No doubt about it, A KNIGHTS TALE is an odd film. Part adventure tale, part romance, part social commentary and dont forget the one thing that will stick with you long after Heath Ledgers dreamy smile and Rufus Sewells wildly sexy sneer have drifted away. The way these denizens of 14th century Europe break into pop songs from the 70s and 80s is like chocolate-covered pretzels. It shouldnt work on any level and yet, and yet . . . it does.
This film can best be described as a story from the 14th century updated with modern idioms to make it more accessible for a modern audience. Which is a ponderous way of saying that writer, producer, and director Brian Helgeland (an Oscar ™ for LA CONFIDENTIAL, a Razzie(tm) for THE POSTMAN) wanted to show that people in bygone ages had just as much fun with their pastimes as we do with ours and there is no end of validity to his approach. I mean, is there anyone out there who really, really understands the whole hula hoop phenomenon, a fad that swept the country less than fifty years ago. And is there anyone out there who can prove categorically that audiences at jousts DIDNT do the wave while singing their version of Queens WE WILL ROCK YOU?
Jousting was on everyones mind in those days of yore and as depicted by Helgeland, it was as much Wrestlemania(tm) as chivalry, which makes sense. Why wouldnt the whole super fan thing be a facet of human nature thats always been around in some form?
The story concerns one William Thatcher, played by Ledger, a low-born lad with higher aspirations. He gets his big break when his liege lord dies during a tournament. What with the heavy armor and, specifically, the face-covering helmet, its easy for William to mount up and win the day for himself and his two fellow squires Roland and Wat (Mark Addy, always terrific and Alan Tudyk, whos sort of like Stan Laurel with a mean streak). William sees this as the start of a bright new future and in short order hes talked Roland and Wat into continuing the ruse, not a light proposition, since knightly deeds are strictly confined to the ruling class and crossing the class lines in those days carried dire consequences. After a rocky start, things go Williams way, what with his natural talent, boyish good looks and a chance meeting with Geoffrey Chaucer (a sweetly jaded Paul Bettany), yes, THAT Geoffrey Chaucer, who forges patents of nobility after making one of the more memorable screen entrances of this summer.
What follows is a roller coaster of comic misadventures blended with feats of derring-do up against nefarious schemes plotted by the silkily evil Count Adhemar played by Sewell. Its all done with a light-hearted touch and a wicked sense of humor. If the film occasionally sloshes over into sloppy sentimentality or falters in its choice of a leading lady, Shannyn Sossamon, who looks fabulous but couldnt act her way past one of her over-the-top costumes, who cares? Theres a tough lady blacksmith (Laura Fraser) who invents tempered steel and an ode to love that makes romance cool. And besides, it will put a grin on your face from beginning to end as the good guys prove that nobility is who you are, not who your family is.