A look back at why Ironclad (2011) remains one of the most definitive – and medieval – action films!
Braveheart is the greatest medieval action of all time, but it is also a highly romanticized vision of the struggle for Scottish independence. Without the epic fight scenes and Mel Gibson’s incredible charisma, it could have easily been a medieval version of Dr. Zhivago. Films like Flesh and Blood or The Black Death, on the other end of the spectrum, are probably much closer to the reality of the Middle Ages. Their interpretation of the historical context has led to dark and unpleasant films that the public has not really been able to appreciate.
Ironclad takes the middle ground, finding a good balance between a seemingly realistic depiction of the times and violent fight scenes. After a civil war with an English baron, King John was forced to make some concessions and signed the famous Magna Carta in 1215. It was certainly a bad deal for John, and he quickly resumed his fight against the nobility. Part of his plan was the capture of Rochester Castle, which was strategically important because of its proximity to the intended landing site of the French army that was on its way to overthrow John.
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Reviews NAVRM Ironclad (2011)
This is the historical context and starting point of the Ironclad story. The rebellious Baron William d’Aubigny recruits a group of war veterans and takes control of the castle until Jean arrives. The long siege began, and William was determined to keep the castle until the French army arrived. The Templar Thomas accompanies the Baron on a mission and also has some personal disagreements with King John and his cronies.
Twenty men defending a castle against a thousand mercenaries is an ideal scenario for an action movie, as it promises many heroic moments, but also many deaths. Ironclad begins as a medieval version of The Magnificent Seven, with William gathering his own group of eccentric brewers, each with a different set of skills. After that, the story focuses on the many attacks by John’s army to take the castle. Between battles we get a glimpse of the harsh realities of medieval life, made worse by the extreme conditions of the siege.
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Cruel and medieval mugs
How is Ironclad doing on the action front? The film features perhaps the most intense man-on-man battles ever made in a film. Siege towers and catapult attacks also wreak havoc in the castle, but the swordplay is the heart of the action. Ferocious Hacks and Cuts is the name of the game where skulls are crushed and bodies are mutilated with dizzying regularity. The battles in this film are incredibly brutal, and the relentless onslaught of John’s army keeps the action going throughout the film.
The camera tends to shake during fights, which can be a bit annoying for action purists, but I think it works well in Ironclad to create the right sense of immersion. This doesn’t detract from the quality of the fighting, and Templar Thomas in particular deals devastating blows with his sword. Thomas may not wield his weapon as stylishly as William Wallace in Braveheart, but if these two were facing each other in a fight, I wouldn’t put my money on Wallace.
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The acting talent involved in Ironclad pushes it even further into the realm of stunning beauty. The great Brian Cox shines as a fearless baron foolish enough to take on an entire army with a band of loyal warriors. Vladimir Kulich almost repeats his role as a 13th century Viking king. Warrior as the leader of the Danish mercenary army fighting alongside John, and he is excellent as always. And James Purefoy gives a serious kick to the ass as a reserved but determined elite Templar knight who seems ready to take on John’s army alone.
As for King John, Paul Giamatti gives his all in his role. Apparently John was a bad king, who slept with the wives of his barons and constantly broke his word. Giamatti goes one step further and turns him into a psychopathic brute with a terrifying look. He often roams the fields and marshes to plan his next atrocity against the accused. Although he never fights, he is by far the most intimidating character in the entire film.
The film was made on a budget of only $25 million. It’s amazing because he accomplishes everything he sets out to do without the quality of the product leaving anything to be desired. The scenes are great, the action scenes are killer and the acting is top notch. Ironclad tells its story without embellishment and is one of the most adrenaline-filled English history lessons you’ll ever see. It’s the perfect package, and one of the best entries in the medieval action genre.
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