Movies: Ironclad **
(16, general release)
Published 04/03/2011 | 05:00
King John was a nasty piece of work. During his 17-year reign he fell out with the Vatican, lost several wars with France, treated his people shabbily and ensured he'd go down in English history as the ultimate pantomime villain.
Although he signed the Magna Carta, he did so most reluctantly and Ironclad's plot is based on the revenge John took on the nobles who had forced his hand.
The Magna Carta established the basis for an equitable legal system and even, arguably, sowed the seeds of democracy, but John never had any intention of honouring it. And in Ironclad, the mercurial king is merrily extracting revenge on the rebellious barons when he falls foul of a Templar Knight.
Marshall (James Purefoy) is escorting a prominent abbot to Canterbury when John (Paul Giamatti) and his men arrive at a castle where they're staying and begin torturing and maiming everything in sight. Marshall and the abbot escape, but after the old man dies of his injuries, the Knight vows revenge and joins a revolt against the King.
Led by a baron called Albany (Brian Cox), a group of rebels seize Rochester Castle, a crucial fortress in the south east. And when John and a force of Danish mercenaries surround it, a tense, year-long siege ensues that stretches the rebels to breaking point.
Directed by Jonathan English, Ironclad is modestly entertaining overall, though its gleeful depiction of medieval interrogation techniques might be a little much for some stomachs. A decent cast includes Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance, but the script is mainly risible, and old hands such as Jacobi look rather shifty as they declaim strings of platitudes. But the film almost gets away with it thanks to a winning B-movie vulgarity and a knowingly hammy turn from Giamatti.
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