A KNIGHT'S TALE
Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:12 - Released 5/11/01
For a lighthearted romp in the medieval age of chivalric combat, A Knight's Tale could do worse. From the desk and megaphone of Brian Helgeland (Payback) comes this not-quite-silly-enough-for-Monty-Python version of a classic love story from the time when noble men were frequently encased in steel and women were their willing property. It contains tons of intentional anachronisms like modern hair and dancing styles, and the use of several 1970s pop songs as background music, so it obviously does not expect to be taken terribly seriously, but it also boasts the sets, costumes, and production values of a film striving for authenticity. Its sickeningly sweet love story is perhaps its most annoying aspect; however, a story like this, set in this time, seems almost to command this type of romantic overindulgence. Lastly, A Knight's Tale allows Australian hunk Heath Ledger (The Patriot) to build his reputation as this year's model of Leonardo DiCaprio, ensnaring the hearts of young females everywhere with the ultimate girl fantasy. After all, folks, he is playing a knight in shining armor.
Ledger is William Thatcher, peasant squire to an aging knight.
When the old man takes one too many hits during a jousting match,
he expires during a rest period, and Will, well trained in the
sport, decides to take the final joust in his place. His victory
in the match wins 15 gold florins for himself and his assistants,
Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), and it doesn't take a
catapult scientist to see that this scam can be their meal ticket
for the foreseeable future. The only trouble is, a knight must
be of noble birth, and Will was born a peasant. Enter Geoffrey
Chaucer (Paul Bettany), a struggling writer with the wit of a
scholar and a weakness for gambling, who meets the men completely
naked on a country road (he lost his clothes in a bet). Chaucer
agrees, in return for food and clothing, not only to supply Will
with the patents he needs to prove his nobility, but to serve
as his herald, announcing with flowery speeches and crowd-pleasing
enthusiasm his lord, who has now become "Sir Ulrich of Lichtenstein."
Ulrich's meteoric and highly unlikely rise to the top of the
sport brings him into close associations with several important
people, like the beautiful lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), with
whom he falls in love, the sinister Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell),
who seeks her hand in marriage, and even Edward, Prince of Wales
(Christopher Cazenove), the heir to the British throne. His desire
to be a true knight, to "change his stars," as he refers
to it, often pushes him beyond the boundaries of common sense,
and his desire to best Adhemar, the only knight who has beaten
him so far, becomes an obsession. But he soon finds that his love
and his thirst for revenge are pulling him in opposite directions,
and Adhemar's devious ways threaten to unmask his dreadful secret.
Seems like a perfectly nice medieval story, yes? That's why the sudden appearance of soundtrack choices like "We Will Rock You" and "Low Rider" come as such a shock (especially when the characters start singing along!). One must get used to the idea that writer/director Helgeland is intentionally putting modern-day elements into his production, that it is not a mistake that that character is talking or dancing or wearing her hair that way. But it is jarring, given the film's otherwise authentic qualities. Meanwhile, many of the "serious" characters are tritely stereotypical, while the "funny" ones are just unashamedly modern. But if you can get past the presence of the seemingly out-of-place elements, this film may win you over on sheer exuberance. ****