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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, in which the rebel barons of England 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 has 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 stands the mighty Rochester castle, a place that will become the symbol of the rebels' 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. Less justified is how remarkably well they perform; 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.
  • Alternate History:
    • Apparently this film takes place in a world where there are still pagans in 13th century Denmark.
    • The film dramatically departs from English history at the end when 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.
  • 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. And yes, Denmark was already Christianized by this point, but Artistic License – History is in effect.
  • Archer Archetype: Marks.
  • Armor Is Useless: Marshall cuts guys in half from shoulder to waist straight through their armor. Marshall himself is saved by his armor at several times like when he is mobbed by the Danish mercenaries and takes a beating that would have killed any other character or in the final duel with Tiberius were his armor gives him the advantage that allows him to beat the bare chested captain.
  • Arranged Marriage: Isabel and Reginald.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The first issue is ironically in the film's title. The film is set in 1215, but the first documented use of the term "ironclad" (as "irenclad") wasn't until 1752, over five hundred years later.
    • Historically, the King's forces successfully captured Rochester. Prince Louis would not arrive until a few months later.
    • Reginald de Cornhill really survived the siege, he didn't kill himself, going on to serve as a high official.
    • 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. He died of natural causes in 1236.
    • 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 carcasses, 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 them on fire anyway.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Many of the Danish soldiers are played by Hungarian stuntmen, and can be heard speaking perfect Hungarian.
  • Bad Ass Army: The Templars. When three Templars without any weapons attack the Danish mercenaries, they kill a dozen at least easily before they're overcome by superior numbers. Rochester's garrison also becomes this, as they hold off an army of a thousand men for several months.
  • Badass Cape: Tiberius has a fur one.
  • 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.
  • The Big Guy: Wulfstan is the largest and strongest of the men assembled to defend Castle Rochester.
  • Bilingual Bonus: We hear some Latin at the dinner table.
  • Can't Take Criticism: King John.
    "I am the blood! I am God's right hand! And you will never dictate to me how I am to be a king!
  • Carry a Big Stick: Isabel uses a mace as a weapon.
  • 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.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: King John lets one loose when the defenders manage to hit the siege tower with a flaming trebuchet stone: "Goddamn devils! Murdering goddamn whores!"
  • 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. Justified by their having a very strong castle. In real life, castle defenders were usually much fewer than the forces outside.
  • Corrupt Church: The Pope gives King John a pass to retake the castles by force, even after signing the Magna Carta (and he has formally annulled the entire thing).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Wulfstan gets one blow before getting slashed across the torso and his head sliced open by Tiberius.
  • 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.
  • Die Laughing: The last thing Coteral does before getting killed is laugh.
  • Dies Wide Open: Marks and Agnes.
  • 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: Head sliced open 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.
  • Dual Wielding: Becket wields two short axes during the climax.
  • 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 it's 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, he dies.
  • A Father to His Men: Marshall and Tiberius are this.
  • Genius Bruiser: Wulfstan's the largest and strongest of the men Albany assembles. He also knows how to assemble a trebuchet, which proves instrumental in repelling the siege tower.
  • 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 Wulfstan and Becket, two of the seven knights.
  • Historical Domain Character: King John, Reginald de Cornhill, the Archbishop of Canterbury and William d'Aubigny.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: One of the Danes gets beaten to death with his own mace by Guy.
  • 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.
  • In the Back: Marks kills one of the Danes stationed at Castle Rochester with an arrow to the back.
  • Kill It with Fire: The castle defenders manage to repel the siege tower by setting it on fire with flaming trebuchet shells, setting the soldiers inside on fire.
  • Last Stand: Executed in the most stoic manner possible.
    "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!"
  • Laughing Mad: Coteral.
  • Leave Him to Me!: When Marshall emerges to fight the Danish mercenaries, Tiberius gives the order: "No one touches him."
  • Machete Mayhem: Wulfstan's weapon of choice is a single-edged weapon with no handguards. Sounds like a machete.
  • 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 Naïve 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.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Guy.
  • Never Learned to Read: Coteral. He learns due to Guy.
  • 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.
  • No Kill like Overkill:
    • The Danes cut off d'Aubigny's hands and feet (with King John cutting off one of the hands), then throw his body (it's unclear if he is still alive) at the keep wall.
    • Becket is slashed repeatedly by the Danes and his head smashed by Tiberius.
  • One-Woman Wail: Heard when Marks is killed in the second attack.
  • 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: Wulfstan 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 number of 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: d'Aubigny gives a blistering one to John after he's captured. John doesn't take it well.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Coteral takes down one of the Danes stationed at Castle Rochester with a thrown knife.
  • 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 ludicrous 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.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Marshall took one as a member of The Knights Templar, but he eventually breaks it by sleeping with Isabel, which he feels quite guilty for.
  • Warrior Monk: Thomas and the other Templars, of course.
  • Wrecked Weapon: Marshall's BFS is broken during the final duel with Tiberius. It's still sharp though.