If the idea of a medieval jousting movie set to classic rock songs like “We Will Rock You,” “Low Rider,” and “The Boys are Back in Town” bothers you, forget this movie and rent “Ivanhoe” instead. But if the idea appeals to you, get some popcorn and get ready for a ravishingly good time. This is “Ivanhoe” crossed with “Rocky” for the MTV/WWF generation, and it is great silly movie fun. In other words, leave skepticism behind and it will rock you.
Heath Ledger plays William Thatcher, a knight’s squire who steps into his liege’s armor when the knight is killed in a jousting match. All he is thinking of is winning the match so that he can get some food for himself and the other two squires (“The Full Monty’s” Mark Addy as Roland and “28 Days’” Alan Tudyk as Wat). But once the armor is on and the lance is in his hand, his childhood dream of being a knight is awakened, and he persuades Roland and Wat to help him pretend to be a nobleman, so he can continue to compete.
A young writer named Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), forges the appropriate documents and acts as his herald, and William becomes Sir Ulrich. Although his greatest skill is in the sword-fighting event, the big money is in jousting, so that is where he decides to compete.
Of course William meets a beautiful princess (newcomer Shannyn Sossamon) and an arrogant champion who competes with him for the princess and the title (Rufus Sewell, wonderfully brooding as Count Adhemar). The secret of William’s low birth is revealed at the most dramatic moment. But there is a happily-ever-after ending that is just right for this fairy tale.
Ledger holds his own well in his first leading role, and Bettany is completely winning as Chaucer, who may have a gambling problem but who knows the value of words. Sossamon, in her first role, is pretty, but unimpressive. The art direction sets the scene beautifully, and, if you are willing to give it a chance, the music works very well, especially in a dance sequence that shifts about 600 years into David Bowie mid-step. I’m sure that if Bachman Turner Overdrive had been aroundin the 1400’s, they would have played “Taking Care of Business” during combat.
Parents should know that the movie is very violent, with a lot of shattered lances and battered combatants, but little gore. There is some strong language and a mild sexual situation.
Families who see this movie should talk about the pros and cons of the use of anachronisms (Wat says, “It’s a lance – hel–LO!”) to tell this story, and about the loyalty shown by William, Jocelyn, Roland, Wat, and Geoffrey (and Coville) to each other. They should also talk about why Adhemar was willing to do anything to win and how he would have felt if he had been successful. William is not the only knight who competes under cover – why does the Prince want to compete without letting anyone know who he is? Why was it important for William to allow Coville to lose with honor? And families should discuss Jocelyn’s order to William that he lose to prove his love for her, and whether that was fair or kind. Take a look at Leigh Hunt’s poem, “The Glove and the Lions” at http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/275.html for a similar story that concludes, “No love,” quoth he, “but vanity sets love a task like that.” They might want to take a look at a modernized version of “The Pardoner’s Tale” (http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/pardoner.htm) to see if Geoffrey Chaucer kept his word and got his revenge.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Ivanhoe,” though it’s a little slow between the jousting matches and, as in the book, Ivanhoe ends up with the wrong girl. They will also enjoy “Gladiator” (warning: much more violent than this movie).