To call Ironclad a ‘historical epic’ would be a slight misnomer. More accurate would be to say it’s a movie in an historical setting, in this case, around 1215 just after the signing of the Magna Carta. ‘Historical’ to me implies a sense of accuracy to historical events, and this is one of those films that plays fast and loose with the actual history of time. That’s not to say it makes it a bad movie, but don’t try and revise for your GCSEs by watching it. ;)
The central bad guy is King John, portrayed in a brilliant scenery chewing performance by Paul Giamatti. That’s the real Prince John that the fabled Robin Hood had so many issues with. However ol’ Johnny boy hasn’t had an easy ride on the throne, Turns out high taxes, losing a few wars, and generally being a ruthless monarch rather upsets the locals, and soon a rebellion arises from rebel England barons.
This results in the Barons forcing the King to sign the Magna Carta – a document which granted a number of important rights to any English ‘free-man’ (i.e. non serfs). But King John really wasn’t happy with having his power stripped away, so with the backing of the Pope, decides to raise an army of mercenaries to help ‘take back his country’. Catching wind of the King’s treachery, Baron Albany (Brian Cox), with the help of a Knights Templar (James Purefoy) calls together a small band of fighters (including Mackenzie Crook, Jason Flemying & Vladimir Kulich) to take and hold the strategically important Rochester Castle.
“It seems no matter how much iron your clad in, a broadsword is still going to slice you in to small pieces, all in gooey techincolor.”
Ironclad is for the most part a siege movie, with the small rebel band of 20 fending off King John’s invading army of thousands. This allows for a number of superbly executed and visceral fight sequences, as the tiny group manage to see off John’s repeated attempts at breaching Rochester’s walls. It seems no matter how much iron your clad in, a broadsword is still going to slice you in to small pieces, all in gooey techincolor. The physical effects guys clearly had a bet going about who could fire the arterial spray the furthest.
There is also the compulsory love plot between Purefoy’s Templar and Kate Mara’s Lady Isabel, wife of Rochester Castle’s Cornhill (Derek Jacobi), although the story could have easily survived without it. Overall the script on it’s own isn’t particularly strong, but the superb cast manages to elevate it to a level of acceptability. That coupled with director Jonathan English bringing a fluid and frantic feel to the wonderfully executed fight sequences makes Ironclad an enjoyable and entertaining action film.