August 11, 2006


Chaucer Revisited: a review of A Knight's Tale (Art Livingston, Gilbert)

My hope for this column is to build a trust that will lead our readers to rent worthwhile films that they may not have otherwise considered which are compatible with a Chestertonian worldview. Though A Knight's Tale may well make most of our readers wince in distaste during its first few minutes, please, please soldier on, because anyone who sticks with it will not be disappointed. This film is riddled with anachronisms, unhistorical detail, and current patois. Normally this would be enough to damn it. For example, when the characters should be squared off to engage in some elegant 14th-century dance steps, instead everyone starts cavorting to David Bowie's "Golden Years." Geoffrey Chaucer is an itinerant writer (unlike the historical fellow), but he also has a gambling problem. "Chaucer's the name; writing's the game," he informs us. And we run into a feudal culture at its height, not in its last stages.

Slowly, I caught on to what the filmmakers had in mind. Only until recently have people paid much attention to minute historical accuracy, and our ancestors would have thought it blatant pedantry to do so. As late as the 18th century, actors trod the boards in performances of Joseph Addison's Cato while being bedecked in periwigs. Similarly, the real Chaucer cared so little for such accuracy that the laws of chivalry bind an ancient Trojan like Troilus. And then the truth dawned on me: this story is being told the medieval way, just as surely as clocks strike the hour in Julius Caesar—without regard to historicism.

Also medieval, and somewhat ironic, is that the story has both the simplicity and guilelessness of a Canterbury Tale. (By the way, Chaucer owes gambling debts to a Pardoner and a Summoner. Hmmm...) On the one hand, the tale has the arc of a medieval romance, but on the other hand it is also one of the best sports movies ever made, even if the sport be jousting.

If you don't find it amusing that the crowd chant at the first joust turns into We Will Rock You, then you oughtn't watch movies anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2006 6:04 PM

My brother says that the director commentary on the DVD is hilarious, too.

Posted by: James Haney at August 12, 2006 2:19 AM

My younger sons (4, 7) have almost as much dialogue memorized from Knight's Tale ("It's a Lahnce...Helloo!") as from the great Napoleon Dynamite ("My lips hurt real bad!") and O Brother Where Art Thou ("We're in a tight spot!")

In fact, I hereby nominate O Brother as simply the greatest movie of our time.

Posted by: Palmcroft at August 12, 2006 11:20 PM

I can't tell you how many people I've tried to sell on this movie, and gotten nowhere. Me, I thought it was a hoot. And the chick who plays the lady blacksmith is a peach.

The guy who plays Chaucer also played Stephen Maturin in "Master & Commander".

Posted by: Twn at August 13, 2006 2:05 PM