A Knight's Tale (PG)

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Review byMatthew Turner09/06/2001

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 129 mins

Medieval-set action-comedy that pulls off a few daring winks to the audience, but ultimately doesn’t quite work, largely thanks to a shockingly bad performance by its leading lady.

If, as Josie and the Pussycats would have us believe, "Heath Ledger is the new Matt Damon", then A Knight’s Tale is definitely the sort of dumb movie they had in mind to ‘sell’ to the crucial movie-going teen demographic.

Ledger plays William Thatcher, a squire to a knight who pops his shiny metal clogs shortly before he’s due to receive a jousting award. Aided and abetted by his two fellow squires (tubby, jolly Mark Addy and ginger, fiery Alan Tudyk), William dons the armour and accepts the prize in his place.

Shortly afterwards, they encounter Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, THAT Geoffrey Chaucer, played by the excellent Paul Bettany), wandering stark naked along the road, and together they forge a false knighthood for William, enabling him to continue jousting.

At the jousts he encounters both the princess (Shannyn Sossamon) and the evil dark knight (Rufus Sewell), and you can probably guess the rest. A Knight’s Tale is certainly lively enough and it’s clear that no one is meant to take it particularly seriously.

Especially not historians, who would surely object to the crowd singing "We will rock you", a ball-room dance to David Bowie's Golden Years or the use of a certain sports logo on a suit of armour.

However, it’s to the film’s credit that it manages to pull off each of the above without it ever seeming forced and they come across as knowing winks to the audience that actually add to the movie rather than remove you from it.

The majority of the performances are decent enough. Ledger is attractive and likeable, but perhaps a little dull – at any rate, this should set him in good stead for future roles.

Addy essentially reprises his fat, jolly Full Monty character to cheerful effect and Tudyk has fun with his often-repeated made-up catchphrase ("Shut up or I’ll fong you"). In addition, Laura Fraser is good, but under-used as the blacksmith that teams up with them and ‘invents’ A Certain Sports Logo.

However, it’s Paul Bettany as Chaucer who really steals the show – he’s loud and funny and gets all the best lines, and the screen crackles with life when he’s onscreen.

What really harms the film, though, are the performances by Rufus Sewell (looking about as evil as a lost puppy, though, to be fair, he’s given very little to actually do) and Shannyn Sossamon.

She giggles, simpers, grins and generally sounds like a Californian Valley girl throughout the entire movie. She’s utterly unconvincing as a princess and you’ll find yourself wondering why William doesn’t just forget her and cop off with his feisty blacksmith instead.

The movie isn’t without its fair share of nice little touches (such as when Chaucer tells his loan-shark ‘pardoner’ that he’ll get his revenge on him in literature).

But ultimately it can’t hide the fact that jousting isn’t a particularly exciting sport – once you’ve seen one lance splinter into a million pieces, you’ve seen them all.

In terms of dumb, Friday-night, no-brain entertainment, then A Knight’s Tale is passable enough and certainly not unwatchable, particularly when Bettany is onscreen.

However, the wince-inducing awfulness of Sossamon and Sewell conspire to rob this of a potential third star – hum loudly to yourself when they’re onscreen and you’ll enjoy the film a lot more.

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A Knight's Tale (PG)
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Content updated: 26/09/2015 08:27

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