Review by Jack Foley
JONATHAN English’s bloodthirsty mediaeval epic that aims to bring a Magnificent Seven style approach to one of the most violent sieges in British history – only partially successfully.
Set in 1215, after King John (Paul Giamatti) has been forced to sign Magna Carta, the film then shows how the bad monarch then enlisted Danish mercenaries to punish the barons who humiliated him and reclaim England as his own.
Standing against him are Baron William de Albany (Brian Cox) and Knight Templar Thomas Marshall (James Purefoy), as well as a band of rebels, who bid to defend the strategically important Rochester Castle while the church can muster more troops against him.
Ironclad certainly has all the right ingredients for a good, old fashioned battle epic but is let down badly by English’s laboured direction and the inevitable Hollywood inaccuracies that come with attempting to bring ‘crowd-pleasing’, genre-savvy elements to proceedings.
The early scenes, in particular, smack of The Magnificent Seven as Marshall and de Albany go about recruiting their trusted men (one of them is even seen chopping wood in a blatant homage to Charles Bronson’s character).
Unlike that movie, though, the characters summoned here lack a defined sense of identity or much charisma, thanks to a dull script that’s awash with cliche. It’s all very blokey, too, with Jason Flemyng’s angry womaniser and Mackenzie Crook’s archer among the pick of the recruits.
Once the siege begins, however, the movie switches tone between wince inducing battle scenes and a tepid romance between Purefoy and Kate Mara’s lady of the castle, dragging out proceedings to an interminable length.
Historical fact then gives way to movie reason as key tactical elements – such as the burning of pigs to bring down a tower – or barbaric practices such as the lopping off of hands and feet are mixed with heavy-handed political and religious metaphors about war, religion and standing up to dictators.
Giamatti huffs and buffs in a bid to blow the castle down and emerges with reputation intact, Purefoy hones the brooding machismo and impressive sword-fighting skills he displayed in Solomon Kane and Cox gives it his surly, OTT best.
But all and sundry are eventually undone by Ironclad‘s unrelenting bleakness and strong violence (how it got away with a 15 is a mystery), it’s drab script and the overriding feeling that this particular kind of movie has been done better so many times before.
Running time: 120mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 11, 2011