“A commoner become a knight? He have better luck trying to change the stars”
Today’s film takes us to somewhere we’re all familiar with – the typical sports story about a young plucky underdog who enters a tournament, not sure if he has what it takes but works hard and tries to overcome the odds of his rich and snobbish opponents, while hoping to get the girl as well. Oh wait, it’s also set in Medieval Europe and the sport is jousting. It is much better than it sounds, I swear, and it does star the late great Heath Ledger, the only film of his to make my list as a matter of fact. Without further ado...
Heath plays young William Thatcher a young peasant in France (born in England though, lived in France for twelve years) who was recently acting as an apprentice to a knight called Sir Ector. Said knight sadly got killed in a joust and William dons his armour and wins the joust in his stead. However instead of simply taking the winnings and going, William convinces his two friends Roland and Wat to train him, get some new armour and prepare him for a prestigious jousting tournament held in a month. On the way they pick up a talented blacksmith called Kate and none other than Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, that one) who agrees to be William’s herald and forges papers to say that William is really Sir Ulrich Von Lichtenstein of Gelderland so he’ll be able to compete. At the tournament, William encounters his biggest rival – the European Champion Adhemar, Count of Anjou. He also falls in love with a pretty young lady of noble birth called Jocelyn. The film follows his goal to become the jousting champion and proving that a man can “change his stars”.
Now the main thing you’re going to notice about this film is that it is very historically inaccurate – and it knows perfectly well about that, and doesn’t care. You’ll see a jousting crowd clapping along to “We Will Rock You”, a group of people at a medieval banquet dancing along to “Golden Years” and “The Boys Are Back In Town” playing as the group arrives in London. The director has said that he put those songs in the film as a way of showing how people back medieval times were just as passionate about their music as we are these days. It’s a pretty unique form of artistic licence and I think it worked pretty well but of course these types of things are always up to everyone’s opinions. Then there’s the fact that virtually all of Jocelyn’s dresses and hairstyles are as far from historically accurate as it’s possible to be – she even has coloured extensions in her hair in one scene. This does make the other characters constantly talking about her endless beauty a little weird to take considering she spends most of the film sporting unflattering hairstyles. I’m in the group of people that thought her lady-in-waiting Christiana was much prettier than she was. Oh and Kate the blacksmith invents the Bessemer Process for heating steel about 400 years before it actually happened. Then she puts the mark of her trade on the armour – a pair of upside down Nike swooshes.
Now, let’s move on from the silliness in the film to the real good stuff; we have some brilliantly written characters and events going on here. I like the way that the film almost plays out like a modern day sports film except set in the 14th Century. One notable scene that accentuates this is a scene in a pub/tavern where William’s group are placing bets on who will win the tournament and they sing their own pub song for him, “he’s blond, he’s pissed, he’ll see you in the mist, Lichtenstein!”
I really do enjoy all the dialogue exchanges we get between the heroes, with Geoffrey’s scenes being some of the best. He’s literally introduced walking naked down the road having lost all his possessions gambling, and he puts his own WWE style spin on announcing William at the tournaments. Whoever wrote those introductions does deserve a nice pat on the back (I’m assuming they already got their actual payment for it so this is just a sign of recognition). The dramatic scenes are also brilliantly done, especially the scenes with William and his father. The actor playing the young William was quite good for a child actor and the scene where they are finally reunited will bring a tear to your eye. Another beautifully written scene comes where William wants to write a letter to Jocelyn and each of his friends take turns filling in a line with help from their own romantic experiences.
Now I usually talk about the cast in one of the first couple of paragraphs but for some unexpected reason I didn’t so now I’m talking about them here. Heath Ledger is in one of his best roles (yes I’ve seen The Dark Knight) and does a very convincing English accent, all the while making us feel and care for William. And it is nice to have the typical roles reversed with the good guy being blond and the bad guy being dark-haired. Speaking of English accents, hats off and standing ovations go to Alan Tudyk who has no trace of his natural Texas accent and many people are still convinced he’s English in real life. Americans can do accents as well people, just not all the time. Paul Bettany takes a bit of a leaf out of Brian Cox’s book from Troy (before it was even made apparently) and chews the scenery as much as he can, especially in his WWE-style introductions for William. One smaller actor I found likeable in this is James Purefoy who has a small but important role as Edward, the Black Prince of Wales. He delivers one of the best written lines in the film “your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough”
The actress playing Jocelyn has a bit of a strange voice. In places it does sound as though she’s doing an accent but I’m not quite sure and I shouldn’t look it up or else I wouldn’t have anything more to write about her.
So that was my only visit to the career of the late Heath Ledger (RIP) but don’t worry, fans, as Alan Tudyk will be making an appearance in a film much higher up on the list, that everyone can probably guess. As a proud Brit myself, this film feels especially British and really seems to get across a good sense of our culture and behaviour, even if most of it is set in France. It does seem like the type of film you would sit down with your mates and watch on St George’s Day. Now there’s a thought...
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and I’ll leave you with an inspirational two-fer for today, “keep reaching to touch the stars”. Too corny? Well quit while we’re ahead then.