A Knight's Tale

Retro Review: A Knight’s Tale

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on May 11th, 2001.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I read through my disjointed words and incomplete sentences and realized at least one thing:  I was right about Heath Ledger.  The guy had talent, but unfortunately he also had a prescription drug problem.  He was brilliant as The Joker in The Dark Knight, and went on to win a posthumous Academy Award for his work (among many, including: BAFTA, Golden Globe, People’s Choice, SAG, etc).  But his life was cut short after a prescription drug overdose, so we’ll never get to see the full potential of his talent.  He was only 28.  Sad.

But to the movie itself.  A Knight’s Tale WAS a fun summer movie, but few went to it.  It received good press, but that wasn’t enough to draw the masses into the theaters . . . and there weren’t really any breakout blockbusters in the summer of 2001.  The biggest summer hit was Shrek, followed by Monster’s Inc.  A Knight’s Tale made less money than Spy Kids and Dr. Dolittle 2.  Really?[divider style=”dashed” top=”20″ bottom=”20″]

During the summer season, the thing you want most is to have fun.  Summer films should be fun, interesting, action-packed and original.  At least that’s what the popular belief seems to be.  And why wouldn’t it be?  Who wants to go to a depressing drama during the airy summer!?

Here comes A Knight’s Tale, a “historical” epic that is wrong in many, many ways.  Every historical detail of the story is wrong and inaccurate.  But you know what?  You don’t care about that while watching the film.  The ride is so fun that you tend to forget about the historical unreality and you just join the ride.

William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) is a young peasant who’s dream has always been to become a knight.  Unfortunately, he’s part of the lower class and won’t be able to achieve his dream.  Early in the film he finds a dead knight . . . the knight who was supposed to save the land for his people.  Without thinking, William puts on the armor and he pretends to be someone he’s not.  He wins a jousting match and wins back the land of his people.

William has tasted fame and refuses to go back to the simple peasant that he was.  With the help of his two best mates (Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk) as well as a wannabee writer named Chaucer (hilariously portrayed by Paul Bettany), they go from city to city as William competes in jousting and sword competitions.  In no time, William makes a name for himself and becomes an international phenomenon.

William also falls in love with the beautiful Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), a woman who has been promised to the noble and evil knight Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell).  The Count takes an instant dislike to William.  And of course, the film ends in the ultimate battle between the two champions, as they both fight for their honor and the woman.

Okay, so this story follows every trope in the book to the letter.  But the way the material is presented makes all the difference between this move being an embarrassing flop and one that will be looked at fondly in years to come.  A Knight’s Tale isn’t trying to be historically accurate.  Instead, the characters break into song and dance and they sing songs like “[lightbox full=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hi8IWqic0U”]We Will Rock You[/lightbox]” during jousting matches.  They talk and act like contemporary characters.  There are also many references – most of them humorous – that try to ridicule certain modern-day pop-culture phenomena (Nike beware!).

[box type=”error” align=”” class=”” width=””]A Knight's TaleWilliam Thatcher is a peasant squire who breaks all the rules when he passes himself off as a nobleman and takes the jousting world by storm.  The only thing that stands between William and his dream of becoming the world champion of the extremest of sports is the bad boy of the sport, Count Adhemar.  And when the two rivals go lance to head at the world finals to determine who will be named the ultimate champion, you better arm yourself and hang on right for the thrill ride of your life!

A Knight’s Tale
Director:  Brian Helgeland
Starring:  Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell
Genre:  Medieval action comedy
Media:  Film, 132 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Budget: $65 million
Box Office: $117 million, worldwide
Year: May 11, 2001
3.5 out of 5 stars[/box]

In Heath Ledger, Hollywood has finally found its lead actor of the future.  After having small parts in only two films (the Shakespeare inspired 10 Thing I Hate About You and the historical epic The Patriot), Ledger finally gets the chance to prove himself as a lead actor.  Ledger shows that he’s one of the best young actor out there right now.  You can tell he’s having fun in this role, and that helps carry the lighthearted nature of this movie.  This film is successful because of his brilliant and often striking performance.

Directed and written by Brian Helgeland (Payback), A Knight’s Tale is a fun ride that is perfect for the summer.  It’s full of action and it has an adequate, if not cliched, storyline.  Helgeland proves that he knows how to deliver the thrills with this film.

Sure, you could complain that the storyline is too cliched, that the historical mistakes are too important to ignore (Chaucer live maybe 50 years before this time), and that the film runs on for too long, but what would be the point in complaining? Helgeland didn’t try to create a film that was right in every sense of the word.  I laughed, I was thrilled and I couldn’t help feeling happy after the sickly sweet ending.  You just have to take this film as is, swallow everything it gives you without asking questions, and you’ll walk out of the theater feeling happy and satisfied. A Knight’s Tale is the perfect summer film, one that is full of imagination, thrills and humor.  It’s this year’s must-see summer flick.

Purists beware: you will hate this movie.  But if what you’re looking for is an old-fashioned fun time, then A Knight’s Tale is the perfect escape for you.  The costumes are amazing, the set design superb, and the performances quite good. A Knight’s Tale will be this year’s underdog, the one film everyone will be talking about.  Miss it, and you’ll be out of the loop, no doubt about it.  We will rock you!

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Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

Words © 2015-2021, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).

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