Ironclad (review)

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What did Bad King John do after signing the Magna Carta, agreeing to let his aristocratic vassals rein in his power? He didn’t go to Disneyland, if you thought that was it. Nope: he almost instantly turned around and tried to smite the bastard barons who dared to defy him. The year is 1215, John is fighting back, and a small band of hearty warriors hole up in Rochester Castle with its lord (Brian Cox: Red) at the ass end of John’s kingdom, while they wait for French reinforcements. Ironclad is the true-ish story of an English Alamo, when fewer than 20 men (and a few women) held off King John and his army of Danish mercenaries for longer than anyone imagined they could. That really happened. It’s probably not the case that its nominal leader was a disillusioned Templar conflicted over both God and war who seethed and angsted his way through the siege the way that the smoldering James Purefoy (Beau Brummell: This Charming Man) does as the knight Marshall — that’s just a movie-movie bonus for us. Purefoy is as bleakly gorgeous as the film around him: director and cowriter Jonathan English eschews a sentiment-tugging score and resists all temptation to stylize or glamorize the brutal violence — emotional and physical — of his story. Paul Giamatti (The Hangover Part II; appropriate accent in place) as King John fumes with a nuclear fury at being challenged, and his rage is well matched by the ruthless efficiency of medieval warfare as English depicts it. With scads of bloody action and a boot in the ass to the notion of the divine right of kings, this is flick to hit you both in the gut and in the head. If this past winter’s Season of the Witch was too goofy for you and last year’s Robin Hood too pallid, you’ll like this one very much indeed.

Watch Ironclad online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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