Friday, 29 July 2011

Film Review: Ironclad

The story of democracy in Britain is often portrayed to begin and end with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. However, unbeknownst to many, the signing of this legendary document wasn't the end of it. Never really intending to grant the unprecedented liberties he felt coerced into signing, bad King John quickly sought to reverse the charter by eliminating the rebel barons. Standing in his way was the strategically situated Rochester Castle, manned by only a few-hundred rebels. Ironclad seeks to shed light on this little known annex of British history, but it is less historical fact than it is a rewrite of The Magnificent Seven.

Ironclad pretty much picks up where Ridley Scott's Robin Hood left off. 1215. Having been forced to sign the Magna Carta, King John (Giamatti) hires a bunch of Danish mercenaries to eradicate the Barons which humiliated him. Dispersed and reluctant to fight, only one Baron, William de Albany (Cox) stands in King John's way. Pulling together less than a dozen men, including a highly trained Templar Knight, Marshall (Purefoy), Albany's band of merry men must hold onto the strategically positioned Rochester Castle until the French arrive to bail them out (no joke).

Simply, Ironclad is a gore-fest aimed at indiscriminate action fans. It is not a historical epic by any means, sacrificing accuracy for a cheesy tale of stoic heroism that will appeal to teenage boys' wet dreams of 300-style martyrdom. Indeed, there aren't the hundreds of rebels which history (well, wikipedia) suggests. Instead, the defending rebels have been whittled down to less than twenty, facing a barbaric horde of thousands of vikings in countless monotonous shots of close-up limb hacking.

The characters are the stock standard for this kind of affair. Mackenzie Crook plays some sort of Legolas role as a crack-shot archer, there's some tough guy, some guy with questionable morals but who's probably good at heart, and your quiet, stoic, hero-type who hacks off limbs in really cool ways and speaks little, but when he does it's invariably profound. Of course, Purefoy's Marshall is going to provide the main attraction for any medieval wench, and Kate Mara's Lady Isabel provides the eye candy as a horny harlot bent on destroying Marshall's years of devotion to God through his vow of chastity. It is actually quite cringe-worthy to watch Marshall spend half his time trying to fend off the increasingly comic come-ons of the sex-starved Lady Isabel, who slinks around the castle like a half-minded sex pest. Perhaps the most enjoyable parts however involve Giamatti's King John as a permanently irate arsehole. He's petty and cruel like a deranged toddler with a divine birthright making for a good villain. And yet he inevitably suffers from the same flaws as everybody else in this movie; being wholly one-dimensional.

Ironclad is your quintessential prefabricated medieval romp but feels about as epic as a TV mini-series. You can never really take it very seriously, even being slightly reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail  in some parts as King John and the Albany hurl insults at each other over the battlements. "You're no more a king than the boil on my arse" bellows the Baron as you half expect the retort "I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries". Like sieges in general, Ironclad is slow, dull and monotonous, punctuated by the occasional gratuitous violence.