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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Wimbledon

Posted on June 25, 2010. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , |

In December I wrote about my favourite Christmas movies that I watch every year.  There’s only one other seasonal film that always gets a viewing, this time during the Summer, and that’s Wimbledon.

Wimbledon is a great, and greatly under-appreciated, film which I’ll happily watch all year round, but the beginning of the championships usually reminds me that it’s been a while since my last viewing.  It’s not a film people tend to get terribly enthusiastic about, which I think is a shame because while it might not be the most surprising plot, it is a sweet story with a lot of heart and an endearing set of characters.

One of the best things about Wimbledon is that you don’t have to like tennis to enjoy it.  I have a pretty vague interest in the sport, but this film really grabbed my attention the first time, and, if I’m honest, I’ve probably become more interested in tennis since.

What we have here is another Working Title RomCom, and it’s a fairly predictable one: boy meets girl, obstacles are overcome, happily ever after etc. etc.  What makes the film great is the backdrop of the tennis tournament and, in no small part, Paul Bettany’s loveable failing ex-tennis champ Peter Colt, on his last legs as a wild card entry.

I think without Bettany, this film would have a lot less going for it.  He has just the right amount of sarcasm and self-deprecating humour to fit the part perfectly, while creating a character you really warm to.  In my opinion, he is a truly great actor who can brighten up even bad movies, effortlessly carrying this one.  There’s real emotion in the final match scenes, which still have me holding my breath as he serves, despite the fact I know exactly what’s going to happen.

And while we’re talking about the matches, a great deal of effort has gone into making each one an exciting ride, using bullet time technology and CGI tennis balls to give variety to what could be a very repetitive format.  The final match in particular is loaded with tension.  What I really love about the tennis matches though, are the occasions when we go inside Colt’s head and hear his thoughts, which are refreshingly un-confident and honest.

On to the rest of the cast, and what a supporting cast we have!  Kirsten Dunst just about manages to be likeable playing Lizzie, a character who is essentially a bit of a brat.  Although every time she says “Peter” I can’t help but think “Parker.”

Making up the rest we have a series of great British actors, including Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron and the fantastic James McAvoy (no trace of Scots accent) who delivers a great overlooked sibling, his obvious cycling prowess never once mentioned by any of the other characters.  Jon Favreau works well as the money grabbing agent, and Sam Neil finishes the group nicely as Lizzie’s overbearing father.

Wimbledon portrays a certain kind of Englishness that I think is very much defined by the tennis tournament.  We sit and eat our strawberries in silence, only cheering at the allowed times, and will always, always, love an underdog on his way back up from the bottom.  There’s also a lot of dry British humour, which cuts through any moments of mushyness.  There’s a great friendship between Colt and German training partner Prohl, and of course the final match has to be pitted against an over-confident cocky American jerk, but Englishman Colt is just a stereotyped; as the privileged Middle Class boy, with bickering parents and constant need to apologise.

Wimbledon is a great film to watch as a warm up for the real life action to come, or at any other time when you need a pick me up.  It’s a heart-warming story, with edge-of-your-seat tennis matches and a hero you can really root for.  Makes me come over all patriotic.

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