Published May 01, 2001There is a nugget of a good movie in "A Knight's Tale," which makes watching it that much more frustrating. The shortcomings are so blatantly obvious that the good bits get swallowed up and lost.
"A Knight's Tale" is billed as story of young William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) looking to change his lot in life by taking on the persona of his deceased liege, Sir Ulrich of Liechtenstein. Thatcher, a peasant, and his companions, Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk) take to the road to compete in jousting matches. Supposedly inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," the motley crew meet up with Chaucer (Paul Bettany), who creates a genealogy for the new Sir Ulrich and off they go to meet the world.
What could have been a good little sports film turns out to be big disappointment. While I am willing to forgive the poetic license taken with historical fact and scriptwriting, the weaknesses are far too clear to go unnoticed. To start with, the soundtrack is just plain awful. Director Brian Helgland ("Payback") pounds us over the head with the likes of Queen, BTO, and Thin Lizzy as though this is necessary fodder for a sports stadium regardless of the time or place. Even the young audience this film is geared to will understand what the filmmaker is trying to evoke without this barrage of jock rock. In comparison, "Gladiator" was able to illustrate its sports theme without the stadium crowd singing along with Queen's "We Will Rock You."
Then there is the love interest, Jocelyn (Shannon Sossamon) who is accompanied by an underfed maid. Whoever made the wardrobe decision for this character ought to be fired or never allowed on the set of a period film ever again no apologies. While the rest of the cast is decked out in medieval rags, Jocelyn is flaunting haute couture from the house of Chanel. This is absolutely dreadful. The outrageous hair and pretty fingernails are simply unforgivable. And while my knowledge of medieval mores may be a wee rusty, you can be sure even a noble woman would not have been allowed to pull a hissy fit in a cathedral. She is countered by Kate, the female blacksmith (Laura Fraser ) who was much more fitting and lent more to an ongoing subtext of women's roles in society. We could have done without the product placement, however.
Ledger and Bettany saved this movie for me. They were able to fill out their period roles with real personalities. Bettany gave Chaucer a sense of humour and bravado that made him fun to watch. Whether this was made possible by the horrifically frequent appearances of Sossamon, I'm not sure. It will take a few more modern dramatic roles by Ledger and Bettany to determine this. Overall, a few cuts and an appropriate soundtrack would have made "A Knights Tale" an altogether more enjoyable spring sports flick.