A Knight’s Tale (2001)
A Knight’s Tale (2001)
starring Heath Ledger, directed by Brian Helgeland
e-Royalty Rating: 4 stars
I recently rewatched “A Knight’s Tale,” released in theaters in 2001 and now available on DVD. It is an easy movie to watch, but a difficult one to review or rate, as it joyously and raucously mashes the genres together. Drama, action, adventure, fantasy, romance – it has them all.
Is the move historically realistic? Good heavens, no! Does it even have the slightest historical plausibility? Absolutely not! Did I care? Not one bit!
There is nothing about “A Knight’s Tale” that is inaccurate, because it makes no pretense of being anything except a rollicking good story set in an imaginary “Middle Ages.” From the iconic opening sequence of a raucous tournament crowd, set to Queen’s sports anthem “We will rock you,” you know you are in for a wild ride in a medieval fantasy world deliberately stuffed full of anachronisms. From there it rolls out with such enthusiasm and panache, and in such a good-hearted way, that only the sourest of historical purists could fail to be charmed.
The historical purist whom I convinced to watch “The Knight’s Tale” found many of the movie’s settings surprisingly well done. The actual jousting sequences were researched correctly for the time period shown (which can be dated by the appearance of England’s “Black Prince,” 1330-1376). The knights’ equipment was well done, although the lances were too light and modern. The points for different strikes (one for waist to neck, two for the helmet, three for dehorsing) were genuine. The banquet tables, with their formal and generally inedible “subtleties,” were period appropriate. The sequence when our “knight” was learning to dance was fairly genuine, although the dance sequences at the actual banquet were very definitely (and very obviously) 2001.
As for the plot – well, that was deemed ridiculous (with no argument from me!). This is the tale of a peasant squire. I know, I know – that is a contradiction. Peasants were not squires. But remember – this is a fantasy and you are going to (temporarily) suspend your disbelief. It is all the easier to do so when our squire is played by the young Heath Ledger in his first major role. So, the peasant squire “fills in” for his suddenly deceased knightly master, in order to win a match in a second-rate tournament. He and his thoroughly goofy and absolutely loveable friends, brilliantly portrayed by Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk, then decide to seek fame and fortune by continuing the impersonation.
The plot then takes an unexpected and inspired turn with the introduction of a naked (don’t ask!) Geoffrey Chaucer, a young man with a gift for poetry and an even greater gift for promotion. Played by the gifted Paul Bettany, Chaucer lifts “A Knight’s Tale” into a magical ridiculousness that is thoroughly delightful to watch.
There is a love interest, picturesque enough but mundane in comparison to the rest of the cast. The romantic side plot was not only a distraction, but became actually tedious. This was the part of the movie that, for me, lowered its rating.
But then there is the villain! And, oh how villainous he is! Sir Adhemar, Count of Anjou (Rufus Sewell), is handsome, arrogant, cruel and supercilious. A classic, cold-hearted and treacherous snake who does everything except twirl his mustache, he sneers and swaggers through the film with panache.
A good villain is, of course, an absolutely necessity for any good medieval adventure. So, too, are an idealistic young knight, his trusty sidekick, a maiden fair and, of course, a happy ending! The audience knows from the beginning just what the ending will be. The trick, which “A Knight’s Tale” exploits masterfully (excepting the disappointing maiden), lies in taking these stereotypical and expected elements to a level that is so far over the top, that they become new again.
“A Knight’s Tale”. should be taken for what it is – a cheerful, whimsical tale that will put the viewer in a “medieval frame of mind.” Do not expect accuracy, but do expect to wind up with a smile on your face. This reviewer, who had a thoroughly good time, grants “Four Stars.”