dir Jonathan English
scr Jonathan English, Erick Kastel
prd Rick Benattar, Andrew J Curtis, Jonathan English
with James Purefoy, Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Jason Flemyng, Derek Jacobi, Mackenzie Crook, Charles Dance, Jamie Foreman, Vladimir Kulich, Guy Siner, Steffan Rhodri
release UK 4.Mar.11
11/UK 2h01
Bloodsoaked hero: Purefoy

mara giamatti cox
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Ironclad Turning a rarely dramatised chapter of British history into a riotously grisly romp, this film starts out strongly as an exploration of people power then soon degenerates into a series of increasingly gory clashes.

After signing the Magna Carta in 1215, King John (Giamatti) launches a bloodbath of revenge against the barons who forced his signature. So Marshall (Purefoy), a Templar monk who has taken a vow of nonviolence, is forced to take up his sword to defend the people from their king. He joins a rabble mob led by charismatic Albany (Cox) and they head for the pivotal castle of Lord Cornhill (Jacobi). As the king lays siege to their stronghold, Marshall finds other vows tempted by Lady Isabel (Mara) and her heaving bosom.

Filmmaker English deploys robust production values, plunging us into squalid medieval society so effectively that we can feel the mud between our toes. The special effects cleverly extend the images, and an especially strong cast creates shaded characters we can identify with. But while this is clearly aiming for Braveheart - colourful rapscallion warriors (including Flemyng, Crook and Foreman), shifty religious leaders (Dance), evil monarchs, muscular heroes - it feels more like Monty Python.

It's also a strange mixture of boyish filmmaking excess and messy historical detail. The exhilarating and hugely visceral battle climax comes far too early in the story, which leaves us checking our watches while we wait for the finale. After the more raucously paced first half, the dull siege deflates the film completely. There's also a problem with the tone, which is glowering and over-serious, emphasising outrageously gruesome deaths at every turn while shyly turning away from any hint of sexuality.

So while Purefoy and Mara are terrific in the central roles, their interaction blurs into an uninteresting non-romance that feels even mopier than the Twilight saga. Meanwhile, Giamatti cuts loose with a full-on performance that mixes crazed brutality with shamelessly fabulous scene-chomping. We truly believe he thinks he's entitled by God to kill whoever he wants in the most hideous way imaginable. But as the final desperate clashes play themselves out, the story begins to feel contrived and predictable, undermining any historical authenticity with movie silliness.

cert 18 themes, strong violence, innuendo 31.Jan.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall