The arena rocks with stomping feet and clapping hands to the beat of Queen’s anthem “We Will Rock You,” and two knights — armored, on horseback and lances at the ready — square off against each other. The joust is the ultimate 14th century extreme sport and William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), will be its greatest champion, if he’s ever allowed to compete.
Jousting is nobles-only and Will is a peasant. But he humbly serves as one of three squires to a knight who ends up buying the manor at the tip of a well-placed lance. Impersonating his deceased master and winning the other squires over to his corner, novice Will wins the prize for best swordsmanship, but loses the joust to the ruthless and undefeated Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell).
Pride more wounded than body, Will puts in some quick, down-and-dirty training as the boys hope to find their fortune traveling down the road to Rouen, the site of the next tournament. They pick up an accidental pilgrim named Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany) on the way, whose skills include forging documents of nobility. Will becomes “Ulrich von Lichtenstein” and shoots for the stars, setting his sights on the exotic Lady Jocelyn’s (Shannyn Sossamon) heart and Count Adhemar’s title.
“He’s so cute!,” gushes a teenage girl sitting behind me to her girlfriend. Up on the big screen, Heath Ledger is all teen heartthrob looks and attitude, his sex appeal well within the PG-13 rating. Romantic and melodramatic, A Knight’s Tale spoons its sugar and spice with just a hint of vice.
But lest thou think that A Knight’s Tale is just a chick flick in medieval drag, remember the gentlemanly issue at hand is galloping loudly and splintering a big stick (actually, a truckload of ‘em) to toothpicks against one’s opponents — and winning the babe. Don’t come hungry for cheesecake though: Shannyn Sossamon and the girls are from the pages of a 14th century Vogue, not Playboy.
This knight’s tale has two pities: First, like most sports flicks and romances, it ends up predictably, but without the marvelous journey that makes these movies completely successful. Second, you have to buy its audacious gimmick of integrating ’70s rock into a 14th-century plot. I couldn’t. Though Will oft speaks of changing his stars, he’ll have to settle for the two-and-a-half I give him.
Learn more about writer-director Brian Helgeland and the making of this film in last week's "Reckless Eyeballing" column.