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DVD review: Ironclad
Ironclad (15) Blu-ray (& DVD) 4 booms
Where would James Purefoy's career be without a sword in his hand and a manly fitting historical costume? Well, he'd probably be sitting at home, twiddling his manly thumbs more, with slightly less money in the bank.
Yes, history has been very kind to Purefoy, who made a name for himself in the HBO series Rome; on top of that he's also appeared in A Knight's Tale, starred in Solomon Kane and appeared in The TV series Camelot. Now that's a lot of dressing up.
Continuing the historical theme, Purefoy pops on the chain mail for his role in Ironclad.
Thirteenth century England and King John (Paul Giamatti) isn't having a great day at the office. He's far from happy about signing the Magna Carta, so he goes running off to the Pope like a cry-baby. Luckily for him, the Pope decides to support him, so John decides to rustle up a bunch of foreign mercenaries to take back by force what he believes is rightfully his.
The thing is, everyone else is quite keen on the whole Magna Carta thing, and aren't prepared to let Johnny boy back on the throne to behave like a tyrant. Stepping up to the plate is Baron Albany (Brian Cox); with the unofficial blessing of Archbishop Langton (Charles Dance), Albany begins to assemble a bunch of like-minded rebels to stop John in his dastardly tracks. One such man is the Knight Templar Marshall (Purefoy); after a number of crusades, he's decided to take a vow of silence. When the situation escalates however, he soon finds his voice.
So Albany and his not-so merry men head off to Rochester Castle, where they hope to put a halt to King John's latest escapade. But with only a handful of men to protect it from a huge well-equipped army, Marshall and his fellow warriors have a tough old fight on their hands.
It wouldn't be unfair to call this film The Magnificent Medieval Seven as it shares a lot with that particular classic. Not only is the rebel gang made up of seven men, but they also put their lives on the line to protect a small area from an evil threat. It may not have the charm of that film, but it makes up for it by having bigger balls.
One of the great things about Ironclad is that it's remarkably violent for a 15-rated feature. Swords fly left, right and centre with such vigour, it's hardly surprising that a lot of flesh gets the whole 'it slices, it dices' routine. It's presented in a gritty fashion, making it feel far more violent than it is.
Director Jonathan English has managed to get a great cast together, which also includes Derek Jacobi, Mckenzie Crook and Jason Flemyng, and created a historical drama – based on true events – in a riveting and absorbing light. He could have turned it into a Hollywood cliché, but manages to keep the piece connected to its royal roots.
It's only let down by a script that could have provided more entertaining banter between its testosterone troupe, but that's only really a minor quibble.
Purefoy may be the headline act, but it's the support he gets from the likes of Cox, Dance and Jacobi that really help elevate the material. Plus Giamatti gives a truly considered performance as King John.
Looking at it objectively, the film really has no right in being as good as it is. But with English's tight direction, the action sequences rarely feel dull, which is impressive considering how anaesthetised audiences can be to the all too common fight scene.
If you have a taste for historical adventure, Ironclad puts on one hell of a fight.