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Ironclad (2011)

Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Paul Giamatti stars as King John in this epic historical adventure chronicling the siege of Rochester Castle in the year 1215. Forced under duress to sign the Magna Carta, an angry King John assembles a rogue army and fights to take England back by force. As the king sets his sights on London, the only thing standing between him and total victory is Rochester, where the brave Baron Albany prepares to fight back until the cavalry arrives. Chief among Baron Albany’s small yet determined rebel army is a Templar Knight (James Purefoy) still haunted by his reprehensible actions during the Crusades and wracked with love for Reginald de Cornhill’s beautiful, neglected wife, Isabel (Kate Mara). As the king’s army approaches, ruthless mercenary Beckett and young soldier Guy (Aneurin Barnard) vow to fight alongside Baron Albany to the death.

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Details:

Rating: R (for strong graphic brutal battle sequences, and brief nudity)

Genre: Action & Adventure

Directed by: Jonathan English

In Theaters: July 8, 2011 Limited

Runtime: 121 minutes

Studio: Arc Entertainment

Review:

1215 and having been forced to sign the Magna Carta, King John (Giamatti) enlists an army of Danish mercenaries and plots revenge against all those  involved. As John lays waste to the South of England, a small band of rebels led by William d’Aubigny, plot to defend the Southern stronghold of Rochester Castle in the hope they can delay John long enough for the French army to arrive from the sea to depose him.

Ironclad’s sheer willingness to blend historical and period notices with blood and mud is very appealing to the swords and shields genre fan. The recreation of 13th century England is most impressive, as is the adherence to the brutality of the times. Armor and swords do clank with sharpness, quickly followed by blood and dismemberment; the body horror is certainly not in short supply throughout the running time. The color is purposely muted to capture a realistic feel and the movie achieves it’s purpose with a modest budget.

A splendid cast has assembled for the production, all thankfully attired with thought from the costume department. Purefoy cuts a fine rugged figure of machismo, brooding for all he’s worth as he battles not only the enemy, but also his own duel with his Templar faith. Cox is, no surprise, full of gusto and leadership qualities, and the likes of Flemyng (whore chaser as brave as a lion), Crook (ace archer) and Foreman (no fear thief) add considerable grungy brawn to the atmosphere. Charles Dance and Jacobi lend thespian support and Kulich is a towering presence as axe wielding leader of the Danes, Tiberius. The highlight, though, is Giamatti. True enough to say that as written it’s a portrait of a vicious King we have seen plenty of times before, but Giamatti elevates this one to better heights with a glint in his eye and thunderous moments of anger. For his delivery of “I am God’s right hand” speech this begs respect. His accent holds as well, always a bonus is that.

Ironclad is good rousing fun, a nifty blend of religion, politics and bloody war. The siege itself is very well orchestrated, as catapult engines bombard the castle, arrows penetrate the sky, men leap around on fire or are scolded by hot oil, and there’s interesting facts and tricks etched into the narrative too (burning of pigs a weapon of war?!). It may never quite reach the ambitions it sets itself, but in an era when swords and shields movies are in short supply, it’s an entertaining and bloody Medieval romp for sure.

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Rick Mac
Student and author of History. The study of History is the beginning of wisdom.

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