DVD | Blu-Ray
Written and Directed by Jonathan English
Starring James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Paul Giamatti, Charles Dance, Jason Flemyng
Warner Bros. and ARC Entertainment
Originally Released: March 04, 2011
Claiming to be the largest independent production from Wales, Ironclad is a period conflict piece depicting King John‘s wrathful march against rebels following the signing of the Magna Carta. Complete with stellar performances, impressive casting, and exceptional action choreography, the movie is most unquestionably worth your viewing time.
Ironclad essentially is a recapping of the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215. Determined to seek revenge for being forced to sign the Magna Carta, King John (Paul Giamatti) begins a cause to reclaim his royal power over England. A small rebel power led by Baron William d’Aubigny (Brian Cox) and accompanied by Crusade veteran and Templar, Thomas Marshall (James Prefoy), take claim of Rochester before the King can do so. A solid and bloody battle ensues, as the revolutionaries hope to hold the location until their expected reinforcements arrive.
The acting in Ironclad is superb, with some solid and memorable performances from both Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance. These two grand masters of the acting craft contribute an element of class realism to the story, as well as convincing on-screen presences that facilitate in consolidating the plot. With both Jacobi and Dance having extensive histories in theater, television, and film, their deliveries are flawless and magnetic.
Nonetheless if there is a show stealer for Ironclad, it falls completely into the hands of Paul Giamatti. This may be a bold call on my part, but his portrayal of King John is perhaps the best I have seen in film. Giamatti embraces and becomes the creature, delivering considerable derision and fear during specific moments of the movie. It is unlike any other role I have seen him take on board, and the man deserves multiple commendations for his fabulous efforts in Ironclad. If there was a solitary reason alone to see this film, then Giamatti as John is that reason.
Furthermore, our main character, James Prefoy as Templar Knight Thomas Marshall, does a commendable job, following a delightful (though stock and overused) heroic voyage of self-discovery. He exudes a nice leading presence among the team of rebels. Kate Mara is also pleasant as the wily temptress Lady Isabel, with her adorning some beautiful costuming and make-up. The writers have incorporated a 21st century feminism attribute to her character, which feels out of place for the period, though serves as a reasonable contrast to Jacobi’s traditionalist Reginald de Cornhill.
The principal downfall of Ironclad is its glaring historical inaccuracies. Don’t expect a solid history lesson. While the basis of the Magna Carta and the Rochester Siege has solid grounding in true events, the filmmakers take vast liberty with the main outcomes and details for the sake of storytelling. While this is understandable from a writing standpoint, it irks me that it is done at the sacrifice of historical accuracies.
Notwithstanding this, Ironclad makes for an exciting action fantasy film if you bear these historical inaccuracies in mind. Or perhaps you could consider them history in a parallel universe. In many ways, Ironclad is more or less a re-adaptation of The Magnificent Seven, which in and of itself is a re-adaptation of Seven Samurai. Either way, what works for the film is the performances and the settings, as well as the choreography and effects.
The fighting sequences are unremitting, monstrous, and as gory as a banned horror movie, which works to the advantage of the film. The fights in the beginning are wrought with static shots and shaky cam footage, but the cinematography evolves as Ironclad progresses contrasting the glory and the horrors of war.
These scenes will make you audibly wince at moments, horrified during others – kudos to the filmmakers for this necessary realism.
The trebuchet footage is extraordinarily bad ass and breathtaking, captivating the initial moments of the beginning of the main siege. It amplifies the action sequences to come, but the sheer design of the attack on screen is a thing of cinematic beauty.
The locations are meticulously designed, as are the costumes, with much attention paid to the weaponry of the main warriors. Thomas Marshall’s longsword is unrealistically pristine, but this is part of the symbolism of the integrity of his character. Despite being washed with the blood of enemies, it consistently looks clean and glowing, complete with Christian and Templar symbolism. It is only as his character’s story progresses that we catch peeks of the nicks and damages to the sword, nicely representing his journey as well as his scarred past.
Regardless of my issues with accuracies of historical context, Ironclad is an enjoyable movie. The battles are super gory (necessarily so), brutal, and incredibly exciting. The scenery and composition of the movie is clearly of grand proportions. On top of that, the story writing is reasonably tight-knit, bolstered by some brilliant acting from Giamatti, Jacobi, Dance, and Mara. This film is well worth seeing.
Overall Rating: 4½ out of 5