Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

In this Medieval epic ‘Ironclad’ we are introduced to King John II (Paul Giamatti), and King John is kind of a dick. Before we even got a chance to meet King John, the regal voiced narration guy told us that during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries King John ruled with cruelty, pettiness, greed and would often sleep with the wives of his fellow noblemen. Note that this is the same King John that gave Robin Hood all of his troubles. Regardless, these noblemen and baron’s formed an army and battled King John and his forces into submission, thanks in no small part to the legendary Knights of the Templar, which led to the signing of the Magna Carta. Whatever. As far as King John is concerned the Magna Carta is nothing but a crinkly piece of paper and he’s gathered a new army to take back his country. Well a small group which includes a baron, a Templar Knight and some vagabonds can’t let that happen. Because King John is a dick.

The plan is a simple one for Baron Albany (Brian Cox). With the blessing of the soon to be excommunicated Archbishop Langdon (Charles Dance), Albany will collect some men and head down to the critical forthold of Castle… hell if I can remember the name… and setup shop with the knowledge that the king and his army will be there soon enough to claim it as their own. Albany already has a head start on gathering his crew as the Archbishop has already given him the mean, angry, dour and oppressive Templar Knight Marshall (James Purefoy) to add to his team, highlighted by the fact that Marshall already hates King John since he’s killed a couple of his fellow knights and cut out his best friends tongue. See what mean about King John? You see?

Rounding out the crew will be Albany’s squire Guy (Anuerin Barnard), Marks the archer (McKenzie Crook), Coteral the slob (Jamie Foreman), Becket the cur (Jason Flemyng) and Wulfstan the family man (Rhys Parry Jones). So our heroes make it to this castle, brutally dispatch of a couple of the kings scouts, deal with the winey proprietor of this castle in Cornhill (Derek Jacobi) and his far too young, far too cute wife Isabel (Kate Mara) and man their posts along with the few guards that are already there.

It doesn’t take long for the king and his defacto Captain of the Guard Tiberius (Vladimir Kulich) to arrive and storm the castle. It’s brutal, it’s violent, a lot craniums will be split in two at just about every conceivable axis, but because of the way the castle is built and because of the fighting spirit of our heroes, these twenty men turn the Kings men away. Undaunted, they storm the castle again. It’s brutal and it’s violent. They are turned away. Plus the French are allegedly on their way to help out and save the day. History tells us that this will cause a whole ‘nother set of problems. Anyway, King John is frustrated because this literally goes on for months, but while the king is certainly an asshole, he’s also pretty smart. Did you know that pig fat is combustible? I did not know this. And if pig fat can be an incendiary device, then it stands to reason that a whole pig is freaking atom bomb. In addition to being mighty tasty. With that piece of knowledge stored away, our heroes will be in some trouble, though I’m guessing it was smelling real good while they were in this trouble, and the one that’s supposed to be leading them, the Templar Knight, is conflicted with his vows because he’s tasted the fruit of temptation. And apparently it tasted real good. And if you thought King John was dick before, wait until you see him now.

My first concern with director Jonathan English and his hack and slash medieval adventure ‘Ironclad’ was the casting of Paul Giamatti as a sovereign British Medieval era king. Hey man, nobody loves A. Bartlett’s baby boy more than me, but he does have a certain acting style, with his vocal intonations and physical mannerisms that one would think wouldn’t lend itself all that well to this kind of role. To a certain extent, it doesn’t because Giamatti’s unique mannerisms are ever present, but Giamatti has created a character that is so arrogant and so self-aggrandizing that it is a performance that has to be seen, and he does manage to turn himself into a sort of Medieval King. In addition, while King John can be seen as evil, Giamatti doesn’t play him that way. This is a character who truly believes it is his sovereign right, given to him by God, to freely oppress. That’s impressive.

The rest of ‘Ironclad’ is almost as equally impressive. It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s bloody, it’s grim and it has an interesting history tinged story to tell. James Purefoy did a fine job as the hardcore brutal crusading knight who would kill you just as soon as he would shake your hand, but yet turned to jelly when he came within fifteen feet of a pretty girl. Did this movie need a love theme inserted within? No, not really. Battle axes, Longbows, Maces and Flails worked well in this movie. Romance… not so much.

Overall the performances in this film were rock solid considering Brian Cox and Derek Jacoby were around to give us a touch acting class, but in particular we enjoyed watching Jason Flemyng work as the ultra hardcore lover of whores Becket. The film did slow down long enough to give us some kind narrative, but we know this narrative was in place mainly as a conduit to vicious bloodletting. And that’s a good thing when done right.

The last movie Jonathan English directed, that we saw, was the Sci-Fi Channel original film ‘Minotaur’. Would you believe that ‘Minotaur’ is my favorite Sci-Fi Channel original movie? Clearly the man knows what he’s doing when it comes to viciously murdering actors in a period setting. Somebody needs to get this young man more work.

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