I guess this is the time where we decide if Brian Hegeland’s A Knight’s Tale still holds up after twenty years. Well surprise, chumps and chumpettes: it never stopped holding up. It is the quiet cousin of the also-currently-having-its-20th-anniversary Shrek. It has always been there for you whether you realised it or not. It is perpetually threatening to Rock You in the best way possible.
And even though Shrek came to me as something of a lazy comparison, I guess it’s true in a few ways. They both took a clichéd story and twisted it into something refreshing and new: a medieval journey where the band of lovable misfits end up refashioning their world just a little, enough to make things better for themselves and maybe for other misfits.
Who knows? Was there a flurry of energy twenty years ago in filmmaking that is never to be repeated? (Note: there are almost certainly clear and definite answers to this question. They will hereby be ignored in favour of hand-wavy nostalgia.) All I know is with its mix of Queen and Bowie in its soundtrack, along with costume and haircuts that almost instantaneously transcended fashion trends (I’m thinking of Shannon Sossamon’s spiky-haired Jocelyn in particular), it seems like A Knight’s Tale was tailored to endure.
Following Heath Ledger’s William Thatcher as he attempts to “change his stars” and become a successful jouster despite his lowly origins, A Knight’s Tale ticks all the boxes for a rollicking adventure movie. Its got its tense and visceral jousting sequences, a cast of mischievous and loveable characters including Paul Bettany’s silver-tongued Chaucer who also happens to have a gambling problem. It also has just a wonderfully dislikeable villain in the shape of Rufus Sewell as the evil Count Adhemar, not to mention some very satisfying sports montaging.
I think this time around what also struck me was how, well, straight this whole film came across as, but crucially not in a toxic way, playing around as it does with the concept of women as trophies for men. As Ladyknightthebrave has pointed out in her video essay, William Thatcher may decide that he wants to “win” Jocelyn, but Jocelyn’s own declaration that in order to do so William must lose in competition shows where his priorities lie.
Of course, maybe the film goes a little overboard in letting William get injured in the process…but we can’t say it’s not a lesson he learns well. So, this time around, A Knight’s Tale reminded me that healthy heterosexual relationships can be done and done well in cinema which was a rather pleasant suprise. Maybe it’s the minimum we should expect but heck, it’s still just very nice to see it here.
A Knight’s Tale is one of the films I remember walking out into the carpark of Stillorgan’s Ormonde cinema after. I was speechless and still in awe of what I’d just seen. The good guys have come up trumps against all the odds, thanks to the power of friendship. Count Adhemar has had his ass handed to him. And, indeed, it was the masterful shot of William and his band of merry (mainly) men standing in a circle over Adhemar, who has just been de-throned in the film’s final jousting sequence, that still stood out in my mind. And it’s no wonder my mind was still blown: Ladyknightthebrave points out that the reason that the earth below Adhemar looks so strange is because he hasn’t even hit the ground yet. That’s pretty neat. (Yes, you should watch her video, in case it isn’t clear already).
I think I still feel a little bit of that awe each time I watch it. There’s something different to appreciate each time I watch it, not to mention it’s a lot of fun. And knowing that Heath Ledger had a great time filming it that makes the experience even more special. And there is one other thing that remains certain to me: if we could all come together, just once, to do the Golden Years dance, that would solve so many of our problems.