Paul Giamatti is a damn fine actor. Not so good, that he can produce diamonds from a pile of shit, though. As a matter of fact, with his silly haircut (yes, I know it was fitting for the time period) and his lack of a consistent English accent, he adds to the shitty mess that is Ironclad, a film that purports to tell the untold story of King John and his mad dash to reclaim power after the signing of the Magna Carta.
Yet even with saying that, he is the only actor who doesn’t phone in his role, as the majority of his cast-mates do. James Purefoy, as the lone Templar Knight, Marshal, spends most of the two hour running time brooding and putting looks of deep reflection on his face. He’s got a lot on his mind — the Church wants him excommunicated and his faith is being tested by the wiles of Lady Isabel (Kate Mara), the wife of the cowardly Cornhill (Derek Jacobi), Baron of Rochester, the chosen standoff location between the forces of good and evil.
And this, good readers of this review, encompasses both of the biggest gripes I have for Ironclad — Lady Isabel and the siege of the Rochester castle itself.
I get that the ousted King (Giamatti) wants to take back what he signed away under duress. Anyone would. What I don’t get is how a weakly armed group of 12 or so men — Brian Cox, Jason Flemyng, Aneurin Barnard, Mackenzie Crook among them — can hold off a siege of several hundred. One day, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe even three. But to stop the advance for months? Could the well armed mercenary army led by Vladimir Kulich be so truly pathetic (doesn’t exactly give Danish mercenaries a good name)? Everyone in England knew what was transpiring — the church, fellow barons, free men — could no one respond? The whole setup seems preposterous (especially if there is any inkling of reality behind this story).
But Lady Isabel and her illicit advances towards the man responsible for hers — hell, all of the country’s — well-being irritated the shit out of me the most. How, during such a dire crisis, could she really be so full of herself that she would make a man question his faith? A faith, no less that, even though he was at odds with it, gave him strength and purpose. Screw her, and any woman who puts her own wants above a situation bigger than herself, with a rusty shovel.
Ah, screw it all. Ironclad is what it is. And that is a low level wannabe medieval epic that misses on nearly every mark (director Jonathan English did manage to capture the smoky, dirty, bloody feel of the time well enough). Avoid this movie like dysentery, which by the way, is what supposedly killed King John . . .