A Knight's Tale

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director/Writer: Brian Helgeland
Columbia Pictures; PG-13; 132 minutes
Release: 5/01
Cast: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Paul Bettany

An anachronism is best understood as a person, place, thing, or event in a time where it does not belong. Like Napoleon calling from Elba on a cell phone. A Knight's Tale is a rollicking and whimsical medieval story that flips this whole notion on its head. When partygoers at a bawdy 14th-century banquet break into Bowie's pop classic “Golden Years,” the film is so willingly wrong that it becomes entirely right. Didn't Chaucer live around that time? Yes, and he's here as an out-of-luck gambler (Paul Bettany) with a penchant for spin. He meets with lowly squire William (Heath Ledger), a peasant who dreams of belonging to the landed gentry. When his master dies, William steps up, Gladiator-style, and begins jousting in his stead. He must forge his identity to participate in an activity reserved for knights and lords.

The ebullient script comes from writer-director Brian Helgeland (co-author of L.A. Confidential's excellent screenplay). It smacks of Shakespeare in Love sans the in-jokes, with Errol Flynn action and Mel Brooks slapstick. A courtly romance gets squeezed in. Shannyn Sossamon plays the part of strong-willed maiden Jocelyn, object of William's affections and a prime motivation for his class anxiety. Rufus Sewell fills the role of evil knight.

A Knight's Tale shines because of the competent approach to fun filmmaking. It stands at equal distance from seriousness and stupidity; the Queen tunes and unwashed crowds doing the wave are as carefully thought out as the teen appeal of hunky Heath Ledger in the lead role.

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