Starring: James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Jason Flemyng, Derek Jacobi, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Mackenzie Crook, Charles Dance
Director: Jonathan English
Writer(s): Jonathan English, Erick Castel, Stephen McDool
Cinematography: David Eggby
Original Score: Lorne Balfe
Running Time: 121 Mins.
Gritty, grimy, brutal, bloody and battered…all adjectives that can easily be applied to Ironclad, and with damn good reason for it fully embraces how you would have imagined medieval times to have been and in particular medieval battles with their ridiculously big swords, spiked staffs and swinging metal “things” for lack of a better word, no these are not euphemisms they are and d exactly what you would expect in hacking at limbs, carrying out multiple beheadings and taking out eyes. Picking up where Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood left off giving us a lot of the brutal realities that Ridley’s effort dare not show for fear of anything higher than being a 12a or a PG13…but as we know from the recent crop of under-achieving medieval romps, Black Death and Centurion, they are so much more fun when there is no cap of the gore and pestilence…of which Ironclad gives us in spades.
The similarities to Robin Hood are more than simply cosmetic (ramped up significantly) however, plot-wise this could almost be the sequel…minus Robin, where our new spiritual replacement for Robin is Marshall, a shamed Knight who breaks his vow of peace and silence after his brethren and guide are killed following King John going back on the Magna Carta which as we are told during the opening crawl gave the commoner as much right s as the king…but royalty as we know doesn’t like being dictated too meaning John hunted down and killed each and every signees, which is where Marshall comes is. Holed up in Rochester Castle ( a strategic holding point we are told) the Knight and his band of “merry men” which includes Cox’s Baron, Mara’s damsel in distress and Crook’s archer, fend off the onslaught by King John and his thugs for hire (the Celts of course).
Yes there’s a romantic subplot, yes there is an “immortal” line uttered by our hero about what you do in battle..blah blah blah, and yes we have seen it all before but I will be damned if it isn’t one hell of an enjoyable two hours to spend in a cinema, and more than that it stands up to repeat viewings proving as gloriously entertaining every time. This is down to two things essentially, firstly a game cast who largely play to type, the thug, the noble one, the coward etc. but they are all having so much fun you would be a very hard person not to feel the enjoyment be catching, thankfully though James Purefoy (building on a great turn in Solomon Kane) offers a solid grounding for all the heaving bosoms and lopping of limbs, he has that all important gravitas that makes the film more than a slightly more serious (and bloody) elongated Monty Python sketch.
However topping each and every other actor, and Brian Cox is hard to beat for pure OTT entertainment, is Paul Giamatti and King John, he is a downright dastardly villain and possibly an early contender (and winner?) for villain of the year. It isn’t often Giamatti gets to overdo it, in fact his talent always tends to be about how he undersell a performance with nuance and subtle tics, far from this is John, there really seem to be no lengths this man will go to get what he wants whether it be massacring members of the church (of which he frequently claims he is of yet shows little to suggest as much) or firing people from trebuchets into walls, oh did I say it was bloody? It is in Giamatti’s all out rants that you will be transfixed to the screen, he is at once comedic and scary…that is some feat!
There are flaws, perhaps inevitably in a film as flimsy as this in terms of plotting, though none of them will ebb your enjoyment in the slightest, albeit for the misjudged romantic subplot and some lame attempts to give a couple of characters a third dimension prior to their death but in a film more concerned with bloody spectacle and histrionics the success rate is damn high and character stereotypes really just become a byproduct with the plus side being that they are all played by men who know they are there for the limb-lopping and to look sufficiently grubby, on which front they score an A*!
Ironclad is fun, bloody good fun, in the literal sense of course, with battles aplenty and a solid clutch of clichéd performances all round, Giamatti is the standout but very rarely does the film miss a step on it’s intentionally brutal but enjoyable crusade…it’s like Robin Hood but, y’know, with added blood and trubuchets’!