Something nearly indefinable drew me to examine both the merits and flaws of this film after watching it and eventually pushed me into that final step of sharing my thoughts. I must admit, it seemed a strange choice to me when I finally relented and sat before the keyboard. First of all, there are already plenty of reviews on this film. I don't usually review a film if there are already 10 or more pieces on it. Also, unlike most films that I choose to review, it isn’t really a stunning work no matter what angle you look at it from.
Indeed, ’tis a somewhat odd mix of entertainment. T’would have been easy to dismiss it with a wave of my hand as another flawed modern fairy tale or semi-medieval nonsense. It is not historically accurate. It is not deep or life altering. Yet, for all its imperfections, there are many enjoyable and even admirable moments in A Knight’s Tale.
The premise is simple and familiar, like many a fairytale. A common man strives to rise in glory above his station in life and “change his stars.” Prodded by his basic desire to eat, William Thatcher seizes his opportunity, as well as the armor of his now dead Lord, to not only compete in a joust but walk away with the Champion’s Prize. Winning, after dreaming of knighthood his whole life, surely seems to agree with him! With the help of his fellow squires and loyal friends, Roland and Wat, William takes up the reigns of his destiny and spurs forward to his goal.
In truth, he would not have made it to the next competition were it not for the divine luck of a timely meeting with “The Lily among the Thorns” himself, Chaucer. A true friend and audacious character with an unfortunate penchant for gambling himself quite literally down to nothing. This Puckish and highly fictious representation of Geoffery Chaucer makes the ultimate Herald for our Hero as well as one of the most entertaining characters in this tale.
This intrepid band certainly wouldn’t have made it to the next competition without “Jeff’s” skill in forging Patents of Nobility, nor would they have made it much further than that without the skills of Kate the Armorer (Smith) who is destined to join them. Throw in a beautiful, if somewhat flat, Lady Love by the name of Jocelyn and a truly vicious, arrogant, evil villain (Sir Ademar) and the tale awaits only the happy ending to make it complete.
Of course, nothing short of complete victory would be enough to hang in the balance when looking at the life quest of a true Knight, be he of noble blood or no. Life, liberty, true love, fame, fortune, dignity and even his very name hang in the balance for daring to disguise himself as a noble and compete in the jousting competitions. How will the dice roll and can William live with the consequences?
THE FLAWS :
Well, to begin with The Knight’s Tale is fairly predictable. You might be mildly surprised by some occurrence in this story, but its doubtful. Also, if you are one of those people who don’t ever want a happy ending, or if you are simply not in the mood for simplistic entertainment, look elsewhere!
Secondly, for many, the lack of authenticity will be a drawback. Usually, those who watch a film set in another era want to see it because they are fond of things from that era. Prince Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, lived from 1330 to 1376 and Chaucer from about 1340 to the year 1400. Considering this along with their extremely different levels of society where the conditions of your birth determined your life, let’s face it, the likelihood of them ever coming even close to meeting is small. I believe Chaucer actual job in life was tax collector also, if memory serves. This didn’t really bother me though. I didn’t watch this film for historical accuracy. It’s light fiction, meant to be enjoyed not studied.
In another respect, some of the clothing worn by Jocelyn would never have been worn by any self-respecting woman of any era even close to the one in which they very loosely set this tale. Still, it wasn‘t the inaccuracy aspect of this costuming that bothered me.
I understand that they were using costuming, music, and even character personalities and dialogue to establish a rapport between the medieval ages and our own. In my opinion, barely draping Jocelyn in clothing that is only loosely based upon the styles of that time is pointless, far off mark of what they were trying to achieve, and a waste of money. I have seen many modern styles in clothing inspired by the Medieval or Renaissance eras that are simply stunning, but all of them require far more cloth than used in these designs!
It seems to me that this particular gown did just the opposite of what they intended. Sorry, no woman in my acquaintance is going to go swanning about in a sheer black dress. I guess she could hang out with Cher and a couple of other rich, svelte starlets but that is most definitely not a majority of modern female society!
Personally, my main gripe with this film was the character Jocelyn, an inadequate role adequately played by Shannyn Sossamon. Never having seen her in anything before, I wish she had been given a more solid role so I could more accurately decide if she has any talent.
I could overlook the sometimes disturbing costuming or bizarre hair styles. I was willing to believe that she wanted to be an independent, intellectual, and strong woman. Ultimately, she just wasn’t. She ended up coming off as sometimes shallow, fickle, or even just plain spoiled. She spouts off about wanting more in life than a loveless obedient marriage, or a silent life in the service of the church and yet her main topics of interest seem to be clothing, dancing, and the meaning of love. Puh-leease!
She makes a few good points, don’t get me wrong, but where is her depth, her strength, her goals? If you want to be taken for more than a pretty face than there has to actually BE more. We get the impression that she is meant to be kind, thoughtful, generous, etc but even when it comes to her burgeoning relationship with “Sir Ulric” (William) Jocelyn simply didn’t ring true.
"If you love me you will lose this tournament?" Ok, perhaps asking that he give something up that truly means something to him was a necessary and suitable request, but in my opinion when you truly love someone you do NOT stand by with dreamy eyes while the object of your affection is being repetitively and brutally battered! Poor writing in my opinion, even if they did throw her a few good lines.
Many people seemed to complain about the very modern soundtrack. I found it to be an excellent device in evoking the feelings of anyone in this era might feel in a similar situation. Much like equating the tournaments to our modern day sporting events. Essentially, that is what they were for the common folk. There is a scene where they effortlessly turn a medieval dance into an abandoned moment of wild dancing to Golden Years by David Bowie. I loved it.
The jousting and tournament scenes in A Knight’s Tale were simply marvelous. Only those of noble blood could compete in a tournament, yet keep in mind that many of the knights who would compete as a profession did so to win wealth, horses, or property and were likely to be second sons or of a family perhaps more noble in name than in coffers. So, in a very real sense these were the atheletes of their time. Anyone who has ever attended a Renaissance Festival can appreciate the rousing, blood stirring moments of heated battle, danger and skill that always make me want to leap to my feet cheering at the top of my lungs.
One of my favorite scenes has William facing a knight that he suddenly learns is actually English royalty. Now, jousting etiquette says that a knight should not endanger the life of a Royal opponent and thus should yield the match uncontested. This poor noble has ridden to the field time after time only to be recognized and denied his chance to prove himself with the lance. The body language displayed by actor James Purefoy at that moment is perfect and utterly priceless.
I was much taken with the performance of Paul Bettany as Geoffery Chaucer. He is loud, irreverent, charismatic, verbose, expansive, and shrewd... utterly irresistible and the ultimate Herald. I could easily imagine such a man writing the bawdy, impertinent, and yet poetic work The Canterbury Tales. He even tells two individuals that he will extract his revenge upon them by immortalizing their every flaw for eternity in writing, just as a true Bard of any era would do.
The comedic interplay between Chaucer and squire Wat, played by Alan Tudyk, is endlessly amusing and Mark Addy as squire Roland is his usual down-to-earth, lovable, and humorous self. I even enjoyed the lesser roles of Kate the Blacksmith (Laura Fraser) and John Thatcher (Christopher Cazenove) which were played solidly and had a few touching moments.
Heath Ledger was marvelous as William and easily embodied the ordinary man who would live his life as the Knight he knows he truly is within his heart. Naive, fearless, skilled, determined yet merciful, honorable when honor would cost him his life, a true hero worthy of fairytale fame. Especially when one has a hero who embodies all that is good and chivalrous, a paragon of virtues, the villain MUST be equally as worthy in his place. A weak enemy makes for a weaker hero.
The talented Rufus Sewel is deliciously evil, flawlessly arrogant, charming yet ruthless, decadently powerful, with a wit and tongue as sharp as his mind and twice as sharp as his lance! A perfect and powerful opponent for our worthy hero. Ademar is without doubt a man one would love to hate.
Another point that truly made me enjoy the film was the dialogue. Fluid and natural throughout most of the film. Witty, poetic, inspiring or comedic by turn, some phrases scattered throughout this rousing yet undemanding adventure reveal to us the well that surely lies within the heart of every Bard. “The pieces of my broken heart are so small, you could pass them through the eye of a needle...”, “They said you were great with horseshoes, but sh*te with armor. The fact you were a woman never entered into it.”...or a personal favorite, “I miss you like the sun misses the flower in winter...”are all excellent reasons to see this film. Civilizations have risen and been lost by the power of words. Words are possibly the most powerful tool at our disposal and words well spoken are always an occasion to celebrate.
While highly enjoyable it is not a masterpiece by any means. If you enjoy rousing scenes of combat, good soundtracks, mostly decent if inaccurate costuming, simple fairytales of chivalry, or words well spoken then I would recommend that you see this one for yourself and make up your own mind.
Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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