Director: Jonathan English
Cast: James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Mackenzie Crook, Derek Jacobi, Jason Flemyng, Kate Mara
Watch Ironclad online in the UK: Netflix UK / Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Read our interview with Ironclad director Jonathan English.
James Purefoy has a big sword. Everyone knows that. Just like we know that Paul Giamatti’s sword is not as big as James Purefoy’s. Enter Jonathan English, who gets both men’s swords to face off against Brian Cox’s massive weapon.
Ironclad details the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 after King John (Giamatti) has signed the Magna Carta (the document’s name is boomed out by Brian Cox’s narrator every 10 minutes). Determined to resist the Crown’s campaign of revenge 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 The 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 (i.e. not that much) 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. Ahem.
Ironclad is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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