There’s something very endearing about these kinds of movies; Brian Helgeland’s “A Knight’s Tale” is sweet, innocent and uncomplicated – goodies are goodies and baddies are baddies, medieval England is fun and clean where everybody has great teeth and no smallpox in sight! This was the kind of movie I can remember as a kid being played for 7:30 on a Saturday night after “Funniest Home Videos” and though it would be very easy to poke holes in this, I couldn’t help but be swept up in the fun of it all.
Hunky peasant William (Heath Ledger) poses as a knight and escalates to the status of celebrity through the jousting world and wins over the beautiful, haughty and oppressed princess Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) along the way. This is the first time I’ve ever actually seen “A Knight’s Tale”, and wasn’t expecting for it to be as funny as it was! I laughed a lot during this, much of the comedy coming from the banter and ribbing within William’s jousting possy, (Alan Tudyk as Wat, Mark Addy as Roland and Paul Bettany as Geoffrey respectively). I don’t know what exactly tickled me about the zingers in this movie, what was it about Wat sassing somebody with “It’s called a lance. Hello?” that made me roll around with laughter? It’s not exactly the wittiest or zaniest line they could have come up with, and in another film I might have rolled my eyes at it, but for some reason the little flaws and imperfections in “A Knight’s Tale” only seem to make it all the more endearing! I think its because at its core, this film is so well intentioned and cheerful and it looks like everybody involved is having such a good time that its rough edges and inconsistencies don’t really detract from the material in any sense.
Beyond the comedy, “A Knight’s Tale” is genuinely exciting! You can’t get much more thrilling than knights pelting at each other with jousts on horseback and sword fights, and the film does well capturing the atmosphere of the crowds (while providing a fairly clean and polished depiction of the sport, notably absent of much excess blood or broken bones). I wasn’t crazy about all the romantic stuff, and I thought at times the romance between the two leads was distracting and a little annoying but I guess that all the jousting and sword fighting had to have a drop of treacle to fill in the gaps.
The film isn’t aiming to be a realistic and gritty portrayal of medieval times, the dialogue being pretty modern and characteristic of the 20th century while the fellas are hanging out and then all of a sudden extraordinarily Elizabethan when William and Jocelyn are spouting poetry to each other. And yes of course Jocelyn probably wouldn’t have had access to fluro hair dye and its unlikely that the crowds clapped along to “We Will Rock You” but it would be pretty damn miserable and petty to call out such things when its obvious from the beginning that the filmmakers aren’t angling for dreary realism. In fact the soundtrack worked surprisingly well! It would have been hard to recreate the excitement and atmosphere of the bloodthirsty stadiums with traditional Renaissance lutes so 90s rock did the trick perfectly.
And what a villain! Rufus Sewell plays the despicable and smug Count Adhemar, who is William’s antagonist and is not only threatening to rob him of his championship but also of his lover! I’ve spoken before about the value in films allowing the hero to get in a decent revenge moment to the villain, and “A Knight’s Tale” doesn’t hold back in the slightest.
This was good old fashioned fun, and I had a ripper time. It’s hard to be cynical while watching something that’s so jolly, and it was easy to watch “A Knight’s Tale” with the eyes of my twelve year old self and picture what my own jousting shield would have looked like.
By Jock Lehman