Mud, blood and historical inaccuracy abound in this highly entertaining medieval romp.
While Michael Bay churns out yet another Transformers movie, Hollywood continues to have a soft spot for all things historically epic. The premise is always loosely based on actual events with just enough script-spin to make them all the more dramatic. Recently we’ve had ‘loose’ adaptations of Robin Hood (2010), the lost Eagle of The Ninth Legion in The Eagle and even Ridley Scott’s take on the Crusades with Kingdom Of Heaven (2005). It is no coincidence that Scott should feature so heavily on this list, since Gladiator(2000) he has become something of an expert. With this in mind Ironclad could easily be a clever follow-up to Scott’s recent Robin Hood, as it picks up almost exactly where that film left off.
With King John (Giamatti) defeated by the barons of England in 1215 he is forced to sign The Magna Carter. However, it is not long before he has ignored the charter and started to recruit a mercenary army of Danes to take back his country. Standing in his way is Albany (Cox) who assembles a rag-tag team of men who must hold Rochester Castle and force John into submission. Within his team is a Knight’s Templar, Marshall (Purefoy), who is sick of bloodshed in the name of God but having witnessed his mentor die will stop at nothing to avenge his death.
Where Ironclad differs from the normal Scott affair is it is made on a fraction of the budget. Robin Hood cost an estimated $210 Million, which manages to dwarf into insignificance the $25 Million Ironclad was made for. What is all the more impressive is Ironclad does not suffer, but indeed flourishes, as a result of the budget constraints.
Director Jonathan English harks from a TV background and on this basis knowshow to find more when there is less on offer. His execution brings a great kinetic, if wonderfully dirty, energy to the piece. At times his hand-held tactics are a little hard to appreciate the geography of a fight, but the endless blood-splatter and head crushing action more than makes up for it. Furthermore, the film predominantly takes place at the siege of Rochester and the production design never allows it to feel anything less than cinematic.
With the action exciting and the violence appropriately medieval the lack of plot can be forgiven. We are essentially treated to scenes of Giamatti, on line spitting, hostile form, trying to break down the castle while those inside keep him out. Purefoy, doing the strong silent thing he did so well in Solomon Kane(2009), gets to be the invented protagonist with a shoehorned romance with the lady of the castle in the shapely, if underwritten role, or Kate Mara. Indeed when the film tries to focus on plot it falters but when dealing out siege mentality with violent brutality it’s highly entertaining.
Think a swords and castles Rio Bravo (1959) or Assault On Precinct 13 (1976 & 2005), or even a two hour version of the attack on Helms Deep from The Lord Of The Rings; The Two Towers (2002) and you will get a good idea of whatIronclad is aiming for. Thankfully, like Mackenzie Crook’s archer it’s pretty much a bulls-eye for medieval mayhem.