By Sam Lunney.
Considering the effect that the economic climate has had on independent films, it is almost miraculous that this film has come to fruition at all. Initially slated as Mythic International Entertainment’s first production, a myriad of the smaller production companies have come to be credited with the financing of the project (totalling an alleged $25 million). As producer Andrew Curtis related to Variety magazine, the financial structure was ‘more complex than a London Underground map’. Indeed, the development of the film endured several hardships, with Megan Fox backing out in the early stages and at one point the entire supporting cast being replaced (save for Purefoy and Giamatti).
What then of the film itself? To explain it at a base, high-concept level would be a medieval Magnificent Seven, or perhaps an indie, British 300. Make no mistake, action is at the very forefront of this movie, as you will come to realize.
Ironclad tells the story of the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 by the despotic King John, who has come to transgress the terms of the recently agreed Magna Carta (for those of you who didn’t pay attention in History class- a document forced upon the King limiting his powers by his subjects). Although it could be termed a historical film, the film opens with a narration that implies that the events presented are untold, allowing the excuse for the pre-requisite artistic interpretation, as well as the opportunity to portray a battle that the general public will probably not know much about.
This does not matter a great deal however (everybody does it!), as it is the bombastic thrills and spills, the spills being several gallons of blood, that are the main focus of the film. Body parts come detachable at regular occurrences and the grittiness that British cinema has come to be known for is not lacking in any area. The battle scenes, unapologetically lacking the scale of the major blockbuster set pieces that Hollywood audiences have come to be acquainted with, actually benefit from the dirty realist direction. English, who also co-wrote the movie, repeatedly downplays the glory of war as a noble thing, instead acknowledging it as a gory and nightmarish undertaking that should not define the individual taking part. There is no grand, Lord of the Rings type spectacle to be found here, yet this may not benefit audience members who dislike shaky and disorientating camera work at times. To be fair, if it stayed stationary, it would just be 3 blokes in dirty furs rolling in the mud.
This does not render the movie small time, as there is indeed an impressive cast on board. Along with the usual British actor gang (Dance, Cox), who lend a dependable sense of legitimacy as authority figures, there is the outstanding Paul Giamatti in the role of King John. Despite a long tradition of American actors stinking up screens with unconvincing English accents and corny gesticulations, Giamatti plays it just right as a fiery monarch bound to the Divine Right of Kings in conflict with the people he governs. He is an antagonist that is not so much painted as pointed in his motivations, and the actor deserves all of the praise that continues to come his way. James Purefoy also is a protagonist that fits the bill correctly as a meticulous, man-weapon Knight Templar. There is no need for extended dramatic monologues when a character’s main focus is hacking men to bits, so why should dialogue be more than a few gravelly-voiced polemics? Purefoy, on this showing, as well as an impressive TV portfolio, should soon be a probable fixture on screens to come.
Ironclad is an unashamed man-movie (there is a minimal romance thread and the wenches are indeed comely) which is well worth your time. A couple of minutes could have been shed and a bit of focus reinforced, but these are minor criticisms. Give it a go, and be glad that British independent cinema is capable of movies like this.
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