Once More Unto The Breech | History Challenge #8-11

After a couple of outdated films concerning Henry II it’s time to return to a more decent calibre of film, or at least that was the plan. As we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that… We start with King John, who was last seen as something of a village idiot!

#8 ‘Ironclad’

  • General Opinion Grizzly and fun… But not without flaws..
  • Review: Ironclad is not a bad film. When Total Film reviewed it they ran a feature comparing it with “The Eagle” which was released at the same time, and was so awful that I couldn’t even get past the first hour. Ironclad is almost the exact opposite. It’s a grizzly portrayal of King John’s siege of Rochester Castle in 1215.  Yes, some of the accuracy has been curtailed for the sake of dramatic licence, but you hardly notice any of it. It’s still believable for the most part and most of the detail is there. The glaring problem, there’s always one, bares the name of templar. Yes… the main character is one of the templars. You can’t help but wonder if they were trying to jump on the Da Vinci Code band wagon several years too late. Their inclusion barely adds anything to the plot and it’s as if they were trying to add something the film didn’t need.
  • In places, particularly the first battle scene, its difficult to tell what’s going on because the camera can’t keep still, but these sections are thankfully short and don’t detract too much. The acting is of a decent quality. You can believe that this is King John, unlike the character in the previous film. The characters feel like a part of the medieval world and the likes of Brian Cox, Jason Flemying and Derek Jacobi fit in well. Even the normally out of place looking Mackenzie Crook fits in with the rest of the motley crew of defenders. All in all, these defenders have an impressive, almost Churchillian defiance about them… Especially the brilliant torture scene towards the end of the film and subsequent cries of “no Surrender” from the Duke of Albany.
  • It might not be an epic, but its gutsy and it’s got a realism to it that lesser films don’t have. All in all, it just about manages to hold its own without collapsing into a pile of stones.
  • Rating: 7/10- Good entertainment… But did we need that shit about the templars?

#9- Braveheart

  • General Opinion- Not as bad as I remember it… But can someone please make it stop?
  • Review: “Arghhhhhhh…….” “What the Fudge?” “Nooooo……” “Oh for Fu**s sake…” Just some of the thoughts that went through my head whilst watching this film. Yes… It’s Mel’s Gibson’s homage to Scotland and all things Scottish! What better way to do it than with Scottish folk hero William Wallace? Except somehow he’s fudged it in spectacular fashion. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film in the way that The Last Legion was, but The Last Legion had potential, an Indian Ninja Woman and a mercifully short run time. That was also so bad it was almost funny. But with Braveheart it was just awful and its the glaring, downright obvious and basic inaccuracies that let it down in a big way. If Gibson had set his film in some mystical land far far away and renamed the characters then it would all be perfectly fine. He could easily solved the films problems. Here it’s like they didn’t even try and do something as simple as check the basic facts, like, I don’t know, dates, costumes, ages of characters… Previous films have so far at least paid a common courtesy to accuracy, even the downright awful Becket (which had visible concrete FFS!).  In places it doesn’t even look like thirteenth century Scotland. Some of those English fortifications look they’d blow down given a slight breeze, which wouldn’t be long coming in the highlands. You could probably film a better version on an average Friday night in Glasgow city centre and it would be more historically accurate. At least William Wallace would be Scottish!
  • And another thing… Were they trying to portray Wallace as some sort of Scottish Jesus? Throughout the film he’s depicted as a messiah, delivering Scotland from the evil English overlords. It’s especially clear in the execution scene at the end.
  • Now… Like I said, as far as films go it isn’t bad. The acting isn’t actually bad (for the most part,) and the script, despite being inaccurate trash, isn’t  poorly written, just very badly researched if at all. There’s an epicness to it which a film such as this very much deserves. But I don’t think this really matters when there isn’t even a hint of accuracy in any part of the film.
  • Rating: 0/10 : It’s not that much of a bad film as far as films go… But they didn’t even appear to try for any accuracy so for that, Braveheart get’s a big fat nothing.

#10: Black Death

  • General Opinion: Short and dull with not a lot happening.
  •  Review: The film is called Black Death… How many people die of plague on screen? Four? Five? Fifty? Nope. The answer is Zero. Nobody dies of plague in this film. Yes… a couple of people catch it but they’re bumped off quickly in some other way before they can turn in pustule ridden zombies. In fact, for a film called Black Death the legendary pestilence takes rather a back seat as Sean Bean and his band of… are they mercenaries? I’m not sure… Sean Bean and a band of men + one monk go in search of a village that hasn’t been afflicted with the plague, in the belief that people are practising witchcraft there. In truth, they are practising witchcraft but that’s besides the point. I’m not sure what they were trying to do with this film as it goes nowhere and does nothing spectacular with it. It’s short though, which, given its poor quality is a blessing. In short, the plot is rubbish and the dialogue tepid, at best.
  • Rating: 2/10 Dull. And nobody dies of plague either which is a travesty.

#11: Henry V (1989 version)

  • General Opinion: You want to make a history film? This is how you do it.
  • Review: For starters, you couldn’t ask for a better cast. Everyone appears to relish every moment of what is, without a doubt, Shakespeare’s finest historical play. It’s a who’s who of British Shakespeareans in the late 80’s… Including “BRIAN BLESSED!!!” as Exeter. His talents are a bit wasted here but he’s still an enormous presence… When he’s there you notice him. He also get’s the best joke in the film. It also features a young Christian Bale, Robbie Coltrane as Falstaff (who only has a few lines but he’s still there!) Judi Dench and Emma Thompson. Together they give what would otherwise might be unintelligible and stilted old fashioned dialogue life, and like all good Shakespeare performances you hardly notice they aren’t speaking modern English.  Well… There is one inexplicable scene where Emma Thompson and Miss Marple speak entirely in French (when even the King of France speaks English throughout,) but that is a fault with the source material, not the film. What they are actually saying makes no sense to me whatsoever as I don’t speak French…
  • Despite the one scene in French, it’s a damn good film. It’s funny, heroic and played out with passion. Henry’s speech at Agincourt is rousing and powerful and the battle itself, albeit only ten minutes long provides a stirring climax. It may not be on the same sweeping scale as the battle scenes in Braveheart, but it’s a much more powerful moment and far better staged.
  • Now normally, I have a few problems with Shakespeare’s plays… His anti-Welshness in Henry IV part one, his blatant propaganda in Richard III, the trahshiness of Romeo and Juliet… But this isn’t those plays. It’s surprisingly accurate for Shakespeare (compare to Richard III) and it shows, as this is one of the best films we have seen thus far in this challenge.
  • Rating: 9/10: Like your average Mr Kipling creation… Exceedingly good. It is let down by that really weird and inexplicable scene in French though- But that, as I said, is the fault of Mr W. Shakespeare.

And now we reach the next milestone on the journey through British history. We began with the Romans and the collapse of their empire and have now travelled through almost 1400 years through wars, battles, invasions, pestilence (or what little there was of it) and the forging of England in the white heat of the medieval era… But, alas, it is time to for us to say goodbye to the warrior kings and fabled heroes of old and enter a brand new age. The pope isn’t going to be very pleased about what happens next!


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