'A Knight's Tale': THR's 2001 Review

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Heath Ledger in 2001's 'A Knight's Tale.'
A brief foray into a past designed like an American theme park to play out a forgettable, somewhat corny romantic adventure.

On May 11, 2001, Columbia Pictures unveiled the medieval actioner A Knight's Tale, starring Heath Ledger, in theaters nationwide. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

A Knight's Tale imagines that the medieval tournament sport of jousting was the World Wrestling Federation of its day, where superheroes and supervillains faced off in arenas surrounded by fanatical supporters and intense hype. The film's writer-director, Brian Helgeland, takes this one step further by insisting that there is no real difference between the 14th century and 21st century. He gives all his characters modern-day values and attitudes and lets them joust to Queen's "We Will Rock You," train to War's "Low Rider" and dance to David Bowie's "Golden Years."

Whether one sees these deliberate anachronisms as a highly original twist on period filmmaking or shameless pandering to the youth market, Knight's Tale might well connect with that crowd. Nowhere near as inventive and full-bore as Baz Luhrmann's MTV-style William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Helgeland's film is a sort of Camelot lite — a brief foray into a past designed like an American theme park to play out a forgettable, somewhat corny romantic adventure.

The film certainly establishes its two romantic leads — Heath Ledger, who plays a peasant masquerading as a noble knight, and Shannyn Sossamon, a cheeky fair maiden — as potential stars. Ledger has a strong masculine screen presence that allows him to dive bravely into a scene's emotions. And newcomer Sossamon displays a delightful sense of wit in her romantic scenes with Ledger's clumsy though earnest knight and gives off an aura of self-confidence befitting a character born of noble blood.

Helgeland endows his characters with the good old American "can do" spirit that sees no boundaries of class, education or religion in medieval society. A peasant would never dream of knighthood — as that role was reserved for nobles — but not our boy William (Ledger). As one of the servants of a jousting knight, Will boldly dons his master's armor and finishes a joust when the knight has the misfortune of dying in a tournament.

Seeing no reason why he cannot continue the charade, William convinces his two comrades — teddy bear Roland (Mark Addy) and hotheaded Wat (Alan Tudyk) — to go along. They are soon joined by Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) — yep, the guy who wrote The Canterbury Tales, only at this point in his career, he's unemployed and frequently naked, has a bad gambling problem and goes by the name of Geoff. Well, Geoff invents a noble pedigree that turns William into Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland, and William is allowed into tournaments.

At his first joust, he catches the eyes of the egotistical Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), who becomes William's main opponent in the contests to follow, and lovely Jocelyn (Sossamon), who wants William to win not so much tournaments as her heart.

Helgeland is a clever enough writer to give all the key roles juicy moments. Laura Fraser has moments as a beautiful blacksmith who seemingly advances the Western art of metallurgy by hundreds of years. Geoff is a flamboyant fop who discovers a talent for making flowery introductions of his "knight" and writing his love letters. Addy and Tudyk would easily have a comedy built around their wacky, lovable characters.

As a director, Helgeland can't do much about the sport, which is pretty basic: Two armored guys on horses charging at each other with wooden lances is not a threat to replace Hong Kong martial-arts movies. But cinematographer Richard Greatrex and editor Kevin Stitt find ways to juice up the repetitive images.

What carries the day are the actors and splendid production values achieved on this film shot entirely in the Czech Republic and its historic Barrandov Studios. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on April 19, 2001. 

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