A sports movie about a struggling underdog who, through sheer pluck and hard effort, beats the rich and established players at their own game, gets the girl, wins the respect of the big boss and gets to humiliate his rival in front of a cheering crowd in the big final match.
Pretty standard, then. Except... oh yeah, it's set in Medieval Europe. The sport is jousting
. The struggling underdog is a peasant posing as a noble knight
. The big boss is Prince Edward of Wales, aka the Black Prince.
Stars Heath Ledger
as William Thatcher, Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer
, that one
) and a whole bunch of people you recognise from cool stuff and kind of like
, even though they've never quite hit the big time (including cast members from Rome
, The Full Monty
, Game of Thrones
and Neil Gaiman
A major, completely unashamed Anachronism Stew
. Features 14th-century courtiers dancing to David Bowie
and peasants doing the stomp-stomp-clap
cadence from We Will Rock You
(which was actually filmed by the second unit as a joke
, but was considered funny enough to use anyway
).There are two basic reactions to this movie
: People who hate it for being wildly historically inaccurate and starring Heath Ledger
, and people who love it for being wildly
historically inaccurate and starring Heath Ledger
. Also often cited is Paul Bettany's nude scenes
This film contains examples of:
- Advantage Ball: Carefully minded throughout. At the beginning, Adhemar has the advantage by virtue of his greater experience, but once William finds his feet and begins to feel more confident, he begins to win easily, until Adhemar starts cheating. At the end, Chaucer's Rousing Speech gives him the edge he needs.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees:
- Widows of blacksmiths and other tradesmen really did take up the job — not just the Politically Correct History you may have thought (not that it would have been out of place).
- The real Ulrich Von Lichtenstein — yes there was a real one! — was a 13th c. knight who, on one occasion in his career of errantry, rode the tournament circuit in the guise of 'Queen Venus' complete with silk gown over his armor and long braids of false hair dangled beneath his helmet. He was a huge hit and the tour a massive success with a final score of three hundred broken lances without a single fall. Somebody really did their research to unearth Ulrich. That or they read the Horrible Histories book on knights.
- Anachronism Stew:
- More astute viewers may notice that neither "Golden Years" nor "The Boys Are Back In Town" were written in the 14th century.
- Nor was the Millennium Eye erected in London at that time. Not even made of wood.
- Every article of clothing worn by Jocelyn, plus her hair.
- The Nike swoosh was not, in fact, originally a medieval blacksmith's mark.
- A crowd singing "We will rock you".
- Word of God states that the musical anachronism (as well as some of the dialogue "It's called a 'lance', hellooo.") was done intentionally to illustrate that people of the era thought of their music pretty much the same as modern people do of current music. No such excuse for the clothes, though; the costume designer simply thought they looked neat.
- The costume designer did make all the outfits from period accurate materials and using medieval techniques.
- Angrish: Wat is prone to this.
- Arc Words: "A man can change his stars."
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Adhemar, the evil rival, is Count of Anjou. On the other hand, the prince is a good guy, and the hero's friends are seen making up stories about how evil his aristocratic opponents are in order to encourage him to beat them. It works a little too well.
- A count of Anjou is a pretty good choice for an evil aristocratic antagonist!
- Ascended Fanboy: William, obviously.
- Audience Participation Failure: At one point during the filming, the Czech extras hired to play a crowd watching one of the tournaments (very few of whom actually understood English) were supposed to cheer wildly when Heath Ledger defeated his opponent. But, as most of them didn't understand Englsh, the crowd hadn't actually understood their instructions, and when the fight was over they stood there silently for almost a minute, staring at each other in confusion. When actor Mark Addy abruptly broke into wild cheering, the crowd finally got it and began to cheer as well. Director Brian Helgeland thought this was so funny he actually kept it in the film and reshot some sequences before and after to make their reaction more appropriate to the story.
- As You Know: When they first realize Sir Thomas is Edward, Prince of Wales, Chaucer goes on about his ruthlessness and skill in battle at some length before Watt goes, "We're English, Geoff, we know who he is!"
- Authority Equals Ass Kicking: Edward, Prince of Wales.
- Badass: William:
Adhemar: "How would you beat him?"
Man: "With a stick! While he slept. But on a horse, with a lance? That man's unbeatable."
- Badass Longcoat: Chaucer and Prince Edward love wearing these.
- The Bard: Chaucer is a variant.
- Battle Cry: WILLIIIIAAAAAAAM
- Becoming the Mask: When the truth comes out, Will refuses to run even knowing it could spare him his life. He believes himself to be a knight, if not in paper then by deed and honor. His companions agree this may be so but the judges only care for the paper.
William: "No! I will not run! I AM A KNIGHT!"
- Berserk Button: Roland is initially unwilling to gamble all of their money on the Paris tournament, ignoring the taunts of the Frenchmen, until they go too far:
Frenchman: And most importantly, because the Pope himself is French.
Roland: ... Well the Pope may be French, but Jesus is English. You're on!
- Better Than It Sounds
- Big Game: The world championships. At which William and Adhemar are finally to meet.
- The Blacksmith: A female one, no less, acting as a farrier and armoursmith.
- Blasphemous Praise:
Wat: And your love? Have you proven that yet?
William: Wat, you remember church as a boy. The fear, the passion. That's what she makes me feel. And for that, I say my rosary to Jocelyn and no one else.
Wat: William, that's blasphemous.
William: Then may I burn in hell.
- Blatant Lies: Prince Edward justifies knighting William by announcing that he's discovered Will is descended from nobility, then basically dares anyone to call him on it: "This is my word, and as such is beyond contestation." Justified in that the Crown Prince could grant knighthood to anyone he wanted to without having to explain why they were granted knighthood.
- Bring It: William to Adhemar at the final, do-or-die joust.
William: Let's dance, you and I.
- Broken Aesop: The main moral of the film is that a noble spirit and strength of will can turn anyone into a hero, regardless of birth. This is broken in that the hero only gets what he wants by first pretending to be a knight, and then being (falsely) proclaimed to be of noble blood by royal decree. So you don't need to be born into the elite class to be successful, but you do need to be in the elite class, and there's still no way for the average commoner to get there.
- California Doubling: Well, the Czech Republic, actually.
- Cerebus Callback: In the scene where William first arrives in London, he imagines that a young boy cheering him on is himself as a child. Later on as he sits in the stocks the same boy runs up to him and slaps him in the face.
- The Champion: Inverted and lampshaded when Jocelyn calls William out on this trope, telling him that the more impressive feat to her would be if he intentionally lost as "proof of his love". No points for guessing how this turns out.
- Chekhov's Skill: Subverted with William's swordsmanship—he's shown early on to be very good in the sword, and wins a tournament in the sport in his first go...then declares that it's Tournament Champion or nothing and he never picks another sword up for the rest of the film.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Adhemar is almost always wearing black. And looking good!
- Combat Pragmatist:
- Adhemar's aide shows signs of this. When Adhemar asks how he would defeat "Ulric", the man replied by taking him out in his sleep.
- Taking this idea, Adhemar followed "Ulrich" looking for some scandal or fact he can use against him. He gets more than he could wish when he finds him returning to his home and meeting his real father.
- Come to Gawk: People do this to those in the stocks.
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Wat's usual state of mind.
Wat: It's called a lance, helloooooo!
- Played with while Adhemar is watching Will joust in London.
Adhemar: How would you beat him?
Aide: With a stick, while he slept. But on a horse, with a lance? That man is unbeatable.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Adhemar. If he cannot woo Jocelyn, he will simply work out a deal with her father to marry her.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Will after getting told by Jocelyn to win, after previously being told to lose, crushes his remaining opponents.
- Curtain Clothing: "Eh...green. Um...trimmed in a kind of...pale...green...uh, wi-with, uh...wooden toggles."
- David Versus Goliath: A plucky peasant with an antique suit of armour versus the combined nobility of Europe and, more specifically, the undefeated champion of Europe.
- Dance Sensation: Both in the opening song and the ballroom scene.
- Dark Is Evil: Adhemar; dark hair, dark armour, dark horse.
- Death Glare: Adhemar has a nice one that he fixes on his herald (who looks ready to wet himself) when he discovers that Will has been winning so many tournaments while he's been busy warring. In the commentary they mentioned how they timed the music to match his expression.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played straight, then subverted. William is stripped of everything, put into the pillory, and humiliated for daring to rise above being a peasant squire. Then the Prince knights him anyway.
- Dirt Forcefield: Mostly averted, as characters appear just as dusty and dirty as they ought (and the Black Prince has a bad case of Helmet Hair when William reveals him), most of the time. Played straight, though, when Kate is shown working on the below mentioned Nike armor; a blacksmith working in her forge ought to be covered in soot, while she's just got a little bit of dust on her forehead.
- Disqualification-Induced Victory: During the second tournament, William starts losing on purpose because the Love Interest told him to to prove that he loved her. This would have been a problem, except that none of the other competitors did particularly well, either, so after the Love Interest relents William is able to win despite losing his first round of jousts.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Jocelyn merely passed by William.
William: I canít. Love has given me wings, so I must fly. I canít explain it. She makes me feel like a poet.
Roland: You may feel like a poet... but you sound like an idiot. You donít even know her name.
William: Her name? Her name is Aphrodite. Calypso. Venus. Take your pick.
- Failure Montage: William's first attempt to get to grips with the skills of jousting.
- Fake Aristocrat: William pretending to be Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, which provides most of the drama of the movie.
- The Fashionista: Jocelyn likes wearing different clothes and dressing to match her knight because a flower is only as good as its petals.
- Fiery Red Head: Wat.
- Five-Man Band: Very apparent in the 'Adhemar lying on his back' scene near the end.
- Forging Scene: Kate notices that Will wears armour that wasn't made for him. She volunteers to make him some that's so light-weight he wouldn't know he was wearing it. After she is finished the knight is presented with a suit of shiny new armour.
- Grand Romantic Gesture: Will purposefully loses a tilting match to prove his love (getting beat up in the process); to paraphrase Jocelyn, when Will tells her he'll win the tournament for her, "You would win the tournament anyway; if you want to prove your love, you will lose." Then, once he's taken his lumps, she sends her handmaiden to tell him if he loves her, he'll win the tournament. This does not go over well with William, or his friends.
Chaucer: There she is, William. The embodiment of love. Your Venus.
William: And how I hate her.
- Hammy Herald: Geoffrey for William.
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Will is injured just before the final lance, which will determine who wins the world championships. Not only does he opt not to wear his helmet, he takes off all his armour, saying he "can't breathe with it on," because the chestplate was damaged enough that it was pushing at the wound and compressing his chest.
- Averted in most of the earlier jousts. In commentary, the director noted the convenience of being able to cut from shots of the actors, ending when they pulled down their faceplates, to shots of the stunt men.
- And in the first joust, William used the damage to his faceplate to justify not showing his face — even after the combat.
- Heroic BSOD: William shows signs of this after his arrest, and doesn't really snap out of it until after he's knighted.
- Hero's Muse: Jocelyn is the noblewoman who has never been unhorsed.
William: Your name, lady. I still need to hear it.
Jocelyn: Sir Hunter, you persist.
William: Perhaps angels have no names. Only beautiful faces.
- Heroes Prefer Swords: Before he gets the hang of tilting, swordplay is easily William's best skill.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Edward the Black Prince is portrayed as a likeable individual who values William's courage and knights him despite his common birth. The historical Black Prince was well-known for conducting brutal scorched-earth campaigns that ravaged the French countryside, and to have despised and scorned the lower classes. Partly this can be seen as Protagonist Centred Morality — the characters do mention his pillaging and burning of villages, and Edward's fondness of William despite him being lower class is motivated by William doing him two big favours earlier in the movie when he had no reason to do so, and willingly letting himself be arrested instead of fleeing.
- Hollywood Healing: William gets a piece of his opponent's lance stuck in his shoulder, and he cannot hold his own lance. As soon as William wins the championship, he can move his arm normally, and there's no indication of injury. And there's no mention of removing the piece of lance stuck in his shoulder, which would be very risky surgery in that age.
- Huddle Shot: The Crowning Moment of Awesome at the end, spoken by the main characters, in turn:
Watt: You have been weighed...
Roland: ...you have been measured...
Kate: ...and you absolutely...
Chaucer: ...have been found wanting.
William: Welcome to the new world. And may God save you, if it is right that He should do so.
- I Can't Dance: Will, who subsequently gets lessons from Geoff and Kate
- I Just Want to Be Special: William wants to "change his stars" to become a knight even though he's only a peasant.
- I'll Kill You!: A scene had one of the protagonists kicking a dead and fully armored knight screaming "If you're dead, I'll kill you!"
- Inevitable Tournament: The movie is a series of inevitable tournaments.
- In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Chaucer. The Black Prince, too, but that's slightly more justified by the plot.
- Ironic Echo: "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting."
- It Will Never Catch On:
- Kate invents the Bessemer Process for heating steel 400-500 years before it happened. William is initially ridiculed for wearing thin, light armor. At least until he nimbly leaps onto his horse.
- Her etching "the mark of [her] trade" (the Nike logo) into her armour, which is also received with ridicule.
- Jerkass: Adhemar, upon first meeting William, immediately insults him several times and he just gets worse from there. They seem to have even gone out of their way to make him completely utterly dislikeable.
- Knighting: William's eventual reward, thanks to Prince Edward.
- King Incognito: The Black Prince has his reasons. Twice, if you count the crowd scene.
- Kneel Before Frodo: Happens when the King Incognito gets cognito.
- Knight In Shining Armour: Duh. Just to be really old-fashioned, Adhemar wears black armour. And a scowl.
- Ladies and Germs: One of Chaucer's introductions.
Chaucer: My lords...my ladies... (Chaucer bows then turns to the audience)...and everybody else here not sitting on a cushion!
- Large Ham:
: SIR ULLLLLLLLLLLLLRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICH VON LICHENSTEIN! (Beat
, to wild applause) God
- A small, but really fun element, is when Adhemar's herald (who up until this point had been doing the usual staid and boring introductions) starts to ham it up himself on the part of Adhemar, and suddenly starts to get more applause for Adhemar from the crowd. Seems being a Large Ham is the wave of the future when it comes to heraldry.
- Like a God to Me:
Wat: And your love? Have you proven that yet?
William: Wat, you remember church as a boy. The fear, the passion. Thatís what she makes me feel. And for that, I say my rosary to Jocelyn and no one else.
Wat: William, thatís blasphemous.
William: Then may I burn in hell.
- The Lost Lenore: A rare male example of this trope being blacksmith Kate's dead husband.
- Love Makes You Dumb: William fully understands this trope, as after making a faux pas to Jocelyn, she tells him that if he loves her, he'll lose. And so, at the beginning of the next tournament, after the flag for William's first tilt is dropped, and his opponent spurs on, the four members of the Five-Man Band cheering William on...
Roland: "What are you doing?"
William: (sitting on his horse, going nowhere) "...Losing."
Wat: "I don't understand."
William: "...Neither do I." CRASH!
- Magnetic Hero: Will has the charisma to convince Wat and Roland to support his frankly insane plan. He soon rounds up Chaucer, Kate, Jocelyn and the Prince.
- Marquee Alter Ego: The most likely explanation for William removing his armor in the final battle is so we can see Heath Ledger's face.
- Meaningful Name: William Thatcher, a Thatcher being a tradesman who makes roofs for buildings out of straw mat, in other words, most definitely not a nobleman by birth.
- A justified example - in that time period, a person's last name was based on their family's trade.
- Motivational Lie: At one tournament, Roland tells William that his opponent is cruel to his peasants. After an irate Will has charged off to thrash the opponent, Roland remarks that it's probably true.
- Naked People Are Funny: Chaucer just strolls into the film stark naked, completely ok with that.
- Nom de Guerre: Two of them, both due to the men in question trying to hide their identities for various reasons:
- William Thatcher styles himself as Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, to hide the fact that he is a peasant.
- Edward, the Black Prince, goes as Sir Thomas Colville, as nobody would dare tilt with him if they knew who he really was. Notably, Edward is entirely unsuccessful in hiding his identity as word gets around quick who he is.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Done deliberately — Laura Fraser was apparently expecting to be asked to put on a generic English accent, as usual, and was delighted to be allowed to use her natural (sexy) Scots accent.
- Not So Different: A rare complimentary fashion, Edward laments how alike he and William are.
Edward: What a pair we make, huh? Both trying to hide who we are, both unable to do so.
- The Obstructive Love Interest: Jocelyn
- The Oner: William and Jocelyn's long walk-and-talk scene in the cathedral.
- Pair the Spares: Roland often becomes a Beta Couple with Jocelyn's handmaiden Christiana in fan fics. There are several scenes in the movie in which one can see Roland and Christiana chatting happily in the background. Made explicit in a deleted scene where Chaucer's wife visits the tournament. Jocelyn and William go off together, Roland and Christiana go off together, and Wat attempts to go off with Kate but she just gives him a cookie and walks in the opposite direction. He's good. Food is his first love.
- Peerless Love Interest: The peasant William falls in love with the noble lady Jocelyn.
William: Geoff, 'tis my lady.
Geoffrey: Oh, geez, William, you aim too high.
William: Oh, if there's another way to aim, I don't know it.
- Power Walk: William and company do one as they go to the London tournament, just before William gets arrested.
- Product Placement: Not that the movie got any money for it, but that trademark that Kate etches into her armor? A pair of upside down Nike swooshes. Though, Word of God states it was unintentional.
- Purely Aesthetic Era
- Purple Prose: Geoffrey Chaucer's job.
- Rags to Riches: As William wins more tournaments, he and the others are shown to have gotten better clothing compared to the beginning.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: William vs. Count Adhemar, though as he keeps winning tournaments, Will gets considerably less poor.
- Rule of Cool: Face it, this is pretty much the entire point of this movie. Not that we're complaining...
- Running Gag: Chaucer's line of "Well, maybe not you..." towards Wat.
- Satellite Love Interest: Jocelyn. She's beautiful, rich, likes clothes, loves William... and that's it. All the poor girl gets to do is stand on the sidelines and then have either a love scene or a fighting scene with Will. Though she's lucky enough to even get moments of witty lines and displays of spunk.
- She also kind of lampshades this. Her initial rejection of Will is based on him treating her like this, as every knight who was smitten with her pretty face has done. She asks him to think of her as a person, not a prize, and when he does she falls for him. Not that the audience gets to know her very well, she still fits the trope for us.
- Say My Name: WILLIIIIIIIIIIIAM!
- Interestingly enough, William is the one who does it.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Edward, the Black Prince, pulls one of these while William is in the stocks, even going so far as to personally knight William himself just to allow him to compete. He basically declares that William has royal blood and then dares anybody to contradict the Crown Prince of England.
- Self-Proclaimed Knight: There are two. One is the classic struggling underdog, William Thatcher, the peasant who's masquerading as the knight Ulrich Von Lichtenstein, and the other is Sir Thomas Colville - otherwise known as Edward, the Black Prince, jousting in disguise.
- Shaming the Mob: Subverted in the theatrical cut; Chaucer, having previously demonstrated his ability to work a crowd, tries to shame the mob that gathers around William when he's in the stocks. He gets as far as three words in before the mob silences him with a volley of rotten vegetables. However, in the extended cut of the film, Chaucer succeeds in Shaming the Mob into chastened silence before Prince Edward steps in. This scene was cut to beef up Prince Edward's role.
- Shields Are Useless: William's master's old suit of armor comes with a shield, which does little more than attract derision from the crowd. His new suit of armor does not come with a shield, nor does it need one. Truth in Television, as full plate armor did in fact make shields obsolete.
- Shout-Out: William's choice of nom-de-guerre has a certain appropriateness (see Aluminium Christmas Trees above).
- And the Black Prince and his companions shedding their disguising monks' robes is a clear homage to a similar scene in the Adventures of Robin Hood.
- Sigil Spam: There's a deleted scene where the trio discuss their coat of arms and decide on three phoenixes. The phoenix can be seen emblazoned into various clothes and other items associated with them.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Mocked; Jocelyn, admonished for her beauty by a priest, laments it in a deadpan monotone to get him off her back.
- The Stinger: The four non-Will members of the Five-Man Band are having a competition to see who pays for drinks.
- Stock Punishment: Several people are seen there. One even mockingly tells young William if he wants to be a Knight, he would change his stars.
- Take That: Roland delivers one during a bet to a trio of bragging Frenchmen in a bar.
Frenchman: And, most importantly, because the Pope, himself, is French!
Roland: ...Well the Pope may be French, but Jesus is English. You're on!
- That Poor Cat: Heard in the background during a bar fight.
- This Is Gonna Suck: William, at one point in the movie, has to lose to all matches in the tournament to prove his love for Jocelyn, all the while taking loads and loads of punishment. See Love Makes You Dumb for more details.
- Throwing the Fight: How Jocelyn tells William to prove his love.
- Tired of Running: "I will not run! I am a knight!"
- The Tourney: Central to the plot.
- Training Montage: To the tune of "Low Rider", featuring an array of increasingly-inventive lance training set-ups, with Roland and Wat taking most of the punishment from both William's initally terrible jousting skills and his all-too-good swordsmanship.
- Trapped by Gambling Debts: Geoffrey Chaucer.
- Troll: The boys at one point start shining a small mirror in Adhemar's herald's face to distract him and make him muck up his introduction.
- Trophy Wife: Adhemar aims to turn Jocelyn into one for himself, deciding that if he can't woo her with his skills, he'll simply negotiate with her father. He even goes as far as calling her "a real thoroughbred trophy" to William's face.
- True Companions:
- Will and his friends, who all stick together to the bitter end.
- As noted earlier, this is a factor in Prince Edward's decision to rescue him. "Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough."
- Truth in Television: Blacksmiths' wives were taught smithing to produce arrowheads more often than not; a widow taking up her late husband's trade would not have been odd at that time.
- Unusual Euphemism: Wat's use of "fong". It's apparently ye old slang for 'kick'.
- Uptown Girl: William tries to get his Blue Blooded love interest to face the realities of life with him, a destitute fugitive from the law.
William: Where will we live? In my hovel, with the pigs inside during the winter so they won't freeze?
Jocelyn: [crying] Yes, William...with the pigs.
- The Watson: Jocelyn is the prime example, at one point asking the antagonist to explain the rules of jousting, which she doesn't understand.
- Wandering Minstrel: Geoff Chaucer fills this role.
- Warrior Prince: Prince Edward.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: William, to an extent - his father clearly loves him, he just wanted to prove he could "change his stars".
- Widescreen Shot: Two riders coming at each other is just made for this.
- Worthy Opponent: Sir Thomas Colville to William. Colville is actually the Black Prince, Edward, jousting in disguise much like William is, and anyone who realizes Colville's true identity instantly withdraws rather than risk hurting the Prince. William does not withdraw - much to Edward's delight.