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  Ironclad Put It To The Sword
Year: 2011
Director: Jonathan English
Stars: James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, Charles Dance, Jason Flemyng, Aneurin Barnard, Bree Condon, Mackenzie Crook, Jamie Foreman, Derek Jacobi, Vladimir Kulich, David Melville, Daniel O'Meara, Guy Siner, Rhys Parry Jones, Steffan Rhodri
Genre: Action, Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the 13th Century, King John (Paul Giamatti) plunged the country of England into a bloody civil war for three years as he tried to assert his influence over the barons, but eventually he was forced to sign the Magna Carta to ensure that fair laws would be bestowed on the land, although John was allowed to remain on the throne. But he secures a Papal decree ordering the document to be illegal, and gathers an army of mercenaries from Denmark to start taking the barons to task... with force.

And where did King John sign the Magna Carta? At the bottom, of course. Anyway, this item of historical blood and thunder was one of a number of productions that brought the past to life; although Braveheart was often pointed to as the main influence, Ironclad even more looked like following on from those lavish television dramas such as Rome or The Tudors, along with a hefty dose of Paul Verhoeven's Flesh + Blood for good measure, the turning point for this lusty genre. You could trace it all the way back to the likes of The Vikings, when big budget spectacle was best suited to such tales, and there was a degree of that here too.

This, however, was not the biggest budgeted of movies, as seen where the siege of Rochester which the main part of the story concentrated upon was reduced to a skirmish around one castle rather than a whole city, but you got the idea even if the historians would be grumbling. That idea being King John was a rum cove, here essayed by Giamatti as a conniving monarch who was better at setting groups of people on each other and making a record of it for posterity than he was a fair and decent ruler of his kingdom. This was also the film where Giamatti claimed to have punched a horse to stop it ruining his scene, getting a little too far into character there.

But this was not wholly the American's show, as it was more an ensemble, with James Purefoy as Knight Templar Thomas leading a Seven Samurai type band of ragtag fighters to save Rochester from the siege fast approaching outside the castle walls. With an international cast, Giamatti and his countrymen such as Kate Mara, who played the young wife of a marriage of convenience to one of the barons (Derek Jacobi), were obliged to put on English accents to blend in, but there was nothing especially egregious in the casting, and the goodies were made more vivid thanks to the likes of Jason Flemyng and Jamie Foreman swinging swords and axes around their heads with gusto.

That was what really made Ironclad stand out, the bloodthirsty way the violence was depicted, fair enough if you wanted exciting, gritty battle scenes, but here evidently relied on that bit too much when a less earnest script might have rendered this more of a romp - it didn't half take itself seriously. The results were bursts of activity as the King's men fire missiles with trebuchets and dodge boiling oil while scaling the walls, all very diverting, but containing intervals of hushed conversations, comic relief which managed to be broad and unengaging at the same time, and unwanted love interest as Purefoy and Mara illustrated how little chemistry they had. But there was enough of the grungy stuff to make this more than a complete waste of time, managing to stave off all thoughts of Monty Python which was an achievement in itself - well, apart from the bit where Brian Cox is fired from a trebuchet. Music by Lorne Balfe.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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