a knight's tale(2001)
director: brian helgeland
heath ledger, rufus sewell

. Every college campus seems to have a chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group whose idea of a merrie Saturday involves gathering on the quad in chain mail and bucklers to joust and duel and quaff a cup of mead in a hopeful re-creation of the Middle Ages. I can only imagine what they’ll make of A Knight’s Tale, a medieval movie loaded with more anachronism than they could shake a mace at.

It all starts with a jousting tournament where the crowd bangs their fists to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and does the wave while waiting for the next pair of knightly combatants. It’s a spectacle so absurdly, audaciously ahistorical that you can’t help but laugh, a laughter that writer/director Brian Helgeland relies on to skilfully pull you into his playful, exhuberant conceit.

We meet our hero, played sincerely by Heath Ledger, as he pretends to be his just-dead master and wins the tournament. Ledger is an ambitious serf whose only dream is to compete in knightly tournaments, and so he assumes the fictional identity of an obscure knight and our story begins. There’s a girl, of course, a well-born beauty who loves him despite his lowly birth, and a pair of companions whose snide, contemporary humour are just a few more additions to the plentiful anachronisms that make Helgeland’s film so maddeningly charming. A villain, played by the ever-glowering Rufus Sewell, rounds out the standard issue plot, but the joy in A Knight’s Tale comes less from the story than its fresh, irreverent telling.

Based -- very loosely -- on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale”, Ledger’s hero is joined by Chaucer himself, as the luckless bard becomes his herald. Just plain “Jeff”, Paul Bettany plays the medieval writer as a cross between a hungry freelancer and a WWF announcer. There’s a reference to the Black Prince and the 1346 Battle of Crecy, but these historical red herrings are mere set dressing, especially during scenes like the royal banquet where the cast dances widly to David Bowie’s “Golden Years”. Historically ridiculous but utterly, absolutely enjoyable.