If there is one thing Hollywood doesn’t need any more of, it’s stories that follow that age old “follow your dreams” theme. After all, if there are two things audiences are smart enough to know by now it’s that Hollywood usually has the protagonist beating the odds and if a story involves a dog, it won’t die. So why is it then that Sony Picture’s “A Knight’s Tale” examines that same old theory? Because “A Knight’s Tale” adds just enough originality to the film’s style to keep the audience entertained.
We meet a young peasant named William (Heath Ledger), who poses as a knight when the knight who is supposed to compete in a nearby medieval jousting tournament dies unexpectedly and to no one else’s knowledge. Reinventing himself as Ulrich von Lichtenstein, William follows his father’s guiding words, “If a man believes enough, a man can do anything… A man can change his stars,” and wins the joust as the knight he always dreamt of becoming. William is convinced that he was born to be a knight and decides to continue to compete until he is the ultimate jousting champion, despite the fact he is competing under a phony name.
As William continues to win match after match, it almost seems as though nothing will ever stop him from becoming the jousting champion … that is until (surprise, surprise) a love interest named Jocelyn (played by newcomer Shannyn Sossamon) enters the picture. When the young belle surprises William by telling him the way to her heart is to lose the tournament, William must decide whether to forsake his dreams and win the love of his life or become an undefeated knight.
While the plot to “A Knight’s Tale” is predictable, the result is an emotional journey that will make viewers cheer and cry. Heath Ledger takes his first starring role as William with such ease that he makes it is easy to see this young Hollywood actor going much further than the current crop of pretty boys. Ledger plays both the emotional peasant and testosterone-filled knight believably, and can transform from a wishful dreamer to a take-no-mercy competitor with pure ease. Unlike some actors that may look uncomfortable on a horse or during scenes of intense sword fighting, Ledger seems born for the medieval times without ever losing his romantic essence. This not only carries the love story throughout the film, but also improves Ledger’s own persona after playing hopeless romantics of some sort in both 10 Things I Hate About You and The Patriot. Ledger dominates the screen, proving that he can carry a film without the help of Mel Gibson.
Ledger’s costars are equally as memorable and as splendid as he is, especially the performances by Sossamon and Dark City‘s Rufus Sewell. Both Sossamon and Sewell play every fairy tale cliché of the beautiful love interest and evil villain to a tee. They manage to keep the storybook roles they are portraying believable in the fantasy-like setting “A Knight’s Tale” creates. Sossamon shows great potential in her first feature role, while Sewell once again shows how good villains can be.
Director Brian Helgeland (who also wrote and produced) strives to make the film’s set designs, costumes and musical score different from other medieval films. Mixing modern day hair styles with 14th century costumes, and accompanying medieval settings with classic rock by Queen, War and Eric Clapton, Helgeland creates a modern fairy tale. Some might say that the pop music and modern references distract, but they actually work with the lighthearted tone of the film.
“A Knight’s Tale” may look like your typical coming-of-age, but the talented cast and a creative use of set design and costumes breathes life into this overused plot to make it fresh.