A Knight’s Tale DVD

Directed by: Brian Helgeland. Starring: Heath Ledger, Shannon Sossamon, Paul Bettany, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Laura Fraser.

A Knight's Tale movie poster

Synopsis: In the Middle Ages, before television or professional sports, there is only one form of competition to separate the men from the boys: jousting tournaments. William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), a poor and humble squire, has always dreamed of proving himself worthy as a knight. When he gets a lucky chance—seeing an opportunity to disguise himself in the identity of a knight—William decides to maintain the illusion for as long as possible. He is aided by his friends Wat, Roland, and Geoffrey Chaucer—a writer with a knack for forging official papers.

Under his new title, Sir Ulrich of Liechtenstein, William wins tournaments and receives monetary awards, and also attracts the attention of the lovely Lady Jocelyn. However, the only way for William to prove himself as truly noble is to beat out all of his enemies, including the arrogant and undefeated Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), in a series of jousts.

Sample quote:

Jocelyn: Sir Ulrick. What are you wearing to the ball tonight?
William: er… nothing…
Jocelyn: Well, we shall cause a sensation, for I shall dress to match.
William: [annoyed] Don’t you ever get tired of putting clothes on?
Chaucer: [whispers] I think she’s talking about taking them off, sir.
Jocelyn: A flower is only as good as its petals. Don’t you agree?
William: A flower is good for nothing. You can’t eat a flower, a flower can’t keep your warm…
Jocelyn: And a rose never knocked a man off a horse either.
William: You’re just a silly girl arn’t you.
Jocelyn: Better a silly girl with a flower, than a silly man with a horse and a stick…
[she walks away]
Wat: It’s called a lance… hello…

Comment: This movie works, even when it probably shouldn’t. The bold stroke of incorporating modern rock such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Bowie’s “Golden Years” is, to my mind, completely successful in conveying to today’s audience what jousting must have been to the medieval audience. This is Heath Ledger’s first leading role, and he is good—charismatic but not showy. But even better, probably, is Brian Bettany in the role of Chaucer, a character whose inclusion in the script also works beautifully. Kate the Farrier and sidekicks Wat (Alan Tudyk) and Roland (Mark Addy) are also worthy of note.

The movie includes action, romance, and even some art and history—a little something for everyone. I actually don’t know anyone who didn’t like this movie; I think it’s really underrated.

Rating: ***½

The Extras: Director Brian Hegeland and Paul Bettany have a commentary track that definitely belabours the “I had no idea they didn’t have rock music back them” joke. Better is the HBO “Making of” special, and the inclusion of deleted scenes. The film is better off without them—it would have become too long, too slow—but they’re worth seeing for filling in some gaps you may be wondering about, including some additional romantic liaisons. For the short of attention span are 11 featurettes, each only about 2-3 minutes long, on aspects such as the special effects, the use of music, Heath Ledger, jousting, and the other actors. Pretty interesting, actually, though I think they could have been combined a bit more.

Usability: Menus uses “mysterious meat” navigation, whereupon you have to move the pointer to find out what all the options are. Very bad!

Also see: Brokeback Mountain DVD