Film / Ironclad

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Ironclad is a 2011 medieval action film directed by Jonathan English. It was written by English and Erick Kastel, based on a screenplay by Stephen McDool.

It is the year 1215 and the rebel barons of England have forced their despised King John to put his royal seal to the Magna Carta, a noble, seminal document that upheld the rights of free-men. Yet within months of pledging himself to the great charter, the King reneged on his word and assembled a mercenary army on the south coast of England with the intention of bringing the barons and the country back under his tyrannical rule. In his way stood the mighty Rochester castle, a place that would become the symbol of the rebel's momentous struggle for justice and freedom.

A sequel, called Ironclad II: Battle for Blood was released in 2014, telling the story of a survivor from the siege defending his home from Celtic raiders.

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Partly Justified and downplayed with Isabel and Agnes. Justified since women often helped in the defense during sieges by throwing things, cooking hot oil, and there are a few rare historical accounts of women who stepped into the role of fighters. Downplayed in that Marshall does not want them to learn how to fight, since he will supposedly protect them, but they still have to eventually. This while he is out for the count. When the castle is breached at the end, Agnes and Isabel each rack up a body count. Having said that their joining the fight is justified by necessity, how well they do as amateurs is a bit harder to swallow; What we see of Isabel's cushy life as a noble lady does not seem likely to have prepared her for fighting against hardened professional soldiers, who presumably have a lot of training and experience.
  • An Arm and a Leg: King John punishes several of the rebels by chopping off limbs, including d'Aubigny.
  • Anti-Villain: Tiberius doesn't really care that much about John's war, he just wants to make sure that his lands escape Christianization. And thus, realizes that he needs John's support to make that happen. Yes, Denmark was already Christianized by this point, but hey.
  • Alternate History: Becomes this in the end after Rochester Castle is relieved by a French army, Prince Louis takes the throne, and King John dies of dysentery after he is ousted from power.
  • Armor Is Useless: Marshall cuts guys in half from shoulder to waist straight through their armor.
  • Artistic License History:
    • Historically, the King's forces successfully captured Rochester. Prince Louis would not arrive until a few months later.
    • William D'Aubergny did command the garrison, but survived the battle. After John died, he became a loyalist to young Henry III and helped capture Lincoln in 1217.
    • Louis and the rebellious barons were defeated in 1217, unlike the "victory" described at the end of the film.
    • The Magna Carta, while retrospectively regarded as setting an important precedent for limitation on the king's power and setting the foundations for modern democracy, was at the time mainly intended to protect the authority of the barons. King John merely sealed it rather than signing it (he was probably illiterate).
    • The Danes had been Christianized for some time prior to the events of the movie, yet are here played as still pagan and fighting specifically due to John's promise that he will convince the Pope to leave them in peace. Additionally, very few of John's mercenaries were actually Danes. Their leader also has the very Roman name Tiberius.
    • Although the longsword began to develop in its early forms in the late-12th century, such early examples were little more than arming swords with longer handles. The fully two-handed longsword as used by Marshall did not begin to appear until the 14th and 15th centuries.
    • Rochester castle is impressively realized, albeit with a couple of goofs such as modern cement stonework, but there's no sign of the Norman Cathedral that should be right next door, nor of the city of Rochester itself on the river bank.
    • The historical accounts do say that King John and his army sent for forty fat pigs to fuel the fire in the tunnel under the walls, but they were pig corpses, not live ones as depicted in the film. You would not want the hazard of forcing a herd of live animals into a fire, and live pigs have too much water in them to properly set on fire anyway.
  • An Axe to Grind: Tiberius' weapon of choice is an extra large double-bitted axe. Becket's main weapon is a single-bladed axe combined with a spear.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Many of the Danish soldiers are played by Hungarian stuntmen, and can be heard speaking perfect Hungarian.
  • Archer Archetype: Marks
  • Arranged Marriage: Isabel and Reginald.
  • Bad Ass Army: The Templars. When three Templars without any weapons attack the Danish mercenaries, they kill a dozen at least easily before overcome by superior numbers. Rochester's garrison also becomes this, as they hold off an army of a thousand men for several months.
  • Barbarian Longhair: The wild Danes wear their hair long and unkempt.
  • Battle Ballgown: When the enemy gets inside the castle, Lady Isabel changes into an elegant and surely custom-made dress incorporating armor, wearing it into battle without even tying back her long hair. It's not a practical design, there's no explanation of who made it for her, and such a garment never existed; it's just pure Rule of Glamorous.
  • Battle Strip: Tiberius spends most of the film in a badass black-leather-and-cloak ensemble. For the final assault, he strips to the waist and paints himself blue. This may contribute to his defeat; even leather armour could probably have blunted the thrust of a broken sword.
  • BFS: Marshall's templar longsword. He manages to cut a Danish mercenary in half along with the axe he tried to use to block Marshall's swing. As well as the guy behind him. And someone else's hand.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Thomas, Beckett, d'Aubigny and their allies.
  • Bilingual Bonus: We hear some Latin at the dinner table.
  • Blade on a Stick: Many examples are seen in the battle sequences.
  • The Casanova: When the knights arrive at Rochester, Beckett asks about whether or not there are women there as well.
  • The Cavalry: The French
  • Celibate Hero: Played straight at first then predictably averted as Thomas breaks his vows falling for Isabel.
  • Chain Mail Bikini: Played straight and then for drama. Isabel's impractical Battle Ballgown is obviously designed more for Fanservice than defense, as it exposes the bare skin of her neckline and shoulders. Unsurprisingly, despite her cutting down several foes, she gets wounded in the shoulder and has to be rescued.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Paul Giamatti gives us a very lively performance as King John.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: This is King John we're talking about.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Twenty are able to hold off an army of a thousand men.
  • Corrupt Church: The Pope gives King John a green pass on retaking the castles by force, even after signing the Magna Carta.
  • Death by Adaptation: d'Aubigny. In real life, he survived the siege of Rochester Castle, although he was imprisoned by John after its capture.
  • Defiant to the End: d'Aubigny continues to resist King John's attempts to cow him even while getting his hands and feet chopped off.
  • Dies Wide Open: Marks.
  • The Dragon: Tiberius. Not that he's happy about it.
    • And from the alternate perspective, Marshal is this to the Archbishop.
  • Driven to Suicide: Reginald de Cornhill, who hangs himself. Also Lady Isabel's lady's maid, Maddy, who leaps to her death.
  • Drop the Hammer: Marshall wields a war hammer during the first fight scene.
  • Dwindling Party: The seven knights.
    • Marks: Shot in the throat by Danish archers.
    • Wulfstein: Speared through the head by Tiberius.
    • d'Aubigny: Hands and feet chopped off by Prince John and Danes, then his corpse thrown at the castle wall.
    • Coteral: Stabbed by Danes.
    • Becket: Head smashed by Tiberius.
  • The Dung Ages: Almost everybody is covered in grime, and things like wooden buildings and carts appear very ramshackle and shoddy.
  • Epic Flail: When the Danes make it into the courtyard, Thomas bursts out of the armory, mounted on his horse and wielding a flail, which he uses to great effect to allow the others to retreat to the keep.
  • Eat the Dog: During the siege the garrison had to kill and eat their horses (minus Marshall's because its a Templar horse, and they are required to die in battle).
  • Fatal Family Photo: Wulfstan. When they recruit him, he tells the girls if he hasn't come back in a certain amount of time, they should go to some relatives and work right away; needless to say that he dies.
  • A Father to His Men: Marshall and Tiberius are this.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Almost always inverted—nearly every grievous injury gets a brief close-up. Played straight with the deaths of Wulfstan and Beckett.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Coteral kills a Dane with a dismembered arm.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: King John and William d'Aubigny get a couple. They are unsurprisingly glorious.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: None of the main characters wear them. Marshall doesn't even bother with his coif, though he does wear a great helm when he rides out against the Danish to hold them back to allow the others to retreat.
    • Mocked by Lindybeige's review: "When did he think that head protection was more appropriate than now!?"
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Coteral and Beckett.
  • Hero Killer: Tiberius kills Wulfstein and Becket, two of the seven knights.
  • Historical-Domain Character: King John, Reginald de Cornhill, the Archbishop of Canterbury and William d'Aubigny.
  • Hollywood Costuming: As Lindybeige rants about in his review video, many of the costumes look more like modern leather biker wear or LARP gear than any kind of Medieval clothes or armor, with things such as obviously modern aluminum rivets and eyelets. There's obvious knitted faux maille, fiberglass helmets, etc. in close-up shots of characters. There's also a shot where you can see that King john's boots have heels, which didn't appear until the late Tudor period.
  • Hollywood Torches: Iron wall torches and braziers are all over the castle courtyard, and are kept perpetually burning even during the daytime.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Poor Marks.
  • Kill 'em All: Only Lady Isabel, Marshall and Guy survive.
  • Last Stand: Executed in the most stoic manner possible.
    "NO SURRENDER!!!"
    "WE HOLD!!!"
  • Large Ham: They really didn't need all those fancy siege instruments. Paul Giamatti's King John manages to chew up the entire castle on his own. Brian Cox's Baron d'Aubigny gets pretty hammy at times, too.
    "I am the blood! I am God's right hand! And you will never dictate to me how I am to be a king!"
  • Leave Him to Me: When Marshall emerges to fight the Danish mercenaries, Tiberius gives the order: "No one touches him."
  • Magnificent Seven Samurai: It is a group of seven men who are assembled, to defend Rochester Castle against King John's forces. Though subtle, some characteristics could be seen as a nod to the classic film(s), such as one of them being a Nave Newcomer, and another shown chopping wood when the hero finds him.
  • Meaningful Name: besides Daniel Marks as mentioned above, Gil Becket shares a name with Becket, another foe of the Plantagenet family.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: While loads of men are dying all around, even a little wound to Isabel is treated as a much bigger deal. Granted, maybe it's also because she's a noble.
  • Nave Newcomer: Guy.
  • Never Learned to Read: Coteral.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Tiberius to King John. He is only doing this to save his people from being forced to convert to Christianity and enslaved since John agreed to talk to the Pope. He cares for his men and in several scenes is disgusted with John's cruelty.
  • Plucky Girl: Lady Isabel, and the serving girl Agnes are good examples, even joining the men in helping to brace the gate from the Danish battering ram attack, and trying their best to fend them off when they break through.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Exchanged between Tiberius and Marshall before their epic final duel.
    Tiberius: "How's your faith now, Templar?"
    Marshall: "Why don't you come a little closer", (kicks his sword into an upright guard position), "and I'll show you."
  • Private Military Contractors: The Danes are foreign mercenaries.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The castle's defenders are a makeshift crew from various walks of life.
  • Red Shirt: de Cornhill's unfortunate castle garrison actually do have a red uniform, though they manage to last until the castle is breached.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Marks is the first of the seven to die, about halfway through during the second assault on the castle.
  • Shown Their Work: One soldier is seen wielding a very bizarre type of chopping weapon that appears in the illustrations of the 13th century Morgan Bible.
  • The Siege: The whole story is about a small number of heroic defenders trying to hold their castle against an evil besieging army, hoping that help will arrive before the enemy breaks through or starves them out.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: The castle is depicted as having twenty defenders, when in real life it was actually more like a hundred. The funny thing is that small castle garrisons are not unrealistic in general, and in fact Real Life castle garrisons in medieval Europe could be even smaller, since a castle was designed to be defensible by a small people, and too many mouths to feed inside the castle was a liability during a prolonged siege. It's just that the film portrayal contradicts what the record tells us about this particular case. Perhaps the film crew didn't want to hire so many extras, or wanted to exaggerate the defenders' role as outnumbered underdogs.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cornhill gives a blistering one to John after he's captured. John doesn't take it well.
  • Warrior Monk: Thomas and the other templars, of course.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is based on the First Baron's War during King John's reign but takes a lot of artistic liberties with the setting, characters, and events.
  • Virgin Shaming: Taken to ludicrious extremes with Marshall. Lady Isabel constantly hounds him to the point of telling him, to his face, his vows to *God* are not as important as him shagging her. It almost comes across as cruel given how tormented Marshall is by guilt after giving into his lust.

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