Note, some spoilers follow.
Ironclad is your typical formulaic medieval movie; a motley band of brave warriors makes last stand against overwhelming forces led by evil, despotic ruler. Warriors are slowly whittled down to just a few, with the hero and the cleavage-baring princess sharing smoldering glances.
Ironclad is unique in the strength of its cast, despite its small budget. You have Brian Cox, James Purefoy (how far he has fallen since Rome!), Derek Jacobi, Jason Flemyng, Paul Giamatti, Charles Dance (plays Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones), Kate Mara (who replaced Megan Fox), and one of the pirates of the Caribbean who plays a Legolas-type role. Paul Giamatti is entertaining in his over-the-top role as the murderous King John, bent on killing all who forced him to sign the Magna Carta. However, even with the star-studded cast, the storyline is insufficient to keep the movie together. We're left with brutal action sequences, but even the action sequences were only average. They used too much "shaky-cam" footage, leaving this viewer with a slight headache.
It's clear that Ironclad takes liberties with historical events, but I do have to give them credit for at least alluding to those historical events. For example, historically, the Rochester Castle keep was undermined with fat from 40 pigs. However, in the movie, whole pigs were burned to undermine the keep (which would have made a delicious barbecue). Historically, King John did cut off the hands and feet of surrendering rebels, and we certainly see that here in rather gory detail. Historically, King John starved the rebels into submission, and in the movie, we do see some effects of starvation.
Ironclad isn't an Oscar-winning picture by any stretch, but it's an entertaining movie. Sure, it might be formulaic, but it's fun watching Purefoy hack through scores of woad-like blue Danes with his historically inaccurate five foot long Zweihander. I rate it 3.5 stars (more than generous) because the film tried to push the limits of its small budget.
**I had some concerns about the extreme level of gore in the movie. Most of the violence has digital blood added in, but there are several gory bits that one should be aware of. A tongue is chopped off, a limb is repeatedly hacked by a blunt instrument until severed, said severed limb is used to beat another enemy combatant, a man is chopped in half, faces are crushed, a man's collarbone is hacked repeatedly, throats sliced, abdomens opened, hands/feet lopped off, and corpses tossed against buildings. Ironclad is definitely not for the faint of heart.
on August 4, 2011
Potent Small Scale 'Braveheart'
One of the better Medieval period-films I've seen. Accurate to the point of being disgusting and I'm more the pleased for it. Bloody, savage and brutal. No singing, no ridiculous troupes of dancing fools, no Renaissance Faires. This is what it was like: Gray, dingy and grim for a vast majority of people.
I'm always amazed at the folks who populate these reenactment camps - happily deceiving themselves by completely ignoring the truth. I want to see a Medieval Festival where urine and feces are randomly dropped onto people, to see streets of mud filled with the same. I want to know that the people there have no dental hygiene as we know it - not even a tooth brush. So how bad do you want to hug someone now? I want to smell insane amounts of perfume in an attempt to cover up rank body odor. I want to know the dry foodstuffs are infested with mites and grubs, and that the wet foods may or may not be rancid and/or infected with bacterial viruses. Clothes and bodies infested with fleas, skin covered in acne pustules, and a general brutality against the weak.
That's partly why I enjoyed 'Ironclad' - it didn't paint a rosy picture. <g>
The other reason: Ever since the cancellation of my much-lamented 'Rome', I've been hoping to see James Purefoy again. The guy is serious kick-ass. If there really were a comet-striking-the-earth-event, Purefoy is the dude I'd want to be around. I honestly see him clawing his way to the top of any primitive heap.
Particularly enjoyed the story, a good one for once, about the righteousness of the Knights Templar. They've taken a pretty mean beating in the media these past few years, character assassination seven-hundred years after they were betrayed and destroyed. To quote Wikipedia regarding the Chinon Parchments, "It is currently the Catholic Church position that the medieval persecution of the Knights Templar was unjust; that there was nothing inherently wrong with the Order or its Rule; and that Pope Clement was pressured into his actions by the magnitude of the public scandal and the dominating influence of King Philip IV".
So 'Ironclad' gives us a look at a true Templar. A holy knight of stout spirit and strong arm; a moral warrior with the clarity that comes from purity of vision. And I'm genuinely gratified to the filmmakers for this honest perspective. And, yes, I get the irony of this story sitting dead-center in the continual revisionist histories of King John.
The rest of the ragtag band of warriors reads like an all-star cast of every period film made in the last twenty-years: Brian Cox, Jayson Fleming, Mackenzie Crook, Jamie Foreman, John Pierce Jones, Derek Jacobi and the always enjoyable Charles Dance. Each were superlative in their deliveries; much appreciated and enjoyed.
Now to the weaker elements.
I honestly cannot see Paul Giamatti as anything other than a strong character actor, I can't, and I've really tried. I genuinely like the man. But productions like this proves, at least in my mind, that he's seriously overrated. It's great that a 'regular guy' like him gets to step up and play the big parts (President John Adams comes to mind) but he's just too dang goofy to be believable in so many types of roles. As sincere as his energetic performance was in 'Ironclad', he seemed diminutive in the performance. I enjoy his bad guy efforts so much more when they're fitted to him - not the other way around. If you get a chance to see 'Shoot 'Em Up', you'll understand what I mean. As a medieval King Of England, he's just not suited.
One aspect to his character that I found intriguing: In the film, both introduction and curtain call for his character, has John standing and staring into shallow water. I wonder why? Reflective introspection?
And I still don't get how Kate Mara continually finds herself work. I have nothing against her personally, but she just doesn't connote a leading actress presence. Screened nearly a half-dozen productions with her as both lead and supporting actor - everything screams 'average'. Nothing pops, nothing sizzles. She's reminiscent of watching a kid sister in the school play.
Overall, an excellent film done on a small budget. Another $20 million and we would've gotten a larger, more authentic Rochester stage, fuller armies and a bigger splash. But I'm pleased with what they were able to achieve with what they had; filmmakers maximizing their resources is always appreciated.
[Edited Update 7.11.13]...
Despite being an actress of mediocre talent, I have since learned "how" Kate Mara has found herself in the middle of so many productions.
Explanation: Her daddy's a billionaire.
If you're better than me at detective work, I suspect you will find any number of production companies that are actually fronts paid for and maintained by daddy.
Gads, I truly detest pseudo-actors like this. And worse, there are more than one would suspect; I've unhappily uncovered at least three others of her ilk.
on July 10, 2011
I have been waiting for this movie to be released ever since I first heard about it back in 2009. Back then it was supposed to star Megan Fox, but for one reason or another she did not end up making the movie. Also, it was originally supposed to be a theatrical release, not a direct to video release. Despite what the Editorial review says, "Ironclad" is NOT a true story. It is a fictional movie based on historical events. "Ironclad" is based upon the siege of Rochester Castle during the First Baron's War (1215-1217). The war began when King John, having recently signed the Magna Carta, reneged on his promise to abide by the provisions of the documents which would significantly limit his power, and give the nobles the right to override the King at any time using the right of Distraint, and the tenets of The Law of The Land versus the will of the King. In return for his agreement to the Magna Carta, the Baron's had renewed their oaths of fealty to the King. When King John refused to honour the document, the Barons went to war against him. In the movie, the rebels are portrayed as Knights Templar, and King John recruits Scandinavian mercenaries to fight them. This is pure fiction. King John conducted the war himself along with Hubert de Burgh, the Earl of Kent; William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke; and loyal English knights, no Scandinavians. The rebels were English Barons led by Robert Fitzwalter with support from Prince Louis of France, who subsequently invaded England and was declared King of England by the rebels. Also, King John relied upon starvation rather than combat to force the rebels to surrender Rochester Castle after a siege from October 15, 1215 to November 30, 1215, but two months of starvation would make for a very dull movie.
on October 25, 2011
Whenever a film purports to chronicle a historical event (i.e. the First Barons' War in England, which began with the siege of Rochester Castle in the year 1215), and then spends approximately the first 40 seconds giving you the historical background before plunging the viewer pretty much straight into medieval-era dangers and derring-do.... at times like these, it is best to tell yourself, "It is what it is," and just sit back, relax, smile, and watch the blood and severed limbs fly.
Because you're not gonna get the formal, historical, Oxford lecture series retelling of events, my friends. No, not even if you necromantically raise the desiccated corpse of Alexander Scourby in your living room and command his cadaver to read aloud John Milton's `The History of Britain" throughout the entirety of "Ironclad." You're still not gonna get it...
The story: Grim, war-weary Knight Templar Sir Thomas Marshall (James Purefoy, an actor who snags the "Robert E. Howard" character roles as quickly as they're written) returns from the Crusades and joins forces with Baron Albany (Brian Cox, that incomparable paragon of stagecraft), who seeks to rebel against the despotic King John (Paul Giamatti, that incomparable paragon of shouting). Together, they take control of Rochester Castle because they know its strategic location will be a decisive factor in the coming civil war. Aided by a half dozen or so of Albany's comrades - all of whom make the "hardest of the hard" from "Braveheart" look like wimps - plus a few soldiers from the castle garrison, Sir Thomas heroically defends Rochester Castle against King John's army of barbaric Danish mercenaries. Note: Did the filmmakers want to include an exotic, Viking element in their retelling just for the fun of it? That was my first clue to throw 'historical accuracy' to the four winds for this one.
It's true that, taken as a historical drama, "Ironclad" doesn't offer much. Taken as a "European" martial arts film, however, it merits one's attention.
The bottom line: I've not seen another film in this genre (except for "Braveheart") that takes an array of Europe's deadliest medieval weapons and demonstrates to the viewers - graphically - exactly why those weapons were so effective in battle. To give one example, Purefoy's Knight Templar character fights using a two-handed longsword, and at times he grasps the blade to shift and swing the weapon, or reverses his grip entirely and attacks his foes with the hilt and weighted pommel. This is a real swordfighting technique, now almost forgotten, because nowadays everyone is accustomed to thinking of the hilt of the sword as "the place to put your hands." What this technique accomplishes is to turn a (presumably) slow, heavy longsword into a body-length bladed staff, with a heavy, battering weight at one end. And if you think that's cool, watch what the character named Becket (Jason Flemyng) does with the pole-axe/halberd he wields throughout most of the film.
Plus, there are destructive siege engines. And monstrous Viking battle-axes. And throwing knives. Clubs studded with iron rivets, anyone? Right here. Severed limb, anyone? Oh, you betcha, says Ms. Palin.
So, if you should decide to watch "Ironclad," watch it for these reasons. All of the fights look cool and feel real, and overall, the performances are generally as they should be for this type of film. Not much depth of character, in other words, but who really cares when it's mano-a-mano, and steel is crashing against sanguine steel (or thudding into flesh). Ol' Robert Ervin Howard would approve. If you truly want to experience "the real Middle Ages in Britain" then go take in a Latin High Mass at Mel Gibson's dad's church, or something, and then drink until you want to fight everyone around you. And besides, who expects bona fide historical accuracy from a hack-and-slash, cheer the heroes movie that casts Paul "We couldn't afford Gary Oldman" Giamatti in the role of England's most infamous monarch?
on December 9, 2014
True story? I'm sure there are roots in reality and if so, this is one hell of a re-telling of the story. Paul Giamatti as the reduced in rank King John by his signing of the Magna Carta which the earls and people made him sign. he and the Pope want him back on the throne and he hires Danish Mercs (King John was a maniac by all accounts) The resistance makes a stand at Rochester Castle and it is their meager forces against an army. Lead by James Purefoy (very intense) and Brian Cox, it is so good to see him as the good guy. The cover blurb says "Seven Samurai meets Braveheart" and I agree. Who lives? Who Dies? how do they die? Very wide and sweeping movie. Great story and acting. Violent though as was the time. Well worth the viewing as is the follow-up or sequel is you will, both are outstanding movies.
The Amazon description says this is a true story. Well, sort of. There is a Rochester Castle. King John did sign the Magna Carta and then kind of reneged. A bunch of pesky barons did make his life miserable. And there was a siege. The devil is in the details.
"Ironclad" is a glorious paen to the days of old when knights were bold and their swords were meant for cleaving. An opening narration informs us us that King John was a nasty little wretch whose only accomplishments were losing battles with the French, levying punitive taxes, and sleeping with the wives of his barons. Eventually, we are told, the barons had enough and after a 3 year civil war, handed the king the Magna Carta, a document which severely limited his powers to declare war on France, tax punitively, and sleep with their women.
In the first scene, we see Paul Giamatti as King John holding a pen and hesitating over the odious document. The Baron of Albany (played by Brian Cox, that wonderful bulldog in human guise) swaggers up to the King and tells him to step on it, sign the damn thing, quit stalling. The King does as he is told, but you can see he doesn't like it. Next thing you know, he is reneging, having hired a bunch of Danish thugs led by a blonde giant in bearskins with the World's Biggest Battleax to take back his kingdom and wreak havoc upon those who tried to limit his Divine Right.
The Baron of Albany (and they could have called him Duke of Earl or Count of Basie, because there was no such person...the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, and the title did not even come into existence for another 200 years or so), decides the king needs to be stopped, so he gathers six comrades from prior battles and takes over the strategic Castle Rochester. Apparently you cannot rule England unless you have control of that particular castle. Why? Didn't we just say it was 'strategic?' That seems to be reason enough. A better question is: Why did the Baron decide to fight off the King's Army plus all those hired Danish guys with The Gang of Seven. I guess you can't remake The Magnificent Seven with an army of 3,000, so it's best we just let it go. Anyway the Baron has an ace up his sleeve. Sort of. "The French will relieve us," he tells his men. "They are sending an army and bringing us a New King. We must hold Rochester Castle until they arrive." Oh yeah. Wait for the French to save you. There's a plan. And why a new French king is going to be better for England than the old English king also remains unexplained.
The Baron of Albany's posse consists of one Knight Templar, one doe-eyed young boy squire who is given the task of protecting the Magna Carta, one Big Oaf who, naturally, takes the lad under his wing and teaches him mayhem, and assorted other lovable, embittered, noble and brave stereotypes whom we have met in every other movie of this type. The scenes where the Baron collects the group are well done...every bit as good as the ones we are familiar with from "Seven Samurai," "The Magnificent Seven," et alia.
The B of A and the Boys march into Rochester Castle and inform the landlord, Baron de Cornhill (Derek Jacobi), that they are going to war against the king, everyone will probably die a hideous and agonizing death if they don't starve to death first in the inevitable siege, and oh, by the way, is that your lovely and much younger and rather sex starved wife over there? De Cornhill is not thrilled, but what can he do? He's all worn out from avoiding having sex with his young, beautiful wife -- it takes a lot out of him.
The wife, Lady Isabel (played somewhat sedately by Kate Mara), takes one look at Matthew, the studly and celibate Knight Templar played by the mouth-watering James Purefoy (Purefox) and says "Daddy, buy me that." But alas, Matthew has, like all Knights Templar, taken that pesky Vow of Chastity, so he hitches up his knightly skirt and runs like a rabbit. Never has a woman had to work so hard to get so little. Me, I'd have gone for Brian Cox (the only man on the planet who can make short, acne-scarred, fat and grizzled look gorgeous) or the Big Oaf guy. I mean, who needs baggage?
Anyway, back to the Castle and the scheduled siege. We do get a nice tour of the property and learn some interesting things about defending a pile of rocks in the middle of nowhere. A moat is essential, for one thing. Not having one is a headache from the getgo. We learn what's so good about a portcullis, why the drawbridge became popular, why castles have keeps, why seeing a big bunch of pigs at a siege is bad news for a castle's defenders, how to build a siege engine, and why a very well-stocked pantry is a good idea. Later we learn what kind of a noise body makes when it is flung via catapault against the castle wall. In case you were wondering.
The Defenders and another 20 or so men at arms who were already at the castle do a remarkable Masada like job of fending off 1,000 of the king's men, time and time again. The fighting scenes are wonderfully gory, with men not just hacked into chunks, but creatively cleaved in two, from top to bottom, side to side and, by way of variety, on the diagonal.
But things don't work out very well for the Baron and his boys. After almost a year, the food is gone, they are starving and cold...but they are still resolved to wait for the French (who apparently are crossing the channel on innertubes. "Hold the Castle...never surrender" exhorts the Baron again and again. His hungry, wounded and exhausted men display great forebearance and do not smack him and tell him to shut his pie hole.
Semi-Spoiler Alert: Well, about now King John decides to get really stinky. He not only pulls off a sneak attack, but also mines the castle (this is where the pigs come in, but I'm not spoiling the surprise...go get your own siege if you want to learn their purpose). The glorious and noble Baron of Albany falls and is captured, giving King John the opportunity to do some really, really mean things to him. (As if we didn't already hate him. Remember, this is the same guy who gave Robin Hood so much grief. Even A.A. Milne, that nice man who wrote Winnie the Pooh had nothing good to say about the guy: "King John was not a good man, and no good friends had he...")
More of the semi-Spoiler Alert: The castle falls, but Marshall-the-Knight-Templar and the girl and the doe-eyed lad survive. The knight (who gave up his vow of celibacy a while ago) and the girl ride off, the Doe-eyed lad shouts "We Held" to his dead but still much beloved Baron. A little while later, the French finally arrived. They stood around looking silly for a while and then when no one was looking, they went back home to France and pretended the whole thing never happened. One can still see them there to this day, standing around and looking silly in their natural habitat. King John got dysentary and died, and his son got to be king.
You know, I'm thinking maybe the spoiler alerts were unneccesary...I mean, who in their right mind is still reading?. We're at what...one million words? Even if you tried, you probably died of old age aleady. Or ennui. And still, amazingly, I'm not finished.
There is a Rochester Castle. It was the scene of a rather famous siege during the First Barons' War (1215-1217) in King John's reign, but the siege only lasted for seven weeks. The castle defenders were led by Baron William d'Aubigny but the movie subtitles clearly say 'Baron of Albany,' so I went with that title. Albany? Aubigny? Doesn't matter. Either way, he did not get captured nor was he tortured by King John. I think he just went home with everybody else when they ran out of food.
The movie is entertaining, loud, bloody, and full of the kind of Heroics that are good to see every now and then. Four stars for some good actors who did the best they could with what they had.
on August 23, 2011
I'm a bit of a sucker for Medieval period films: always excited by the prospect of seeing something that might hew a little closer to history while exploring the origin of some of today's more persistent cultural tropes; often disappointed by the repeated turns to violence and rather cartoonish proclamations. Ironclad lands somewhere in between by managing to find a few moments which straddle these extremes.
Fellini had once made a very compelling point about the way in which we would view peoples and cultures of the distant past. While discussing "Satyricon" he pointed out that such peoples and cultures would seem very alien to contemporary perception: their behavior, beliefs and motivations becoming border-line incomprehensible to us. Ironclad does not come anywhere near such a portrayal of the Medieval mind, allowing itself instead to make a rather broad number of interpretations vastly more at home in the present day than would have been likely or even possible during the period in question. But even though the film exhibits many of the usual tendencies, it avoids the pronounced sense of romanticizing either the valor or violence surrounding the aftermath of the signing of the Magna Carta and gives a greater dimension to the ideas behind the events with an unexpected and beautifully executed apologia by one of its principal characters.
And that occurs in the performance Giamatti turns in as King John. In his display of profoundly brutal violence against his enemy -- here portrayed by Brian Cox -- and the breathtakingly belligerent tirade he delivers as his justification, this nearly pro-forma action flick momentarily becomes something that begins to provide us with a credible glimpse into the deep-seated societal conflicts of that time -- some still present today. As King John rails about the royalty's ideas centered on divine rights of inheritance while, in a brilliant directorial turn, seemingly standing on water, the lights begin to come on about how utterly ignorant, self-absorbed, cruel and narcissistic the god-chosen rulers of the Middle Ages could routinely be. Such rulers postponed modernity as long as possible by ignoring human rights while clinging to ideas that consistently stunted the well-being and progress of their citizens in favor of brutality, ignorance and suffering. And all in the name of their personal, greater glory.
Giamatti's walk on the water makes this vile worldview palpable and terrifying in a manner that no historical text can. Had Brian Cox been provided with a counter monologue as eloquent and moving in support of the rights of man -- something more substantial than merely repeating "Magna Carta" -- as Giamatti delivered in favor of suppression, birth right and the arrogance of privilege, Ironclad would have made a profoundly long leap forward for the genre, perhaps even becoming capable of a theoretical joust with Bresson's "Lancelot du Lac".
on March 12, 2014
I knew nothing about the film before purchasing it except I like period films and it was on sale cheap. I also don't watch films for accurate history lessons but I like when films introduce me to an occurrence from history about which I was unaware. I was unaware of the events that occurred following the signing of the Magna Carta and will study the period more now. Ironclad delivered on all those levels.
Paul Giamatti's brutal performance as King John was a pleasant surprise, revealing a side of his talent I had not seen previously. James Purefoy knows how to play supremely confident characters perfectly. His internal struggle in the film between his faith, duty, experience, and desire was enjoyable to watch, demonstrated with the tiniest inflections. Brian Cox, Charles Dance, and Derek Jacobi played solid period roles. Jamie Foreman was the entertaining scene stealer in the movie. Watch it and you'll know why. Kate Mara, an actress I enjoy, seemed miscast in the film. She played her part adequately enough, even adding a bit of accent, but as gritty as the film and time period was her character seemed Scotchgarded; dirt didn't stick to her at all!
As others have mention the film is physically brutal. Expect that going in and there will be no surprises. The shaky camera technique to hide the pre-placement of the battle injuries got a bit tedious but it was effective.
The Blu-ray transfer is perfect. The description on Amazon shows a 1.77 aspect ratio and Dolby sound. It is actually a 2.35 letterbox aspect ratio and English DTS-HD Master Audio.
Would I pay more than $10 for the film? No! $5-$8 is a decent admission price for two hours of your time.
on November 28, 2012
Ironclad is a medieval drama set during the reign of King John Lockland of England. John Lockland was brother to King Richard the Lionheart but King John was a terrible king. A few good knights want to overthrow his rule and put Prince Louis of France on the throne of England. King John played by Paul Giamatti is a little insane and tempermental. The only way to overthrow the evil king John is to seize Rochester Castle which fortifies southeast England from invasion. John has hired Danish Barbarians to help break into the castle. Archbishop Langton has been excommunicated for writing Magna Carta and an Abbot has been murdered on the orders of the tyrant. King John must be stopped! One of the knights is a Templar played by James Purefoy. The Templars were started after the first crusade. The order was set up to protect the Temple of Solomon and to protect the pilgrim rode, thus giving them the name Templars. Templars were warrior monks that were chaste and only lived for God. Together Thomas Marshall, Baron d'Aubigny, his squire, Becket and several other men,seven all together, go to the castle. Reginald de Cornhill lives at the castle with his wife Isabel. The lord is played by Derek Jacobi (Gladiator). His wife is Isabel played by Kate Mara.Historicaly d'Aubigny was one of John's Barons and was given permission by Archbishop Stephen Langton to lead a rebellion with the other Barons against King John. When the knights arrive King John's Danish warriors are guests in the castle. There is a fight and the knights prevail and take Castle Rochester in the name of the rebellion. Meanwhile King John with his Danish warriors are on their way. Isabel is in a loveless marriage and falls in love with Thomas but he tries to fight against his passions. Soon King John arrives and beseiges the castle. He starves them at first then builds a tunnel underneath the foundation. He is going to destroy the foundation by using pig fat!If you go on Wikapedia under Rochester Castle you shall find that this is very correct. King John and Archbishop Langton also had an on going fued. Thomas has been injured during the seige. Soon the Danish storm the castle! Time is running out for the defenders of the castle. Will Thomas live? Will Isabel be a slave to the Danish Hordes? Will King John be overthrown? This film is filled with a lot of blood flying and killing, seiges and big Danes swinging an ax! The film wasn't to long or to short. It was about 2 hours. The movie focuses on the seige of Rochester Castle. This movie DID follow history with some story line but the seige of the castle did take place! The Barons went against King John with d'Aubigny as their leader and the British planned on making Louis of France king of England if the rebellion succeeded. However King John's son Henry III became king. It was a great movie and I commend all the actors for playing their parts well! It was full of action and A Lot Of Killing! It had a good story line. Hope you enjoy this film. I certainly did!
on August 29, 2014
This film depicts the revolt in England after the signing of the Magna Carta. The first thing that you need to know is that the violence of this film produces gore rarely seen in non horror movies. James Purefoy as Thomas Marshall, one of the Night's Templar and Brian Cox as Baron William d' Aubigny do an excellent acting job. I also give Kate Mara honorable mention as Lady Isabel. The story was well written and will hold your attention from start to finish. There is plenty of action in this war between the people of England and the King.