Retro Review: A Knight’s Tale

The sounds of the classic Queen song, “We Will Rock You” thunder as the camera drifts down onto a medieval stadium. The people jamming the stadium beat their wooden seats and railings as they chant to the lyrics of the song. From that pure instant you know very well this isn’t going to be your typical medieval story about knights, honor, fair maidens, and dragons.

A Knight’s Tale tells the story of William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), a knight’s page who dresses as a knight after his liege dies of old age. He learns that he isn’t that bad at jousting and vows to become a knight even though he is forbidden to do so by law. For it is written, that a man of noble birth can only become a knight.

With the help of struggling writer Geoff Chaucer (Paul Bettany), William adopts the identity of Sir Ulrich von Lichenstein and vows to become the best knight in the land. Standing in William’s way are the fair maiden, Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) and the evil Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell).

“A Knight’s Tale” is a very original and interesting take on knights in cinema. Its drive is centered in the charismatic performance of Heath Ledger, who helps ground the film in some much needed sequences. Ledger definitely shows his leading man qualities in this project. He will go a long way in Hollywood.

My favorite character in the film was Geoff Chaucer. As literature professionals know, the real Geoffrey Chaucer was responsible for writing the “Canterbury Tales” which did chronicle a lot of people of that day. The film’s incarnation is a brilliant humorous representative of that figure. He has such command of the English language but he is also very human. Paul Bettany’s Chaucer is a scene-stealer and I did really want to see more of his unique humor.

Placing Heath and Bettany aside, the main character of the film has to be the music. Having people chant lyrics that were created hundreds of years after the events in the film and then continuing with different songs throughout is very daring. I can see a lot of historians throwing tomatoes at the screen and writing article upon article screaming outrage. What these stuffy guys have to realize is that this is entertainment and popular music does grip the sports world of today. As the film stated, “jousting” was the sport of that age and it gripped nations. Every time we hear a face-off or a touchdown today, there is the thundering of a sports anthem. I am not sure if back in the 14th Century they had their own sports chants or ballads but I think if they were used here it may alienate the audience. Therefore I believe the music brings us into William’s world and allows us to enjoy the challenge of jousting.

Don’t get me wrong but the film did have flaws within its originality. I found that the film was at least 30 minutes to long and a supporting performance that was severely lacking.

The performance was the fair Jocelyn who for me was so clearly miscast. A lot of what she said made me wonder what William ever saw in her. This performance made me really want to see a real actress in the role. I mean she needed depth of emotion and inner turmoil to be shown on the surface of her character to allow her love for William blossom. I also saw very little chemistry between her and William. That was a real shame. Other problems with her were her attire and hairstyle. It looked like she was a reject from the 1980s (ie: spiked “Joan Jett” hair). The writers and the actress really needed to bring this character more depth and it never was accomplished.

In the lagging 30 minutes, I really felt sorry for Rufus Sewell, who plays William’s arch-enemy. The filmmakers used a lot of typical bad-guy stuff on William and that really pulled away from the originality of the film. Sewell tries a lot to show the emotions within the Count but he just doesn’t come through. Sewell is a good actor and this two-dimensional role really doesn’t help him here.

A Knight’s Tale is a lot of fun if you don’t over analyze it. You will cheer and feel good coming out. These aspects are all you need to enjoy for a summer movie.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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