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Surely They Joust: Merrie 'Knight's Tale' Mingles the Olde With the New

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2001


    'A Knight's Tale' Heath Ledger stars in "A Knight's Tale."
(Columbia Pictures)
A knight ther was and that a
righteous dude.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, and
from the 'hoode.
With armor of iron and bunnes
to match,
He had an itch he could not
If only he hadde royal blood,
He coude wel joust and so, like,

"A Knight's Tale" makes no apologies to Geoffrey "Jeff" Chaucer (Paul Bettany), whose wordsmithery is as crucial to the rise of the low-born William (himbo Heath Ledger) as is the heavy metalwork of his feminist blacksmith (sassy Laura Fraser). Anachronism rules in this high-spirited medieval action-adventure that shucks off period trappings in favor of modern music, speech and mannerisms.

Writer-director Brian Helgeland and his attractive cast revel in the good-natured nuttiness of the endeavor, portraying jousters as the sports stars of their day. King Edward II makes the scene, but so does the Queen. It's certain to wow young audiences with its audacity and just as sure to annoy, if not outrage, older and more conservative viewers.

Which would take some doing for folks who grew up on "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," still the unrivaled lampoon of Arthurian lore. "A Knight's Tale," however, is less ambitious fare, a romp on the order of "Rocky" in chain mail.

William, a poor but pretty squire, realizes his childhood dream when he finds his employer dead, puts on the late knight's armor and jousts in his stead. Never mind that only nobles may loft a lance and William couldn't hit a barn with a broadsword. Luckily, the knight was ahead before he passed, and William can win the tourney if he can only stay on his horse.

He prevails, of course, and with the succor of his peasant sidekicks (Alan Tudyk and Mark Addy), hones his skills and sets off in search of another tournament. However, there is another hurdle. William lacks papers testifying to his nobility. Luckily the friends meet a troubadour on the highway -- "Chaucer's the name, writing's the game" -- who forges a document for William, now known as Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland.

The poet joins the entourage as William's herald, a duty he performs in the style of a ring announcer with the WWF. His witty intros are among the movie's great delights along with crowds of jousting patrons, who paint their faces, do the wave and thump-thump-clap to the strains of Queen's "We Will Rock You."

The movie promises to rock you, and much of the time it does. The action scenes are beautifully mounted and photographed and offer a sense of the rigors of the sport: Rearing horses, splintering lances, crushing blows, visors flying through the air. Alas, the filmmakers have a hard time topping themselves as the fearless rookie works his way across France, gathering greater renown with every tourney until he is finally felled by the cocksure Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell giving a whole new meaning to ham in a can).

Adhemar and William are also competitors for the heart of Jocelyn (posturing newcomer Shannyn Sossamon), a designer damsel who owes more to J. Lo than Guinevere. Adhemar has asked for Jocelyn's hand, but she favors William. She well nigh swoons over William's poetry, which is really written by you know who.

Did we mention that the heroic quartet's costumes were inspired by the puffy shirts the Rolling Stones wore on their 1972 tour? And if that isn't eclectic enough for you, the director manages to work in a Nike logo. Product placement was big then, too.

"A Knight's Tale" is no "Shakespeare in Love." Indeed the romantic rivalry seems to have been thrown in as a sop for the girls who will nevertheless probably appreciate a look at Ledger's lips in action.

In the end, it's just a Canterbury tailspin in which they, uh, lance a lot.

A Knight's Tale (132 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violence, nudity and brief sex-related dialogue.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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