movie review by
Elizabeth Abele


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A Knight's Tale

If you can suspend your disbelief and cynicism and follow Brian Helgeland's lead through A Knight's Tale, he will give you a joyful dance. For many this will be a big IF. This is not Geoffrey Chaucer's A Knight's Tale; this is clearly Helgeland's tale of an aspiring knight and his friends (including a young Geoffrey Chaucer). This film does not have the bawdiness or satire that you might expect from a Chaucer-inspired tale: this is an idealistic and optimistic story of a knight who believes he can change his stars.

Brian Helgeland is a filmmaker with a brilliant sense of whimsy who makes his films richer than the standard genre entries: take, for example, the Veronica Lake-lookalike/prostitute in L.A. Confidential; Mel Gibson's loopy amnesiac in Conspiracy Theory; or the dominatrix moll and the assassinated luggage in Payback. For A Knight's Tale, Helgeland maintains the thrill and glory of medieval tournaments while whimsically weaving in references to contemporary sporting events. The major aim of Helgeland's film is to show the similarities -- in a positive way -- between contemporary sporting spectacle and medieval pageantry. Even the movie's Web site ( feeds into this crossover by providing stats for the "XJL" -- the Extreme Jousting League.

Geoff Chaucer (Paul Bettany) functions as our guide to this world. He introduces us to the hopeful band of rustics led by William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) who enter the French jousting circuit. William first dares to enter a tournament after his master's sudden death. He's just looking for a way to provide his next meal, but his quick victory inspires him to continue to compete as "Sir Ulrich" as a means to permanently free himself and his friends from servitude.

Helgeland subtly pulls you into his mingled times, setting up scenes where recognizably modern elements mix with the medieval setting -- and then he gradually makes the scenes more and more contemporary. Helgeland's weaving of past and present create a joyous, if anachronistic, tapestry: fans paint their faces with heraldic symbols of their favorite knight; Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) wears a wonderful mix of medieval finery and Paris runway designer fashions; and the gutsy blacksmith (Laura Fraser) uses a mark that looks a lot like the Nike logo. These moments can either disturb your sense of "accuracy" or serve as a witty reminder that our worlds as not as different as we think.

A major source of the film's joyous energy is its classic rock score, with particular reliance on the music of Queen. The use of classic rock anthems such as "We Will Rock You!" may seem inappropriate to a period tale. On the other hand, these songs are older than star Heath Ledger and much of film's audience. At the film's banquet, the medieval dance music is gradually replaced with David Bowie's "Golden Years": the tunics and flowing dresses work simultaneously as period attire and 60s hippie garb.

Somehow, A Knight's Tale avoids being camp, possibly because of the sincerity of the performances. Paul Bettany gives a bravura performance as Geoff Chaucer -- a brash and brilliant poet who is part WWF announcer and part poetry slam artist. Mark Addy (The Full Monty) is the anchor of Ulrich's crew, and because he's the most grounded member of the cast, he also anchors the movie. Alan Tudyk, who played a flamboyant German in 28 Days, again proves himself as a character actor by disappearing seamlessly into his role as an English bumpkin. Rufus Sewell as Count Adhemar is a most seductive villain. He serves as Sir Ulrich/William's chief adversary while embodying the privilege of the age. The subtle appearance of James Purefoy as Edward the Black Prince sets up the perfect use of deus ex machina, the most pedigreed plot contrivance. Purefoy plays a royal who is as much in hiding from himself as is William. His sincerity demonstrates his true nobility. Shannyn Sossamon may be a perfect fashion plate, but there is a steely character beneath her beauty that makes her Jocelyn interesting. Last but not least, Heath Ledger is even more charming as William than he was in The Patriot, combining heroism with the humor he displayed in Ten Things I Hate About You. Ledger has a shyly sweet earnestness, that makes him a different kind of hero.

This is an action film for the family, as free of gore as the WWF, with the same exuberant violence. If you can approach this film with a child's heart, you will not be disappointed.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]