A Knight's Tale

By: Jeffrey Stevens

 

There are many movies that could describe life in the Middle Ages. A Knight's Tale is definitely not one of them. From the moment the movie begins, the cast of characters, the chronology, the costumes and even the music are badly misconstrued. Apparently, director Brian Helgeland completely threw history out the window in an attempt to turn this movie into a blockbuster. Many parts of the Middle Ages are completely ignored in the making of this movie. Such parts including the poverty and squalor of the era are greatly sanitized; Christianity, a driving force in Europe is ignored, and little things like the plague and war are merely reduced to footnotes. Moreover, Helgeland managed to create a soundtrack for the film including tracks by David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, and even a spin-off of the Bachman-Turner Overture, but does not include any of the music of the Middle Ages.

 

A Knight's Tale is about a group of peasants, led by William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) whose Lord has died by taking one too many hits to the head jousting. Instead of leaving serfdom behind, young William decides to joust in his master's stead by donning his master's armor (which fits perfectly). Although in the Middle Ages, the Lord would show up and take off his helmet after he wins the tournament, that is not the case here, and William is given the cash reward for winning. Even after he is given money he does not stop trying to joust even though his fellow serfs Roland and Wat do not want him to joust anymore, but want to go home. Instead, William entices them with the thought of more money and they begin to help him train for the next tournament, which will be in thirty days. During the training session, you cannot help but laugh at the fact that the music in the background is "Low Rider." After those thirty days of training, the group is on the road and on their way to the next tournament when they run into two more characters. The first is a dagger-tongued blacksmith named Kate. The other encounter is with one of the few characters historically based: Geoffrey Chaucer. This character is seen walking naked past the group and when he introduces himself the crew has no idea what he is talking about or who he is. They decide to recruit him because he can write a writ of nobility, and for the rest of the movie, William is known as Ulrich Von Liechtenstein of Gelderland. Since apparently no one traveled in the Middle Ages, no one realized that there is no such place. All these characters eventually form a bond and help William hide his identity. Of course, what knight's tale would be complete without a beautiful woman to woo and an evil villain to defeat. Newcomer Shannyn Sossamon plays the beautiful Lady Jocelyn whom the pseudo-knight falls for, and the evil Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell) plays the latter. As for the Lady Jocelyn, she may be beautiful, but she is definitely boring. The movie missed the boat by not pairing William with Kate, instead of using the bland and inaccurate formula of William and Jocelyn. As for the evil Count Adhemar, he is not truly evil enough to be despised by viewers. Finally, the last character is at first a mystery in the joust and is explained to be Edward Colville, the Black Prince of Wales, portrayed by British actor James Purefoy and heir to the English Crown. No one wants to compete with him in the joust except William and each lets the match end in a draw so the prince can lose honorably. This seems fine with all the royal ties, but this character is not even real. At the end of the movie, William is found out and not allowed to compete and stands in the stocks, Prince Edward saves him and then knights him so that he may compete in the final tournament. This part is so historically absurd, since this type of occurrence would never happen. During the making of this movie, Director Helgeland did not pay close attention to history or character development.

 

The costumes of each character were actually historically accurate, with noblemen and women wearing more colors and satin and silk dresses, while the peasants wore bland colors including brown, off white, or beige in very cheap cotton or burlap. Surprisingly enough, the movie actually conceived the correct dress for the Middle Ages, the only thing that was historically accurate. The final fallacy of the film comes during the high point of the movie, the jousting tournament. The history of this event is rather a mystery, although its origins are thought to have been dated circa 1066. The earliest tournaments appear to have evolved in mainland Europe, especially in France, but England was also known for jousting tournaments. This rise of the ideals of courtly love, which first appeared in Southern France in the 12th century, the chivalric romantic epics which gained popularity in the 13th century, brought to the forefront notions of courtesy and chivalry. There was an increasing awareness that honor should be done to lady by her champion as portrayed in the contemporary literature. "Tokens" such as veils, ribbons, or the detachable sleeve of a dress might be worn by her knight on his arms, his lance, or on his helm. None of the above facts were shown within the movie and just suggest that the Director did little to research the history of combat and courtly love within the joust.

The movie also suffers from the "is it ever going to end ?" disease. Not only does the movie have nothing of historical substance to say, but it takes over two hours to say it. As far as Middle Ages movies line up, this one is definitely going to be near the back. In my opinion this movie was boring, and the tale is not worth being told.