Guilty Pleasures: Ironclad

In 1215, wicked King John (Paul Giamatti) rails against being forced to sign The Magna Carta by his Barons. With the leave of The pope, he aims to reclaim absolute control of England with the assistance of Danish mercenaries. Archbishop Langton (Charles Dance) charges Baron Albany (Brian Cox) to hold the strategically vital Rochester Castle against the King’s forces until help arrives from France. With moody Templar Thomas Marshall (James Purefoy), they recruit a motley crew. Let the mayhem begin!

This is an exceptionally well made, directed and performed film, that excels on a fraction of the budget of Ridley Scott’s  Robin Hood, at telling virtually the same (embellished) true story that Scott wrapped his legend around, in a much more entertaining manner. Admittedly, Scott’s film was a 12a. Ironclad pulls no punches in the visceral blood-letting (tagline: Blood. Will. Run.). Director and co-writer James English wanted to create a medieval Saving Private Ryan (but no silly wooden landing craft, Ridley!). The major battles and skirmishes are conducted at a furious pace, close up and personal, showing what these vicious weapons can really do to skin and bone. Heads and shoulders are hacked open, bodies split in two, limbs are chopped off. At one point Jamie Foreman, a rascally defender, bludgeons an attacker with a severed limb. No wonder this film has been referred to tongue-in-cheek as the spiritual successor to Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

"That's a big sword." "Sshh. Don't cheapen this."

“That’s a big sword.” “Sshh. Don’t cheapen this.”

For dramatic and budget purposes the tiny garrison are bolstered by Cox, Purefoy and five others, including the aforementioned Foreman, Jason Flemying and MacKenzie Crook. A Magna Carta-ficent Seven, or The Expendamedievables, if you will. Characterisation is thin, but serves the purposes of the plot. Cox and Giammatti do get to chew the scenery, and are great value. Cox’s Baron yells down at King John “You are no more a king than the boil on my backside!” Giamatti plays to the galleries, all rolling eyes and sadism, a classic baddy you want to boo.

Purefoy as Marshall initially grapples with a vow of silence, then his vow of chastity, as the comely young wife of the castle’s owner (Derek Jacobi) gets the hots for him. This sub-plot goes nowhere, and is a distraction, especially as she looks so well groomed and nourished while the valiant defenders battle starvation as well. Apart from this aspect, Purefoy is superb as the warrior-monk, a rock that the others look up to, wielding his 5 foot broadsword like he was born in the middle ages. “Only the weak believe that what they do in battle is who they are as men,” says our tortured hero, unswerving in his vow to hold the castle, even as the trebuchet and siege tower are impressively brought to bear.

The film sags a little towards the end and could do with a little trimming. Otherwise it is an unflinching look at a fascinating footnote in history. Oh, and you’ll never look at a pork roast in the same way again. A sequel, Ironclad: Battle For Blood, is in production hiatus at the moment, in which the young squire Guy, who survived the siege, is now a cynical sword for hire, recruited by his cousin to help defend yet another castle, this time from Celtic raiders.

If you are interested in the truth behind the siege, the BBC History Magazine has a video that discusses the facts.


Originally posted 2013-12-28 11:47:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Read and post comments on this article