This is an amazing, beautiful movie written and directed by Brian Helgeland. This movie manages to comment on chivalry, pride, friendship, courtly love, and women's rights while still managing to be downright hilarious. The basic storyline might sound cheesy, but the plot has enough twists to be entertaining, and the characters are engaging, vibrant, three-dimensional people.
Heath Ledger plays William Thatcher, a peasant squire who, after the death of the knight he serves, creates a false identity in order to compete in tournaments himself and fulfil his lifelong dream. He is aided by his fellow squires, Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk). William is both ambitious and idealistic, occasionally hurting others unintentionally as a side-effect of his focus, but managing to be remarkably selfless when it counts. Roland is steady and levelheaded, while Wat is a hot-tempered red-head who tends to act before he thinks. They are joined by Geoffrey Chaucer, played by Paul Bettany, who creates patents of nobility for William and becomes his herald. Helgeland states in the commentary that there is a period of Chaucer's life for which his whereabouts are unaccounted for, and places these events during that time. This ties into the title, which is also the title of one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is most notably an orator, announcing William as Sir Ulrich with ornate and rather bizarre speeches, and coaching William on what to say to his love interest.
Geoff, when William accuses him of lying: "I'm a writer! I give the truth scope."
In Rouen at William's first tournament as Sir Ulrich, we meet the rest of the important characters. William becomes besotted with a noble woman, Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), who is also being pursued by Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). Adhemar becomes William's rival and appears to be the only person who can match his skills at jousting. Also in Rouen, William meets Kate (Laura Fraser), a female blacksmith. Helgeland points out in the commentary that it was legal at that time for a widow to continue her husband's business after his death to support herself. Kate is fiercely assertive of her abilities despite being of the weaker sex, designing innovative armour for William and carousing with Roland and Wat. Kate also maintains her femininity, teaching William to dance and calling William's actions romantic when his male comrades are frustrated with him.
Jocelyn is also a very strong female figure. She is not demure, and does not defer to men. And, though she insists William go to great pains to prove his love (in a dialogue which Helgeland admits to having borrowed largely from a Book of Courtly Love), she does stand by him when his true identity is exposed. Jocelyn's attendant and confidante, Christiana (played by Berenice Bejo), is also worth mentioning - and, in the deleted scenes, appears to have established a romantic bond with Roland.
William to Jocelyn at their first meeting: "I would hear you speak if it cost me my ears."
Jocelyn: "That is well, for I do not want silence in my life."
The movie was filmed in the Czech Republic, and many of the props and extras used were Czech. Helgeland noted how this helped them get much closer to the time period - however, there are quite a few notable (and intentional) anachronisms. The language and expressions used are modern. Helgeland's intention was to make the characters seem much more natural to the modern viewer than more stilted language would allow. I think he succeeded admirably in this, with the most obviously modern phrases used in comedic moments where they do not detract from the mood. The soundtrack, the most notable anachronism, also plays a large role in helping the viewer identify with the world of the film. Each song evokes the proper sentiment for the scene over which it is played, from We Will Rock You sung by the crowd before the joust to nobility dancing to Golden Years during the ball. The use of We Will Rock You is also one of the parallels Helgeland uses to emphasize the role of jousting as a sport. Spectators also paint their faces with the mascots of their favorite competitors, and vendors sell refreshments. William's men give him a rubdown between matches, and Kate engraves the Nike swoosh into the armour she makes. Helgeland claims in the commentary that this was not an advertisement and he received no money for it, but rather another device to emphasize the nature of jousting as a sport.
Wat to William before his final joust against Adhemar: "Sir William Thatcher. That's your name. Your father heard that."
It is impossible to convey the spirit of this movie - to witness the richness of the setting and the authenticity of the characters, to feel the excitement of jousting, and to enjoy the seamlessly interwoven comedy, you have to experience the movie itself. And if you're reading this to see whether it might be worth your while, the answer is: YES.
Credits were checked at www.imdb.com. Information from special features of the DVD were so noted. All else is from memory of having watched the film many, many times.
this movie and could prattle
on endlessly, and thus left out many detail
s in an effort to keep the length down. If you feel I have left out anything important
or included anything insignificant
- or made an error
- please don't hesitate to let me know. Thanks.