Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Shannyn Sossamon, Laura Fraser, James Purefoy
Plot: William Thatcher (Ledger) is a squire to a jousting knight. When that knight dies, Thatcher decides to take his identity and try his hand at a sport usually reserved for royal blood.
The best way to summarise the tone of A Knight’s Tale is pointing out an early scene where a Medieval jousting tournament is accompanied by the crowds singing Queen – We Will Rock You. This is less period piece and more amusing romp in a medieval setting. Ignore the fact that Shannyn Sossamon spends one scene dressed in 50s fashion.
So, sure, this movie is bound to ruffle the feathers of purists in the audience, but the casual attitude towards period accuracy suits Helgeland’s film just fine. For a start, for large chunks of A Knight’s Tale, the period seems less important than the genre. Helgeland is making a typical sport’s movie, only one pulled out of the usual centuries and dumped into the Middle Ages. And why not? In terms of the ‘jousting movie’ genre, A Knight’s Tale finds itself with no competition. The story doesn’t even have to work too hard to stand on its own two legs. Heath Ledger plays a charming hero, a lowly squire, who falsifies documents granting him a noble title, getting him into a jousting tournament. The secret identity angle isn’t leaned on too heavily, rather than a plot point to crop up in the ending beats. The more prominent narrative beats are the more typical ones of the sport genre: there is a woman out of the hero’s league to woo through his competence in the sport (or does she love the person beneath more than the sporty exterior?), and a jerk champion to be knocked from the title position. In the jousting sport, knocking someone from their high horse takes a very literal meaning. The movie is a fairly simple one and, at times, there is a sense that this movie doesn’t quite have enough going for it to keep you hooked. Problems are solved by a character with a convenient answer strolling around the corner at just the right time. Light entertainment is chosen over depth. This is a film happy to win audiences over with a smile and a cheeky wink. Heath Ledger is the perfect example of that. It is impossible to not watch Ledger act and dream of a time when he was allowed to go that extra mile. Ledger is asked to play the charming English hero (his accent is perfect theatre Brit), a soppy romantic lead to make the women go weak at the knees. Yes, he is capable of more, but you were never going to find that here. Instead, sink into Ledger’s ability to simply coast through a film and keep a degree of talent. He fits the material like a glove. The supporting cast get the gist as well. Paul Bettany makes for a show-stealing Chaucer, introduced as a wacky, naked man wandering down a dirt road and going on to uproot scenes from the other actors. Watching him hype Ledger’s Thatcher before a jousting machine is simply a delight.
Final Verdict: Pleasant fun. It could be so much more, but there is a charm to a Middle Age film not striving to be the next Epic.