A Knight’s Tale, directed by Brian Helgeland.
This is the story about a working class boy making good. It’s also a movie about sports. Not the way we usually think about them. It goes to the essence of why sport became so important. It’s about preparing young men for war. Whether it was the ancient Greeks at Olympus, the Romans chariot racing around the arena, it is always preparation for war. It is about life and death. And it was definitely that way in the Middle Ages. Jousting was their version of football.
If a movie about the sport of jousting can have a smile on its face, that movie is “A Knight’s Tale”. William Thatcher’s meal ticket dies on the road to a tournament. His master, Sir What’s His Name, is over-the-hill and he dies under a tree on a nice spring day. His squire Thatcher (played by Heath Ledger) and his two buddies have a problem. They are hungry, and they have no cash. Squire William isn’t rightly qualified to do a knight’s job. He is a commoner. Only a noble is allowed to get on a horse, pick up a large tree trunk and charge towards another man on another horse and with another large tree trunk. But William has been squiring for a while, doing what a squire does. Learning the knight business.
So off to the joust William goes and does it to the sound of Queen and “We Will Rock You”. Like they say in the movies, he scores one for the gipper. He knocks a man off his horse. You think it’s easy. You try it on the back of a horse, wearing fifty pounds of steel armor and with a wooden lance, nine to fourteen feet long. Just balancing yourself requires skill. Now that William has a taste of success, he wants more.He convinces his companions that more is possible. All it will take is a knight’s version of spring training.
There is only one problem. William is not a noble. As William and his fellows head toward the next tournament, they come across a naked man. Says his name is Geoffrey Chaucer. He has had a run of bad luck. He has a gambling problem. But he is William’s answer to a prayer. He is a literate man and a good forger. Good enough to create papers to give William the noble family he needs to be able to play with the big boys. Chaucer transforms William Thatcher into Sir Ulrick. Since there was no internet in those days, nobody can check on the authenticity of those papers.
So far so good. Team Ulrick are off to the medieval version of a city and there they are “taking care of business.” Geof Chaucer, now Sir Ulrick’s herald, proves he can announce his master’s arrival to the joust with flair. But, during the joust, William shows a side of himself that another knight sees as weakness. He shows mercy. For a knight to be a knight, it is not enough to be good at a joust. A knight is a knight when he is chivalrous and chivalry means a knight should be merciful.
Like the good sports movie it is, “A Knight’s Tale” has only begun the struggle of Sir Ulrich’s rise to knighthood. He does it with a soundtrack that really kicks butt. Before our hero can prove his worth on the jousting field, he must prove his worth on the dance floor. Sir Ulrich boogies to David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, giving his fellow party-goers a lesson in dancing. It’s all enough to make the lady he loves fall in love with him. Looks like the working-class fellow is a winner in love and in war. He even impresses a royal.
Then, just as things are looking good for Ulrich, they slip away. When you are on top of the world, sometimes life takes you down a peg or two. Team Ulrich arrives in London for the World Jousting Championship to the music of “The Boys Are Back in Town”. All the hard work they have put in is about to pay off. Unfortunately Sir Nasty, Count Adhemar, has other plans. He has not been won over by Ulrich’s winsome ways. For him, all is fair in love and jousting.
“A Knight’s Tale” has its ups and downs, its winnings and losses. Otherwise it wouldn’t be the sports movie it is. Like the really good ones, it shows us that which is the best in all of us. Sometimes all we can do is crawl back on our horse, take up our tree trunk and charge into battle to the song, “We are the Champions of the World”.
Do you have a favorite sports movie?