A Knight's Tale

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A Knight's Tale
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Produced by
  • Todd Black
  • Brian Helgeland
  • Tim Van Rellim
Written by Brian Helgeland
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Richard Greatrex
Studio Escape Artists
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • May 11, 2001 (2001-05-11)
Running time 132 minutes[1]
138 minutes[2] (Extended cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $65 million[3]
Box office $117,487,473[3]

A Knight's Tale is a 2001 adventure comedy film written, produced, and directed by Brian Helgeland. The film stars Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer, and James Purefoy as Sir Thomas Colville/Edward, the Black Prince.

The film follows the story of William Thatcher, a peasant masquerading as a knight, along with his companions in the world of medieval jousting. William poses as a knight and competes in tournaments, winning accolades and acquiring friendships with such historical figures as Edward, the Black Prince of Wales and Geoffrey Chaucer.

The film takes its title from Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" in his Canterbury Tales, though the plot is not especially similar. Garnering $117,487,473 with a budget of $65 million, it became successful at the worldwide box office and earned modest critical acclaim.


In 14th-century Europe, squires William Thatcher, Roland and Wat discover their master, Sir Ector, has died with one final pass to compete to win a jousting tournament. Destitute, William wears Ector's armor to impersonate him, win the tournament and secure the prize. Although only nobles are allowed in tournaments, William is now inspired to compete and win more prizes. Roland and Wat would rather take their share of the winnings and leave, but William convinces them to stay and train him to joust.

Along the way to his first tournament in Rouen, the trio encounters Geoffrey Chaucer, who is also destitute and agrees to forge the patent of nobility that will allow William to enter under the assumed name of "Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein" from Gelderland. At the tournament, William is brought before Simon the Summoner and Peter the Pardoner. Chaucer has a gambling problem and is in their debt, but William orders him released and promises payment.

In the course of competition, William's armour is damaged. He goads Kate, a female blacksmith, to repair it without advance payment and goes on to win the sword event at the tournament. In the joust, he faces a Sir Thomas Colville, who withdraws from the tournament after being injured by William, though they exchange a ceremonial pass so that Colville might retain the honor of never having failed to complete a match. The proceedings are observed by Jocelyn, a noblewoman with whom William has become infatuated, and Count Adhemar, a rival both in the joust and for Jocelyn's heart. In the final joust of the tournament, William is defeated by Adhemar. Kate joins William's party and forges new lightweight armour allowing him greater mobility.

In the following tournament, Adhemar and William are both assigned to tilt against Sir Thomas Colville, but they learn that he is actually Edward, the Black Prince. Adhemar withdraws, but William continues the match, further earning Edward's respect. William continues to achieve victories as Adhemar is called to the battlefield. He proves his love for Jocelyn by complying when she first asks him to deliberately lose (in contrast to the countless knights who promise to win tournaments in her name), and then, just before he would be eliminated, to win the tournament in her name after all.

The group travels to London for the World Championship. William recalls leaving his father to squire for Sir Ector and learn to become a knight hoping to "change his stars". Adhemar has also arrived in London and announces that he is in negotiations with Jocelyn's father for her hand in marriage. William dominates at the tournament and he returns to visit his father, now blind and living alone in Cheapside, but is discovered by Adhemar, who alerts the authorities to William's false identity. William is placed in the pillory but is defended from the hostile crowd by his friends. Just as the mob reaches its frenzy, Prince Edward emerges from the crowd, noting that his friends' dedication to him reflects an ability to inspire others that is in the best traditions of knighthood. In acknowledgement of William's decision to continue to joust with him, Edward declares that William is in fact descended from a noble lineage and knights him "Sir William".

William returns to the tournament to face Adhemar in the final match, but Adhemar cheats with an illegal sharpened lance, piercing William's shoulder and seriously injuring him. Entering the final pass, William is losing by two lances. He demands to be stripped of his armour and tilts against Adhemar, Chaucer buying time by performing his introduction of William that he omitted earlier. With Jocelyn and William's father in attendance, William bellows his true name and knocks Adhemar to the ground with a crushing blow to win the tournament. In the ensuing celebration, as Jocelyn and William embrace, Chaucer remarks that he should write this whole story down.



The entire film was shot at the Barrandov Studios in Prague, Czech Republic.[4]

The film includes a great deal of jousting footage. The initial scene of the two knights jousting is actually footage of Heath Ledger's stunt double in an accident. During filming of a later scene in the film, the lance of the stunt double's opponent moved off target and hit him in the head. The double fell to the ground unconscious. In another incident, Ledger knocked out one of director Helgeland's front teeth with a broomstick when the two were demonstrating a jousting move. It took several months for Helgeland's mouth to heal enough to repair the damage.

Plenty of effort was expended creating lances that would convincingly explode upon impact without injuring the stunt riders. The body of each lance was scored so it would break easily, and the tips were made of balsa wood. Each was also hollowed out, with the holes filled with balsa splinters and uncooked linguine.[5] Jousting armour was made by Rod Vass and his company Armordillo Ltd. using a unique sprayed polyurethane system that they invented for the film Gladiator. Onscreen, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the polyurethane stunt armour and steel armour, much of which was also made by Armordillo. Heath Ledger's armour was originally made in steel along with three polyurethane stunt replicas.

Use of anachronisms[edit]

In the film's DVD commentary, director Helgeland, co-commentating with Bettany, states that the film was intended to have occurred sometime in the 1370s during a six-month period in which Chaucer had apparently gone missing and show what he might have done during this time, which Helgeland says later on in the commentary inspired Chaucer to write his Canterbury Tales. (The first Canterbury tale is The Knight's Tale. Chaucer also threatens two men he meets in the film with undying humiliation through fiction; these characters seem to have inspired the vitriolic descriptions of the Tales' Pardoner and Summoner.)

The scene in which the lady Jocelyn asks William to lose a joust to prove his love and then reverses her proposal for him to suddenly win, is also a direct reference to the classic tale of Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, in which Queen Guinevere asks Lancelot to the same during a tournament.

Helgeland also jokes in the commentary that he chose 1970s music and hairstyles for the movie because "the seventies are always the same", regardless of century. More seriously, Helgeland justifies his use of music by speculating that even during the 1370s, persons in the main characters' age group would've enjoyed newer, more contemporary music than something that had been around since their great grandparents were young, and opted to use music that would affect the audience the same way late 14th century music would've affected the youth of the 1370s. Thus, Helgeland attempted to stylize the movie in such a way as to bring the Middle Ages to the audience, rather than force the audience into the Middle Ages.

To this end, many intentional anachronisms are used within the story itself. Jocelyn's appearance combines medieval and modern styles, and the armor Kate makes for William is engraved with a symbol resembling the Nike logo. In the first jousting scene, when "We Will Rock You" is playing, the crowd provides the rhythmic thump-thump-clap as a modern-day crowd that recognizes the song would, the audience performs the wave, and a teenage girl is shown in the stands performing a distinctly twentieth-century dance. At a banquet, Count Adhemar tries to trip up the unsophisticated "Sir Ulrich" by urging him to show the other guests a dance from his own country; William, who's only spent a couple of hours learning to dance that day before the banquet, improvises with Jocelyn and comes up with something suited to a rock video (the featured song in this scene was "Golden Years" by David Bowie).

Language is also borrowed from the present day. An extended metaphor involving hunting during William's first conversation with Jocelyn leads to his calling her a "foxy lady." The first time Chaucer introduces William at a competition, he ends with a comedy-club "Thank you, I'll be here all week" in response to the crowd's wild cheers. When Jocelyn defends herself during an argument with William by saying, "Better a silly girl with a flower than a silly boy with a horse and a stick," an offended Wat calls after her, "It's called a lance... helloooo?"


The film is notable for a number of Wildean style epigrams. "Love should end with hope" (Kate). "If he believes enough, a man can do anything!” (William's father). "Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough" (Prince Edward). "Better a silly girl with a flower than a silly boy with a horse and a stick" (Jocelyn). "I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity" (Chaucer).


The film, which notionally took place during the Middle Ages, is notable for its deliberate use of classic rock songs in its soundtrack. The ten that were credited in the film are listed in order of appearance:[6]


Initially, critical reception was mixed, with complaints about the anachronisms (the classic rock in a film that takes place during the Middle Ages), the many jousting scenes, and the thin plot. Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and commented that "Some will say the movie breaks tradition by telling a medieval story with a soundtrack of classic rock. They might as well argue it breaks the rules by setting a 1970s rock opera in the Middle Ages. To them I advise: Who cares?" and that in this film the director "pointed out that an orchestral score would be equally anachronistic, since orchestras hadn't been invented in the 1400s."[7][8]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 58% based on reviews from 146 critics. The site's consensus is "Once you get past the anachronism, A Knight's Tale becomes a predictable, if spirited, Rocky on horseback."[9]

Newsweek revealed in June 2001 that print ads for at least four films released by Columbia Pictures, including A Knight's Tale and The Animal (2001), contained glowing comments from a film reviewer who did not exist. The fake critic, David Manning, was created by a Columbia employee who worked in the advertising department. "Manning" was misrepresented as a reviewer for a newspaper in a small Connecticut town.

Box office[edit]

The film earned $56,569,702 at the North American domestic box office, and an additional $60,917,771 internationally for a worldwide total of $117,487,473.[3]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]