Ironclad The Movie
Is Ironclad a hit or a flop?
When I first saw the title 'Ironclad' I thought it's a 19th century war movie (if you've ever played Sid Meier's Civilization, you probably understand why). I was right about the 'war' bit, but luckily it proved to be set in a different period altogether - 13th century England (if you think 'Robin Hood', you are quite correct). I decided to give it a shot.
I found it very inspiring. It made me write the article you're about to read, which is a mixture of review, philosophy essay and historical background examination that can't quite pass as either rant or rave. I hope you'll find it worth your while.
It's 1215 and king John of England has just signed the famous Magna Carta, thus ending a bitter civil war between the crown and rebellious barons. Or so it seems.
In fact, John does not intend to allow anyone to limit his God-given authority. He recruits an army of Danish mercenaries and proceeds to execute signatories of the charter.
The rebellion is sparked anew when a handful of warriors gathered by archbishop of Canterbury and led by a grim Templar knight, Thomas Marshal, attempts to halt the army's progress at Rochester Castle. Relief by the French troops is their only hope.
The long siege is full of heroic deeds and bloody special effects, spiced up with an affair between Marshal and Lady of Rochester and ends when... well, you need to see the movie to find out.
Director and cast
Director - Jonathan English
Thomas Marshal - James Purefoy
Baron Albany - Brian Cox
Lady Isabel - Kate Mara
King John - Paul Giamatti
Archbishop of Canterbury - Charles Dance
Becket - Jason Flemyng
You will find no hot Hollywood names on this list, but it doesn't really hurt the movie. Most of 'Ironclad' actors impress with their lifelong acting careers - they may not be blockbuster stars, but they DO know how to act.
Just a little survey to satisfy my curiosity. What do you think is more important in making a movie: big names or acting abilities? Of course it's best to have both, but if you were to choose...
If you were a director, would you rather...
Ok, so what was great, unique, special in the movie? A few things caught my attention:
- costumes and scenography in general - the characters really look medieval. There is nothing so off-putting as Maid Marion in tight, red, leather-like mini dress (yes, I DO refer to a TV series from years ago)
- if you think of the classic motif 'the Hero and his Henchmen', you can notice one regularity - whoever argues with the boss or is somehow shown in unflattering light at the beginning of the story, dies first. Or such is the case with most Hollywood movies. Not in this picture. I bet you won't be able to predict who survives longest (well, ok, apart from the obvious, the hero and his lady simply cannot die, whether it's alien invasion, super volcano or deadly virus that kill off everyone else).
- did I mention that the movie is packed full with bloody, awfully realistic shots of limbs being cut off, heads getting chopped off or smashed etc.? It's a good old slaughterhouse, with extra attention to detail and general goriness. I'm rather cold hearted when it comes to movies, I watched Leonardo DiCaprio drowning with the Titanic and didn't cry (forgive me this little touch of sarcasm, an oportunity too good to waste). I was delighted by the supremely choreographed battle scenes in 300 - quite bloody, too, as you probably know. But 'Ironclad' is an entirely different category of gore. I covered my eyes more than once because I simply couldn't watch this butchery without nausea. Heavy stuff. The camera gets splattered with blood or hot pitch so often, that you stop noticing it after a while.
Why do I list it as a praise? No, not because I'm some sort of a blood-craving fanatic. I simply believe that this is what the Medieval Ages actually looked like. The historical Siege of Rochester Castle did include chopping off some feet and hands. Torture was quite freely used as an instrument of interrogation and maiming of thieves was an approved method of 'resocialisation'. Why would a movie about medieval wars and politics NOT show it? Because it's not pretty? Welcome to the world, sunshine.
I know I'm being a little harsh here, of course it's all ugly and disgusting, but somehow I admire the message that the movie transmits (not sure if deliberately?): bloodshed is ugly. Sword fighting was not all glorious sparks and choreography, with the 'bad' character gracefully falling onto the ground in the end and whispering some cheesy last words. Chopping limbs off is not a red splash you get in video games, it's terrible and repulsive and ends up with people howling in pain.
'Ironclad' bloody fights may be nauseating, but at least they are convincing. Which cannot be said of most of today's mass media creations.
Violence on the screen - your opinion?
'Ironclad' inspired me to touch on the controversial topic of violence in movies (you can draw PC games into this category if you wish). My question is: should it be banned? Do you believe in violence on the screen inspiring violence in real life?
Blood on the screen - yes or no?
I was surprised to find out that 'Ironclad' met with more rants than raves from the public. Its rating on various review websites hovers around 6 out of 10 (mind you, the same people give 'Harry Potter' 8 on this scale, so I don't entirely trust their judgement). I believe this treatment is too harsh - while not life-changing or epic in proportions, the movie is fairly decent, and I would personally give its creators some kind of award for steering away from plastic conventions (sometimes, anyway).
The picture does have some faults, though, and since ranting is an enjoyable pastime, let me indulge for a while:
- what is the girl for? The female character in 'Ironclad' is surely a pretty face, but otherwise is unconvincing, irritating and entirely expendable. A medieval damsel, grabbing a sword, charging at a Viking-like mercenary and WINNING? Oh, please...
- 'Ironclad' depicts a historical event, but is rather free in its interpretation. If you happen to be a historian, consider yourself warned.
- the grim, unshaven hero is quite effective at the beginning but eventually gets boring
- the movie is superb in depicting medieval life. It would probably be better if it stayed just that: a picture. Attempts at creating psychologically complicated and deep characters failed all the way.
'Ironclad' and history
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
How accurate is 'Ironclad' from the historical point of view?
Well, King John was real. I know you knew that, I'm just warming you up :)
Archbishop Langton was real, so was baron William D'Aubigny (Albany). The revolt against King John (called First Barons' War) actually happened, Magna Carta was signed, Rochester Castle was besieged. So far so good.
Where do doubts creep in?
- Rochester Castle was besieged from 11 October 1215 to 30 November 1215, when it was TAKEN. No French army arrived in time to save the day (although it did arrive eventually).
- Quick maths tells us that the siege lasted 50 days, which is a long shot from 'weeks becoming months' as the movie claims (but I'm being picky here).
- Rebels defending the castle numbered around 100, not less than twenty.
- Pig trick (you will understand when you see the movie), surprisingly enough, seems authentic.
- The movie focuses on Magna Carta as the document giving freedom and justice for all. The actual charter spoke only of lords and freemen and guess what - those classes combined made up roughly (or less than) 20% of the 13th century English society. How does that translate to freedom for all? The whole issue is rather messy anyway - from patriotic point of view, inviting the French army was just as bad political act as hiring Scandinavian mercenaries, if not worse.
- 'Ironclad' mercenaries are rather strange. Called Danish, styled Viking-ish or even Pictish, and speaking Hungarian.
- William (not Thomas) Marshall was, coincidentally, a prominent figure on King John's court, one of the few barons who remained loyal to him throughout the revolt. If he ever joined the Rochester Castle Siege, he would be one of the attackers, not a defender.
- The French army, led by Prince Louis, landed in England in May 1216.
Did I convince you to see the movie?
Did you see the movie? Did you enjoy it? Did I manage to convince you to see it? Do tell!