer/director Brian Helgeland does so well here, is seamlessly mix the modern with the medieval to come up with a movie which feels entirely up to date while at the same time being about what may seem (until you see the film of course) a rather quaint dark age pastime.

Jousters were the rock stars of the middle ages. They were the ridiculously overpaid footballers who people would argue about in pubs and cheer on in the stadium. And that’s what is done so well in this film.  The matches are full of action, with some effective use of slow motion, and Helgeland really highlights the potential danger of charging at someone with a pointy stick!  The rock star theme is furthered by some fantastic merging of modern anthems with traditional music. Queen’s We Will Rock You is used to get the audience straight into the right mindset, and there is a fantastic bit of work with Bowie’s Golden Years in the Banquet.  One of my favourite uses of pop music in a movie because it’s done so well. Check it out for yourself:

The fusion of eras is at times anachronistic; femme fatale Jocelyn’s costumes and hairstyles would I’m sure make a few historians twitch, but it doesn’t matter in a movie like this, which is more about the feeling of the time than the actual detail.  And it brings what could be quite a stuffy story right up to date, still feeling fresh now a decade later.

Not only does A Knight’s Tale have some quirky use of music and costume, it also has some knockout performances from a great cast. Heath Ledger is reliable as always, and Rufus Sewell fits easily into the brooding bad guy role, but for me the star of the show is Paul Bettany. As one of my favourite actors, I’m always a bit surprised that he doesn’t seem to turn up much in big movies. He seems to have taken a Depp-esque route of doing films you wouldn’t expect to find him in.  As writer and overzealous gambler Chaucer, Bettany is just brilliant. From his first unflinching entrance through to his collection of awesome speeches he steals every scene and rightly so.  He has a perfect balance of humour and heart which is reflected throughout the movie and I think has a lot to do with why this film works.

For those who have the DVD, there is a deleted scene containing an extra speech from Chaucer at the stocks and I can’t for the life of me work out why it was cut. It’s a beautiful moment and really should have made the final movie, so check it out if you can.

A Knight’s Tale really is a film that deserves more recognition.  On the surface it looks quite fluffy, and it isn’t exactly Apocalypse Now, but it deserves some credit for telling an old story in a very new way.  If you haven’t seen it yet then you really should.  Definitely more worth your time than the endless Royal Wedding coverage this weekend anyway.

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