John Wayne returns to his Oscar-winning role in this Western sequel, and Katharine Hepburn's along for the ride
On Film4: 17 Dec 11:00AM
Paul Giamatti and James Purefoy star in this 13th Century epic showdown between power-hungry King John and some noble noblemen.
Ironclad is, to all intents and purposes, a prefab medieval blood-and-guts saga - the story of how Bad King John's quest to regain absolute power after reneging on the Magna Carta was challenged by A Few Good Men. It features requisite grubby peasants-in-stocks, a noble young squire who comes of age in the hour of battle (Aneurin Barnard), an honourable Templar Knight (James Purefoy) fighting worldly desires, and several wenches well-endowed in the cleavage department but less so in their dialogue share.
It's notable for its scenes of extreme gore - in instances of especially gruesome decapitations/amputations blood actually splatters the lens, splashes of colour which make a welcome change from the sludgy 13th century palette which dominates most of the film's two-hour running time. Paul Giamatti also stands out, apparently starring in an entirely different film from his fellow cast members - acting up to the hilt as Bad King John, he resembles a deranged toddler with a divine birthright, stomping up and down like a male forbear of Blackadder's Queenie.
The film's intended climax is no doubt when the extended siege of Rochester Castle comes to an end, or when Purefoy's knight finally gives in to horny wench #1 (Kate Mara) after much displacement activity in the shape of sword-polishing and horse-grooming. But the showdown between Evil Giamatti and the good guys, who hurl schoolyard insults at each other across crenellations (sample: "You're no more a king than the boil on my arse!" - though sadly the screenwriters refrained from the anachronism of actually using the words "You and me - outside, now") definitely deserves a look-in.
A medieval siege is, by definition, un-cinematic and un-dramatic: ugly, monotonous and involving a lot of waiting, no matter how many tantrums Giamatti throws or gory interludes the screenwriters sandwich in.
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