Joust abouts

The silly A Knight’s Tale mixes medieval times with MTV and the WWF

WHAT’S CHAUCER COOKING? Heath Ledger stars in the self-congratulator juvenile fantasy A Knight’s Tale.2

WHAT’S CHAUCER COOKING? Heath Ledger stars in the self-congratulator juvenile fantasy A Knight’s Tale.2

A Knight’s Tale
Starring Heath Ledger, Paul Beatty and Rufus Sewell. Directed by Brian Helgeland. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0

It’s impossible to take A Knight’s Tale seriously, but the surpassing silliness of this costume adventure has a certain entertainment value just the same. It’s the sort of movie-biz concoction that seems to have taken the winners of an all-city high school talent show and plunked them down in a pseudo-medieval romance with a multi-million-dollar budget and a made-for-MTV friskiness.

The talent is real enough among at least some of the lead players, and there’s no mistaking writer-director Brian Helgeland’s desire to devise a rambunctious entertainment that has one foot in historical romance and the other in the mockery and indifference to the past that are perfectly at home on the music and comedy channels on cable TV. And the thing has a tremor of the Shakespeare in Love vibe by way of having a youthful Geoffrey Chaucer (pre-Canterbury Tales) on hand as one of its flashier characters.

The basic story has an ambitious commoner named William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) aspiring to a higher station in life and figuring to get there via the jousting tournaments among aristocratic knights. His nemesis is an unscrupulous knight (Rufus Sewell) who also intends to have the hand of the same young lady (Shannyn Sossaman) who has caught William’s eye. Anachronistic dialog and bursts of rock music hardly seem out of place in this film so saturated in the aesthetics of TV commercials and music videos.

A Knight’s Tale may sound like a spoof of chivalric romance, but its real chops are in the range of self-congratulatory juvenile fantasy. The jousting tournaments are portrayed as an early version of X-treme sports in clumsy costumes with a touch of WWF trash-talk, and William’s determination to improve his lot in life is presented as an object lesson in the advertising gospel of the new/old global economy—success is built on dreams, and dreams succeed through Belief.

There is a certain flippant charm and (no little) self-serving flummery in the film’s hint that if Chaucer were living in our own times he would be talking trash at poetry slams and pimping PR for TV wrestlers and skateboard acrobats. But then this is a film in which cathedrals are for flirtations, princesses giggle like valley girls, and the prototypes of soccer hooligans are the avant-garde of emerging democracy.