A Knight's Tale


Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Written by:Brian Helgeland
Starring: Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk
Released: August 23, 2001
Grade: B+

William Thatcher (Ledger) wasn’t born a knight.  He would become one.

Attempting to profit from a jousting contest with fellow peasants, Roland (Addy) and Wat (Tudyk), William’s plans go awry when their experienced jouster kicks the bucket before his final duel.  Desperate for prizemoney and already with an unbeatable lead, the three collude and allow William to mount his horse and replace the deceased.  In medieval times, such contests were the best of three but a competitor is automatically eliminated should he be knocked from his horse.

Unrecognisable under his armour, all William need do is remain on his horse and 15 silver pieces will be their reward.  A harsh challenge for a newcomer but it turns out only to be the start of things to come...

Convincing Roland and Wat to part with their winnings, William’s determination and stupidity develops a belief that he can compete against stronger competition on a wider stage.  Roland and Wat are in it for the bigger prizemoney but William yearns for the glory.  As he says - “I won’t spend the rest of my life as nothing.”

There is a catch.  One must be of noble birth to compete in lucrative tournaments and William is anything but.  Travelling to the first contest, they come across a nude writer by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer (Bettany).  In returns for clothes, his craft with the pen will forge the royal documents that can transform William into the fictitious Count Ulrich von Lichtenstein.

William’s courage makes him successful and his flourishing popularity soon the heart of Jocelyn (Sossamon), a beautiful and respected Danish lady.  Yet with fulfilment in sight, the undefeated French jousting champion, Adehmar (Sewell), will do anything to keep him from both love and glory.  There’s a score to be settled...

At 132 minutes, A Knight’s Tale is lengthy and surprisingly I found myself more entranced by the ending than the opening.  The first three quarters lacked purpose and was little more than a combination of repetitive jousting sequences encompassed by a few jokes and silly subplots.  The jousting itself lacked credibility and I couldn’t understand why the opposing competitor often put up such little challenge.

This is not a film to be taken seriously and the “fairy tale” finale is appropriate given what precedes it.  The intricate dialogue and fluent dance sequences are so perfect, they could be construed as poking fun at the way other films have depicted the 14th Century era.

The film’s spark comes from Paul Bettany, who as Sir Ulrich’s introducer, mouths sparkling pronouncements on his entering of the arena.  Australian Heath Ledger is suitably cast but director Brian Helgeland relies too much on facial close-ups - an obvious attempt to woo a female audience.

Despite reservations, I was left genuinely surprised by A Knight’s Tale.  The film is far from flawless and more could have been made of the modern soundtrack (as it was in Moulin Rouge) but the fierce jousting, light-hearted romance and sweet sentimentality provide the model mix to satisfy an audience’s “escape from reality” desires.  So what are you waiting for?  “Let’s dance you and I.”