Heath Ledger plays the lowly medieval squire turned celebrity knight who enters a jousting tournament with the hope of besting Rufus Sewell’s dastardly knight and winning the hand of Shannyn Sossamon’s damsel.
Anarchic anachronism would appear to have been the order of the summer in 2001, with both this, LA Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s latest directorial effort – complete with medieval jousts set to Queen’s We Will Rock you, Mexican waves and Nike armour – and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge playing merry hell with out of context rock scores and out of history sight gags. One more example and we’ll have to break out the bunting and declare it a trend.
Plotwise we’re in Rocky territory. William Thatcher is the kid from the wrong side of the tracks – in this case he’s light on the aristocratic lineage front – who decides the thing to do is to fight his way out of the ghetto (well, 14th century rural France) with nothing but a big stick and a dream, while big bad knight Count Adhemar suspects there’s something rum going on. From then on we embark on the standard series of battles towards the Grand Finale, in a somewhat ropily CGI’d ancient London.
There’s plenty of enjoyable enough stuff here. Bettany is the standout as Chaucer, an inveterate gambler who spends much of the film stark-bollock naked – having lost his clothes – and who pens WWF-style opening rants for his man. Plus, the jousting sequences are suitably violent. But Helgeland’s direction is a bit unsure; the movie feels overlong, and there’s a sense that he lost confidence in the whole rock ‘n’ roll gimmick and wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be historically accurate or raucously hip. Ledger, here borrowing his received English accent from Russell Crowe in Gladiator, is perfectly acceptable, although there’s not much to suggest we’re in the presence of a star in the making. In the end, A Knight’s Tale doesn’t so much rock you, as sway you gently.