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'A Knight's Tale': A Jolly Good Time

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2001


    'A Knight's Tale' Heath Ledger stars in "A Knight's Tale."
(Columbia Pictures)
There's something irresistible about a knight's contest in the middle ages that features a medieval crowd rocking out to Queen's "We Will Rock You."

Hey, it could happen. Queen's old, you know.

This obvious anachronism, which opens the charming "A Knight's Tale," clues you into the fun you're about to have. Savvy without being smug, cute without being saccharin, and funny without slipping into over-the-top goofiness, this is a 14th-century good time.

On one level, you could dismiss it as "King Arthur" for video-game slackers, but there's something more. The movie -- which has nothing to do with King Arthur or the Knights of the Round Table -- doesn't have a pretentious bone in its body. Its disarming lightheartedness, its complete belief in its own conceit, could appeal to any audience. (And it indirectly anticipates the anachronistic rock 'n' roll we can look forward to in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming "Moulin Rouge.")

William Thatcher (Heath Ledger, Mel Gibson's son in "The Patriot") is the squire of a well-known knight who has inconveniently died in the midst of a jousting match. The dead knight's only one more ride-and-tilt away from winning his contest. After huddling with his varlet-pals Roland (Mark Addy from "The Full Monty") and Wat (Alan Tudyk), William decides to armor-up and play his dead boss for one match. After all, William merely has to survive the final round to win the thing. And all three squires can pocket the money and be on their way.

William's a great jouster. And when he does better than merely survive, the thrill of a brand new destiny is too hard to shake off. There's a financial killing to be made in the tournament circuit, he tells Roland and Wat. Just invest a few coins into training, add a false title to William's humble beginnings, and they're on the road to riches.

Hooking up with a compulsive gambler (Paul Bettany) named, uh, Geoff Chaucer, who can forge a whole family tree and, later, with a dandy armor-repairing blacksmith (Laura Fraser), they go for the big time. Will's new name, by the by, is now Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland.

The story, which amounts to the age-old jock-life vs. love-life dilemma, isn't particularly groundbreaking in its narrative magnificence. Ulrich, who starts winning tournaments, meets his match in Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), a haughty knight and tournament hot-dogger. And he falls in love with Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), a smart, slinky damsel who isn't completely sure she wants a guy who's so nuts about lances.

Produced, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who made "L.A. Confidential," this is a movie to completely enjoy and forget in one sitting. Ledger's very appealing as the idealistic hero; he balances matinee presence with deft comic timing. Addy, Tudyk and Bettany make a great comic relief trio. (Chaucer's pro-wrestling, crowd-warming hype as he introduces his knight is pretty funny.)

And those amusingly selected rock songs keep coming. Bachman-Turner Overdrive serenades us with "Takin' Care of Business," as Ulrich and his squires train for the tournaments. And when Ulrich and his low-budget dream team return to London for a tournament Super Bowl, the soundtrack pounds to the sound of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town." With this much fun and energy, there's only one clear option: yield, dude.

A Knight's Tale (PG-13, 133 minutes) – Contains jousting violence and an implied sexual situation. Area theaters.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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