An armour-plated turkey1/10
If you've always wanted to see what if would look like if someone hacked off another guy's arm and bashed him over the head with the soggy end (yes, really), Ironclad is probably the film you've been waiting for all your life.
Otherwise, it is a waddling armour-plated turkey; after its very limited release it's likely to go straight to DVD for the benefit of adolescents who enjoy graphic violence for its own sake.
Jonathan English, the writer and director, read the interpretive panels at Rochester Castle and said "Wow! The bloodiest siege in English history! Hands and feet lopped off! Pigs slaughtered! We can make a Really Gritty and Realistic Movie out of this! Show what medieval violence was Really Like!"
Except of course they didn't, and perhaps couldn't; because the thing about sieges is that they consist of hundreds of people occasionally fighting each other, parleying or lobbing rocks and boiling oil at each other, but mostly just sitting about starving for a Very Long Time. To make a gripping film about that would take a truly gifted and original storyteller, which these guys are not. So they started putting in stuff to spice it up, and be damned not only to history but common sense too.
- It's established at the outset that the rebels . So you'd think they'd send all their forces there, yes? Er, no. One baron collects together four oddball Old Comrades, his naive young squire, and a Templar Knight with a 5 ½-foot two-hand sword (yes, just like Braveheart, never mind that those won't exist for 100 years at least) who has lost his faith on Crusade; and the seven of them ride off to hold Rochester against John's army.
- When they get there, they find that the elderly castellan, in spite of there being a civil war on, has only got six soldiers to man it (and a hot young wife, naturally).
- And (because "Flemish mercenaries" and "John's French vassals" doesn't sound evil enough) John's army consists of pagan Danes (never mind that in 1215 Denmark had been Christian for centuries) who prepare themselves for battle by painting themselves blue (yes, just like Braveheart again; never mind that Danes never did that).
- Historically, John ordered forty pigs slaughtered and their fat rendered down to create a blaze in the undermine that collapsed one of the towers of the castle. But that would have been too dull, so the pigs are driven straight into the mine and burned alive. Never mind that that wouldn't work it's badass, right?
The characters are so badly written that even good actors can only walk through their parts. The Magnificent Seven don't have personalities, just attributes: the Angry Sexy One, the Foul-Mouthed Brawler, the Unimpressive One with the Special Skill, the one who had retired to farm and look after his kids but comes back for One Last Mission
And all the stuff they are given to do is drawn from such hoary cliches as: - Both the director and James Purefoy (who plays the Templar) have explicitly called this a "medieval Magnificent Seven"; either not realising or not caring that in MS and SS there's a good reason why there are only seven assorted misfits holding off the powers of badness, but none whatever in Ironclad. It would pass in a sword-&-sorcery or wuxia flick, but not in what's supposed to be historical one.
- Hero goes over the wall without a word to anyone, everyone thinks he's deserting but no, he has gone to steal supplies from the enemy? Tick.
- Two of the Old Comrades meet, one promptly thumps the other, we're supposed to brace ourselves for a big brawl but no, they laugh and embrace each other? Tick.
- The idealistic young lad is told "kill the women if the baddies get in" but can't bring himself to do it? Tick.
Yawn, yawn, yawn. You don't give a stuff about any of the characters, mainly because you don't for a moment believe in them. It's pure cartoon: but because the makers thought they were making a "gritty" "realistic" film, it's a dull sludge-coloured cartoon - the colour is so washed out it looks like a badly-degraded old print in need of restoration.
In addition to all this there are random packets of stupid:
- John has a scenery-chewing rant about the Divine Right of Kings in which he claims that his ancestors have ruled England for 'thousands of years'. Shome mishtake there, shurely?
- As soon as the siege starts, the lovely chatelaine puts on a very low-cut metal-studded leather corset, with bare arms, and spends the entire siege dressed like that. I think it was supposed to be armour, but it just looks like fetish wear. (All the costuming is pretty iffy, because the desire to make things look realistically squalid and medieval has clashed with the desire to scatter them with cool-looking bits of metalwork and stuff.)
The fictional characters' names are so inappropriate and un-medieval it's as though the production team picked them by opening the telephone directory at random, or raised money to make the film by auctioning off the right to name a character after your uncle: e.g. Marks, Phipps, Jedediah. And the blue-painted pagan Danish chief is called wait for it Tiberius. Why?
If English & Co had admitted to themselves that they weren't making a historical film but a hack 'n bash cartoon, they could have thrown in a few Orcs, a Chinese swordfight heroine or a Tim the Enchanter, and sent it up rotten. Then this film could have been tacky late-night fun. As it is meh.