A Knight's Tale
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland

Starring Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Shannyn Sossamon


A Knight's Tale

A hit! A palpable hit! No, wait; that comes later. This is Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th Century England (and France), where knights are not only born but made, as we see with lowly-born William Thatcher, who's served his master - a knight -- and learned jousting from him. When the knight dies, William takes his identity and enters the jousting frays to make his mark. Or, as the script has it, to follow his stars.

Australian actor Heath Ledger (Mel Gibson's No. 1 son who died at the one-hour mark in "The Patriot") is William, and he has two friends who become his equerries as he moves up the jousting ranks. He also has Chaucer himself (Paul Bettany), who sings his praises at the tourneys and whose poetic imagery helps him land the beauteous Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon, whose British accent unfortunately wobbles quite a bit in the course of the film).

The villain, and these things always have to have a villain, is Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), who will not allow a lowly Cheapside boy to beat him at the jousts, and his treacherous acts remind us of Joaquin Phoenix as the emperor in "Gladiator."

So let us put aside all the familiar tropes of this film genre and enjoy the film, for it is really if sporadically more than just enjoyable. For one thing, writer-director Brian Helgeland, he of "L.A. Confidential," has managed to keep the tone light and unself-conscious, with unpretentious line readings and some nice physical comedy. Moreover, he's done something rarely if ever seen before. He has put the great '70s anthems ("We Will Rock You," "We Are the Champions," and David Bowie's "Golden Years") right onto the screen and sound track, with crowds singing and doing the wave - and it works. You can see that in Chaucer's England sporting crowds would twist and shout just as we do today. We can thank film-score composer Carter Burwell for handling the music so well.

The story is of course totally predictable from about the one-minute mark, but Helgeland keeps things moving well enough, though he has a problem with the actual jousts themselves, since each round lasts about ten seconds in real time. His endless extensions of them with repeated cuts and slo-mo shots become terribly old and boring long before we get to the climactic battle. Nevertheless, the melodrama is always bailed out in the nick of time by a charming or touching moment that restores the proper feel. Ledger, Sewell, and Bettany put enough life into the proceedings to make it a nicely enjoyable film.