A Knight's Tale

2001, Movie, PG-13, 130 mins


A 14th-century comic fairy tale about an ambitious young peasant who proves that aristocracy comes from the heart, not the bloodline. Low-born squire William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) dares to impersonate his late master, an itinerant knight, at a regional tournament in France. The penalties for pretending to be of noble blood are stiff, but without the prize money William and fellow squires Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk) will starve. After William wins, Roland and Wat favor going home to England. But William wants to compete further — there's money to be made, and he's reluctant to return to certain poverty and servitude. The trio soon encounter another traveler who can help them over the biggest obstacle to success: Aspiring writer Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) can forge patents of nobility, and humble William is soon competing as Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein and winning like a true champion — even the heart of noble lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) is his. Only dastardly Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), who fairly oozes contempt for the little people, stands between William and his belief that with enough courage, "a man can change his stars." Writer/producer/director Brian Helgeland's intention seems to have been to revitalize the medieval epic with flagrant anachronisms, forgoing historically accurate squalor in favor of imagining a Middle-Age world in which high-born ladies dress like 21st century runway models and armorers sign their work with a symbol that looks suspiciously like Nike's swoosh. Jousts become smackdowns on horseback, feminist fighting words tumble from the mouths of Lady Jocelyn and feisty blacksmith Kate (Laura Fraser), and future Canterbury Tales author Chaucer (who has "gambling issues," and literally loses his shirt — and more — twice) becomes William's herald, introducing him with the carny panache of a wrestling announcer. The whole thing is goosed up with bombastic contemporary tunes: Tournaments are fought to Queen's arena rock standard "We Are the Champions," aristocrats boogie to Bowie's "Golden Years," and William trains to War's "Low Rider." A workable, if limited, conceit (already tried out in 1999's swaggering PLUNKETT & MACLEANE), this brazen mix of old and new is undermined by the predictable story, shallow characterizations and a dopey sense of humor that evokes MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL without actually being especially funny. And while Ledger (clearly being groomed for Hollywood heartthrobdom) is handsome, Sewell emotes him off the screen without so much as breaking a sweat. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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