2001: Looking Back At A KNIGHT'S TALE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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2001: Looking Back At A KNIGHT'S TALE

Alexander Wallace will rock you.
A Knight’s Tale is a strange beast, to put it lightly, it’s a movie set in the Middle Ages in England and France, a sports movie, a romance, and a comedy. It’s the sort of thing that would have no business working as well as it does. Fortunately for us all, Brian Helgeland succeeded in directing such a glorious mashup.

Firstly, the medieval setting. It seems that we get more films set in mythologized abstractions of the period (like so much of the fantasy genre) rather than the period itself. Making the conflict among Englishmen and Frenchmen adds a certain verisimilitude to the whole enterprise, more concrete than the abstractions thereof we usually get. These are knights in shining armor reasonably close to what they actually were, and the movie sells that.
This is a movie that is awash in great performances. You have the gallant if somewhat absentminded William Thatcher, a peasant who wishes to win all as a competitive jouster. He is portrayed with great feeling by Heath Ledger. There’s Jocelyn, a noblewoman and the opinionated foil and love interest to William. There’s the historical figure who adds an odd groundedness to this tale: Geoffrey Chaucer, the great writer, as portrayed by Paul Bettany, who is introduced running into William and his compatriots while in his birthday suit (certainly a memorable introduction!). And there’s the aristocratic villain Count Adhemar, imbued with such a hateable demeanor by Rufus Sewell (an actor I have thought positively of since I saw him as John Smith in The Man in the High Castle).

Making jousting, of all things, the subject of a sports movie, with all the plot beats that that implies, was a stroke of genius. It refreshes that well-trod genre by using something centuries out of date (barring reenactors), bringing to life the messy and splintery world of Medieval jousting in all its violent glory. However, jousting is not too violent, meaning that our protagonists are unlikely to die in the attempt, keeping the degree of levity that many sports movies have.
There’s also the soundtrack, which has become noted for its lack of even an attempt at the sounds of the period, instead going with David Bowie and Queen and Eric Clapton, among others. It’s a strange choice that could have been jarring in other hands, but is used here to great effect to evoke not period atmosphere but rather raw emotion, forging a connection with the viewer that a more authentic score probably would not have made.

There’s one scene that particularly impressed me with its cinematography: a scene between William and Jocelyn debating the terms of their budding relationship in a church. The two walk about a line in the church, and the camera moves back and forth as they gain or lose ground in the argument. Like many other things in this film, it’s quite clever.

Indeed, ‘clever’ is perhaps the best word to describe A Knight's Tale. This is not a movie congealed out of processed film product for the servicing of marketers. No, this was clearly a labor of love, with all these variegated elements miraculously fitting together. It’s a rare thing for a film to do that.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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