2011 Running time: 121 Certificate: 15 Rating: 3

Synopsis

Blood-and-guts action from the 13th century with Templar knight James Purefoy and rebellious baron Brian Cox making a stand against the mercenary hordes of tyrannical King John (Paul Giamatti). Though based on the siege of Rochester Castle, historical accuracy is but another victim of the blade-swinging, limb-lopping mayhem as Kate Mara, Jason Flemyng and Mackenzie Crook try to keep their heads. Egads, it's The Alamo with more catapults.

Director

  • Jonathan English

Cast

  • James Purefoy

  • Brian Cox

  • Paul Giamatti

  • Kate Mara

  • Jason Flemyng

  • Mackenzie Crook

Review

"You're no more a king than the boil on my arse!" Thus Brian Cox's fiery Baron Albany throws down the gauntlet to King John (Giamatti) following the sneaky monarch's about-turn after signing the Magna Carta.

It's 1215AD and John, enjoying the sort of popularity now reserved for North African despots, has been forced to enlist an army from Denmark to protect his slipping crown.

His success depends on taking Rochester Castle, a key gateway on the road to London. Unfortunately, Albany has beaten him to it, commandeering the place from indignant Lord Cornhill (Derek Jacobi) with his hastily assembled band of goodly, honest rogues.

They include a loyal archer (Crook), a hard-wenching mercenary (Flemyng), a lowly thief, a Little John type, and Albany's callow squire (Aneurin Barnard).

But chief amongst ye happy few is Thomas Marshall a knight of exceptional faith, moral fortitude and fighting prowess played by James Purefoy. So let's call him Solomon Kane and be done.

Together, they must hold the fort until the French arrive. Which, in a rare moment of historical accuracy, is a long time coming.

With Charles Dance adding gravitas as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mara providing the requisite bit of hey-nonny-nonny as the married-but-still-taking-knightly-bookings Lady Cornhill, the scene is set for a meaty epic to rival Robin Hood.

And up close and personal, the battle scenes duly deliver. The walls are awash with mashed heads, gouting wounds, split torsos and burnt flesh. It's like being put in the stocks and pelted with raw offal.

Alas, while the action outstrips Ridley Scott's loudly heralded epic in terms of vim and vigour, director Jonathan English's limitations - budgetary and otherwise - are exposed whenever the fighting stops.

"How can a thousand men fail to defeat no more than twenty?" splutters King Giamatti. Probably because there were only about 46.

Lulls in proceedings are just that, a tired procession of clandestine meetings and debates on faith and loyalty, amidst what appear to be a series of soggy manouevres for the battle re-enactment societies of Wales, whence the film was shot.

Praise be, then, for gratuitous bloodshed and thespian bluster - particularly from the ever-watchable Giamatti who earns his coin with one splenetic, climactic outburst alone.

If only lighting, editing and special effects departments could thrive on starvation like Lady Cornhill...

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