A Knight’s Tale is truly an underdog story. It follows a working-class lad called William Thatcher who beats the nobles at their own game. He believes that a man can change his stars and sets out to become a professional in the jousting tournaments, with a little help from Geoffrey Chaucer, who forges his patents of nobility so that he can enter. It’s an optimistic tale of a man who achieves his dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.
Heath Ledger’s first major lead role shows his star potential. The actor’s untimely death in January 2008 robbed us of the chance to see many more wonderful performances. He doesn’t steal the limelight but instead shares it with the rest of the cast who all fit their roles brilliantly. Rufus Sewell is always enjoyable as a bad guy and here he is clearly relishing his role. Paul Bettany is funny and impressive as the eloquent and talkative Chaucer. His improvised hyperbolic preambles to William’s jousts are a joy. Suffering for his craft, Bettany developed laryngitis while filming due to his constant yelling.
It’s a highly original approach, with writer/director Brian Helgeland setting events in Medieval England but filling the film with anachronisms including the costumes, dialect, music and little touches like the blacksmith etching a Nike symbol into her armour. A historically set film using music from the likes of Queen, David Bowie and Thin Lizzy is not to everyone’s tastes though. Some have claimed that it works neither as an exuberant rock ‘n’ roll picture nor as a heroic fable but I think they are clearly missing the point that it isn’t trying to fit into a predefined category or genre, instead opting for something new and original.
The film has been criticised for using classic rock songs to try to attract a young audience. However, other films set in the past don’t get criticised for using orchestral score that wouldn’t have been around at that time. Is there really much of a difference? Helgeland said he felt the use of modern music would show what people at that time felt about their music. When true Renaissance music is used it fails to convey the emotional response so he tried to elicit a response akin to what they felt.
My favourite line in the film is “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting”, which is similar to a Biblical idiom from the book of Daniel and is a portent of doom or misfortune. Originally spoken by Adhemar, who sees William as an unworthy and weak opponent, it is repeated back to the Count at the end, by the group. This shows that the tables have turned and it is Adhemar who has inevitably lost.
A Knight’s Tale is cheerfully mischievous, unafraid to flout the standard laws and have a bit of fun with the medium of film. It has a charm and an innocence that is appealing and a likeable cast of characters all having a good time. Those who take their historical films seriously probably won’t appreciate its blatant disregard for accuracy in favour of humour and excitement. But those who want an enjoyable experience, watching an original piece of cinema, will find it hard not to raise a smile.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany, James Purefoy
Runtime: 132 min