A Knight's Tale
|A Knight's Tale|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brian Helgeland|
|Written by||Brian Helgeland|
|Based on||"The Knight's Tale"|
by Geoffrey Chaucer
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Edited by||Kevin Stitt|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
138 minutes (Extended cut)
|Box office||$117.5 million|
A Knight's Tale is a 2001 American medieval adventure-comedy film written, produced, and directed by Brian Helgeland. The film stars Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Laura Fraser, Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer, and James Purefoy as Sir Thomas Colville/Edward the Black Prince.
The story is told in an anachronistic style with many modern references. It follows a peasant named William who poses as a knight and competes in tournaments, winning accolades and acquiring friendships with such historical figures as Edward the Black Prince and Geoffrey Chaucer.
The film takes its title from Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" in his The Canterbury Tales, though the plot is not similar. It was a modest success at the box office, earning $117.5 million against a budget of $65 million, but received mixed reviews.
At a jousting tournament in 14th-century Europe, young squires William Thatcher, Roland, and Wat discover that their master, Sir Ector, has died. If he had completed one final pass he would have won the tournament. Destitute, William wears Ector's armour to impersonate him, winning the tournament and taking 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 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 a young 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. William demands Chaucer be released and promises payment.
In the course of competition, William's armor is damaged very badly. He goads Kate, a blacksmith, to repair it without payment and goes on to win the tournament's sword event. In the joust, he faces Sir Thomas Colville, who withdraws from the tournament after being injured by William, though they exchange a ceremonial pass so that Colville can 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, Adhemar defeats William. At the prize ceremony, William vows revenge on Adhemar who then taunts William by telling him that he has been weighed, measured and found wanting. William then uses some of his winnings from the sword event to pay off Chaucer's debt.
Kate joins William's party and forges new lightweight armor. 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. Unwilling to risk harming the future King of England, Adhemar immediately withdraws prior to their match. William, despite his friends' objections, chooses to joust against Edward anyway and then addresses him by name, further earning his respect.
Adhemar is called away to the Battle of Poitiers, and William achieves several victories in his absence. William 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 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 but when he returns to visit his father, now blind and living alone in Cheapside, Adhemar follows him, discovers his true identity and alerts the authorities.
William is arrested and 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. He acknowledges William's honor and an ability to inspire his friends' dedication that is in the best traditions of knighthood. Edward then announces that, William is in fact, "beyond contestation", descended from an ancient noble family, and knights him "Sir William".
William returns to the tournament to face Adhemar in the final match, but Adhemar cheats with an illegally sharpened lance, seriously injuring William. Entering the final pass, William is losing by two lances and must unhorse Adhemar to win. He demands to be stripped of his armor while Chaucer buys time by performing the introduction of William that he omitted earlier. William, unable to hold the lance due to his injuries, asks Wat to strap it to his arm. Finally he tilts against Adhemar, with his father and Jocelyn in attendance. Bellowing his true name as he charges, he knocks Adhemar to the ground with a crushing blow.
Over his defeat, Adhemar experiences a vision of William and his friends returning his earlier insult by telling him that he has been weighed, measured and found wanting. In the ensuing celebration, as Jocelyn and William embrace, Chaucer remarks that he should write an account of these events.
- Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, the protagonist who is a brave and loyal peasant.
- Shannyn Sossamon as Jocelyn, a lady of noble birth, bound to the church and encouraged to be faithful to God but enjoys the fun and tricks in life.
- Rufus Sewell as Count Adhemar, the antagonist who is a rich, spoilt count who has fought in many wars, sees other knights as primitive, and mistreats his servants.
- Mark Addy as Roland, a fat squire to the late Sir Ector and a loyal friend of William.
- Alan Tudyk as Wat, a violent, young squire who is obsessed with the greater things in life. He grows desperate, but is a good friend of William.
- Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer, who is portrayed as a big-headed writer and believes he is very clever and more intelligent than others. He has a terrible gambling habit, losing everything from his money to his clothes.
- Laura Fraser as Kate, a hard-working widowed blacksmith who is renowned for making good horse shoes. She believes the armourers see her as a foolish woman and is out to prove them wrong.
- Bérénice Bejo as Christiana, Jocelyn's loyal friend and lady-in-waiting.
- James Purefoy as Sir Thomas Colville (Edward the Black Prince)
- Leagh Conwell as Young William Thatcher
- Christopher Cazenove as John Thatcher
- Steven O'Donnell as Simon
- Nick Brimble as Sir Ector, about whom little is known, except that he entered the tournament, that Wat, William, and Roland were his squires, and that he died from dysentery.
- Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Old Bishop
- David Schneider as Relic Seller
- Alice Connor as Lone Girl
- Berwick Kaler as Man in Stocks
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. Jousting armor 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 armor and steel armor, much of which was also made by Armordillo. Heath Ledger's armour was originally made in steel along with three polyurethane stunt replicas.
In the 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 The Canterbury Tales. (The first Canterbury Tale is The Knight's Tale. There is some oversight in that a scene showing Count Adhemar in a war camp features a caption declaring it to be the Battle of Poitiers, which took place in 1356. 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 do the same during a tournament.
The script is notable for its use of 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:
- "We Will Rock You" – Queen
- "Low Rider" – War
- "Takin' Care of Business" – Bachman–Turner Overdrive
- "Golden Years" – David Bowie
- "Further on Up the Road" – Eric Clapton
- "Get Ready" – Rare Earth
- "I Want to Take You Higher" – Sly and the Family Stone
- "The Boys Are Back in Town" – Thin Lizzy
- "You Shook Me All Night Long" – AC/DC
- "We Are the Champions" – Robbie Williams & Queen
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 argued that the anachronisms made little difference, writing that the director himself "pointed out that an orchestral score would be equally anachronistic, since orchestras hadn't been invented in the 1400s."
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 58% based on reviews from 148 critics. "Once you get past the anachronism," according to the site, "A Knight's Tale becomes a predictable, if spirited, Rocky on horseback." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 54 out of 100, sampled from 32 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Newsweek revealed in June 2001 that print ads contained glowing comments from a film reviewer who did not exist for at least four films released by Columbia Pictures, including A Knight's Tale and The Animal (2001). The fake critic was named David Manning and was created by a Columbia employee who worked in the advertising department. "Manning" was misrepresented as a reviewer for The Ridgefield Press, a small Connecticut weekly.
Despite the mixed critical reception, the film won four cinematic awards:
- The 2002 Golden Trailer Best Action Award,
- The 2002 London Critic Circle Film Awards British Supporting Actor of the Year (Paul Bettany),
- The 2002 World Stunts Awards' Best Work with an Animal, and
- The 2002 World Stunts Awards' Hardest Hit.
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.
- "A Knight's Tale". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- McCarthy, Todd (April 19, 2001). "A Knight's Tale". Variety. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- "A KNIGHT'S TALE (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 2001-04-27. Retrieved 2012-01-02.
- "A KNIGHT'S TALE (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
- "A Knight's Tale (2001) – Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com.
- "A Knight's Tale". Sony Movie Channel. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
- "Interview with Brian Helgeland". moviehabit.com.
- Ebert, Roger. "A Knight's Tale". Chicago Sun-Times.
- "Reel McCoy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-14. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
- "A Knight's Tale (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
- "A Knight's Tale". Metacritic. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
- Horn, John (2 June 2001). "The Reviewer Who Wasn't There". MSNBC. Newsweek. Archived from the original on June 9, 2001. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
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