Watching Ironclad you’d be forgiven for not recognising it as an independent picture. Budgetary restraints are not in any way apparent. Director Jonathan English has attracted Oscar-nominated talent with Paul Giamatti and the cinematography and editing remain seamlessly professional throughout. These are all massive accomplishments for a film made outside the studio system. Then again, not all films made outside the studio system have the luxury of Ironclad‘s reported £20m finance.
There’s really very little negative to say about this film; it is what it is: a cinematic re-telling of a relatively well-known moment in English history with added 300-esque gore. Think 300 meets Helm’s Deep. On that note the actor who plays the squire, Aneurin Barnard, looks distractingly like Elijah Wood in his Lord of the Rings gettup. One can only assume that they wanted Elijah but that their budget wouldn’t stretch to another big name.
Ironclad tells the story of a small group of Knights Templar who defended Rochester Castle against the much-hated King John during the 13th Century. The story centres on the plight of Baron Albany (Brian Cox) in bringing down the unwanted king and a love affair that develops between one of the knights (James Purefoy) and Lady Isabel (Kate Mara).
Although knights and their ladies are a prominent part of the narrative you should not be fooled into thinking that this is a tale of soft-romanticism; Ironclad is not for the faint-hearted. English was determined to create a gritty representation of 13th century Britain, focusing on the relentless violence and the willingness to die for ones beliefs regardless of the torturous method of executions. People lose their hands, their feet, their heads and even their tongues throughout the course of this film. They are struck by arrows, set on fire and hacked into pieces: this aint no First Knight.
Overall this picture is well acted and executed and will probably be of most interest to people who enjoy their history but don’t take the re-imagining of it too seriously. With a running time of just over two hours there are undoubtedly further edits that could have been made to this film in order to make it a little more polished. Some of the action sequences would benefit from a small trim here and there. We do, after all, get the message: 13th century England was a violent place to live. No need to labour the point. Still, even with a slightly over-long running time there was no point in this film at which I was bored or wishing it to be over.I was attentive throughout and thoroughly enjoyed watching Paul Giamatti seeth as the ever-frustrated King John.
It’s definitely one of the best history-orientated films I’ve seen in many years and it adequately keeps its pace. It’s particularly worth a look if you thought that the Helm’s Deep sequence in Lord of the Ring‘s was too short!
Ironclad is in cinemas 4th March 2011.
Director: Jonathan English
Stars: Kate Mara, Brian Cox, Paul Giamatti
Runtime: 121 min
Country: UK, USA