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Ironclad Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 28 February 2011 13:34
Director: Jonathan English
Cast: James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Mackenzie Crook, Derek Jacobi, Jason Flemyng, Kate Mara
Certificate: 15

James Purefoy has a big sword. Everyone knows that, just as we know that Paul Giamatti's sword is not as big as James Purefoy's. Enter Jonathan English, whose gets both to face off against Brian Cox's frankly massive weapon - and Mackenzie Crook, whose sword is probably tiny. At first glance, Ironclad is just another in a string of period history romps. But unlike Season of the Witch, Ironclad isn't good because it's bad. Ironclad is good because it's good.

It details the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 after King John (Giamatti) has signed Magna Carta (the document's name is boomed out by Brian Cox's narrator every 10 minutes). Determined to resist the Crown's revenge campaign against the reformed country, Baron Albany (Cox) gathers together a Templar Knight (Purefoy) and some mercenaries and makes a stand at Southern England's strategical stronghold.

It's like someone shot the end of The Two Towers on a minuscule budget. Or took a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and stretched it out to 100 minutes. The troop even pause as they ride towards Rochester Castle so someone can say: "It looks a bit small from here..."

Taking over Cornhill's (Jacobi) keep, they ready for battle by talking politics and sharpening their swords. James Purefoy sharpens his sword a lot. He sharpens it in front of Lady Isabel (Mara), Cornhill's unwilling wife. She promptly offers to sharpen it for him. Cue much soul-searching for the Templar as he wrestles with vows of chastity. And his really big sword. Then the action begins proper.

And what action it is. Mud, blood and guts fly everywhere as our heroes hack people to pieces. In terms of sheer violence, Ironclad's micro-skirmishes are just as satisfying as the epic battles in Lord of the Rings. Mackenzie Crook does his best Legolas impression while Aneurin Barnard is good as a young naive squire, who stands around simpering like Frodo Baggins. Brian Cox's Gandalf bellows his way through the battle and Jason Flemyng's drunken womaniser is great to watch.

In the middle of it all, James Purefoy slashes his way through his moral dilemma, all brooding alpha male and magnetic screen presence. No wonder Kate Mara can't resist him. Managing somehow to balance out the kidney-punching violence with some actual engaging romance, director Jonathan English keeps everything on an even keel with barely any money to spare. Handheld cameras are deployed to keep things in-your-face and it totally works.

The script, too, has just the right amount of historical fact to keep the elaborate gore and cast of fictional stereotypes believable. Like Centurion, Solomon Kane and Black Death before it, this is textbook low budget film-making, with an eye for character and a healthy lust for blood.

Things lose momentum in the final act  but Paul Giamatti's hammy villain compensates for the lull. If you can't enjoy Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated actors beheading each other and shouting things like "You are no more a king than the boil on my arse!" then there's something wrong with you. The King's Speech is all well and good, but this is the blood and guts of the British film industry. With added blood. And extra guts. And James Purefoy's sword is just the right size for job. Oh yeah.


The Two Towers on a budget. Helm's Cheap? Hell yes.


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  • black death
  • brian cox
  • centurion
  • ironclad
  • james purefoy
  • jason flemyng
  • jonathan english
  • kate mara
  • lord of the rings
  • mackenzie crook
  • paul giamatti