From the recently acclaimed 'King’s Speech' and 'The Social Network', to oldies like 'A Beautiful Mind' - every so often a gem of a film sweeps through cinemas and surprises viewers with a story that is seldom told. Although, 'Ironclad' had the best intentions of turning a rarely dramatised chapter of British history into a cinematic sensation - it tries far too hard to live in the shadows of 'Braveheart', while undermining any hope of historical authenticity.
After signing the Magna Carta in 1215, King John (Giamatti) initiates a blood-thirsty crusade against the Barons who demanded his signature. Armed with a troop of Danish mercenaries, and with the pope’s approval, the King sets out to repossess territory on a national scale. The plot swiftly moves to Rochester Castle, where William de Albany (Cox) and his newly recruited band of rebels led by Templar monk Thomas Marshall (Purefoy), attempt to defend the strategically important fortress.
As Marshall struggles to come to terms with the fact that he has broken his vow of silence and non-violence, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place when his vow of celibacy is tested with Reginald de Cornhill’s (Derek Jacobi) flirtatious wife (Mara). With severe weather conditions looming, the likelihood of starvation on the horizon, and Prince Louis and the French nowhere to be seen - it becomes one heck of a dismal situation for Marshall and his crew.
While Purefoy and Mara as Lady Isabel are commendable in the central roles, their on-screen romance is unconvincing and practically non-existent. Not only do they lack an ounce of chemistry, but the lacklustre dialogue between the pair would give Dawson’s Creek a run for its money. One of the only highlights in the flick is Giamatti, who looks and plays the part of the megalomaniacal King seeking revenge with conviction. We are genuinely convinced that he thinks he is permitted by God to slaughter whoever he wishes.
Cox provides a hint of humour in his role as Albany, but his wittiness is tainted by foul-mouthed slang for the best part. As for the other supporting roles; Crook (as the cool archer), Foreman (the token tough guy), and Flemyng (as the angry womaniser) make the most of their roles, but they fail to connect with the audience due to their underdeveloped characters.
That aside, the seldom told story is mesmerizing, and the script’s attention to detail doesn’t go unnoticed (look away when you see the pigs). The scene where the King’s engineer designs a catapult to attack the castle is particularly noteworthy; however the camera lens is too far away to capture the finer details.
The gruesome fight scenes serve their purpose, and are definitely not for the fainthearted.
'Ironclad' is about twenty minutes too long and manages to live in the shadows of 'Braveheart' - but it has just enough substance to make you stay clear of yet another rom-com.