Recently, I reviewed Hocus Pocus 2. Typically, this would have been something I avoided had it not been for a slow weekend at the cinema. In either case, it was new and it was out, and I always try to give my reviews of new releases on Mondays, or Tuesdays if Cameron has something. If you read my review of that ghastly film, you undoubtedly noted my annoyance with several of the historical anachronisms. I am sorry, but the trained historian in me cannot help but notice such things. If you thought that was bad, I now give you A Knight’s Tale (2001).
The time period is not the issue in A Knight’s Tale. It is the fourteenth century, William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) is the squire as part of the retinue following Sir Ector (Nick Brimble) around France from jousting tournament to jousting tournament. Times are not good for Sir Ector. He has not been winning, and as a result he is poor. He then dies before the next competition. Seeing their next paycheck (sigh) evaporating before their eyes, William, along with fellow squires Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), takes the place of their fallen master. Although he does not have any experience participating in such feats, he manages to win. Looking over their meager prize, William comes up with an idea: he will continue to take part in the tournaments and split all the profits with Roland and Wat. Though they think William mad, they also want to go home and need the funds to do so. Thus, they agree, and help train him to continue to compete. There is one catch, however, to entering the tournaments, and it is that the entrants must be of noble blood. This is when fate brings them a naked Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany). I am not being silly, this actually happens. In exchange for their assistance in paying off his gambling debts, and his share of the prize money, Chaucer assists by forging a noble birthright for William. Under this guise, he becomes Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein from Gelderland and he can begin competing in earnest. He is successful, which brings him fame and fortune. There are plusses and minuses to his newfound status. To the good is the attention of Lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon). William spots her while passing through a village on the way to a joust, but she turns away his advances, assuming that he is just another horse jockey. He later proves his worth when she witnesses him allowing his opponent, Sir Thomas Colville (James Purefoy), to honorably withdraw after being injured by William. On the bad side is the introduction to Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). He is another jouster of repute, and he also has his designs set on Lady Jocelyn. He goes on to defeat William in their match, which infuriates William. What gets the ire of Count Adhemar is the way William’s honorable act captures Lady Jocelyn’s heart, and now the fake and real noblemen are rivals. William is pleased to be getting closer to Lady Jocelyn, but his desire to get even with Count Adhemar soon becomes an obsession. He is given a boost in the competition department when his band is introduced to Kate (Laura Fraser). She is a blacksmith who is eager to prove herself in a man’s world, a motivation that fits well with William, and she makes superior armor. Yet, his opportunity to face Count Adhemar will have to wait as the latter has been called upon to fight on the real field of battle with the French army. This leaves William to achieve victory after victory, but none of them satisfying as he has yet to face Count Adhemar for a second time. The opportunity comes when they are all called to London for the world jousting championship because, you know, that was a thing in the fourteenth century. . . . Double sigh. Being there means that William has the opportunity to reconnect with his father, John Thatcher (Christopher Cazenove). They have not seen each other since William had left as a boy to be Sir Ector’s squire. Further, as the last name would suggest, their family had made their living as humble roof makers. This would not be a problem if it were not for the fact that Count Adhemar has William followed, and by doing so discovers Sir Ulrich’s true identity. As William is arrested for impersonating a nobleman, Count Adhemar informs him that he is in negotiations with Lady Jocelyn’s family to marry her. This is when Sir Thomas Colville intervenes, except he is not Sir Thomas, but rather Black Prince Edward, heir to the English crown. Repaying the kindness William had shown on the jousting field, Prince Edward frees William and knights him on the spot. Doing so allows him to return to the tournament and go against Count Adhemar. Despite cheating and severely injuring William, our hero unhorses his opponent with a final blow. He is then free to be with Lady Jocelyn and encourages Chaucer to write about these events. And everyone lives happily ever after.
I went with the clichéd fairytale ending to my synopsis of A Knight’s Tale because that is what best describes this movie. That is not how it is portrayed, however, and it is why I find it annoying. It has the wrong music, the wrong costuming, the wrong historical feel, the wrong everything. I am baffled by the decision to shoehorn Geoffrey Chaucer into this film. Yet, the theme here is that one can change your stars, as John tells William as a young lad hoping to be a knight despite being a lowly thatcher. It might not be American of me to say this, but sometimes I have a problem with this concept. Our country has a tradition of the “self-made man,” and there is nothing wrong with a person pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, as the saying goes. What I am particularly keen on is how this theme is presented in the film. Hollywood will tell you that it is democratic, but the majority of people in it are more Count Adhemar than William Thatcher. Or else they started as the latter, and became the former. I am doubting, given the choices made in making this movie, that anybody on the set truly understood what goes into making a knight. At that time, this meant somebody of noble birth, which is mentioned. Faith will tell you something different. God is our King, and through Jesus we are all His children. That makes us princes. Now, it would probably sound silly to go around in this day and age calling yourself a prince or princess, but faith in God does give you that privilege. It is also one that will last far longer than anything we can understand because the hope is to spend eternity in His Kingdom.
In talking about the Catholic angle to A Knight’s Tale, I could have gone with the few oblique and awful references to the Church found therein. A Catholic reviewer, though, needs a break from this sometimes to explore other areas. I am also sure that my distaste for this film will get me a few snide comments from a number of people. I am sorry to bring out such things from people, but I honestly do not like this movie.