I’ve always found A Knight’s Tale’s lack of popular (or critical) success surprising. Besides the obvious–Heath Ledger when he was still doing the young Mel Gibson thing, only mixed with a more mature Gibson’s consciousness of his charm–it’s absolutely hilarious. Helgeland had a problematic relationship with Gibson, but certainly knew how to write for him (Conspiracy Theory) and he knows how to write for Ledger here.
Helgeland’s script is also impressive in how it portrays its villain. Rufus Sewell is as evil as any big film villain, but Helgeland and Sewell discreetly humanize him just enough he’s not intolerable to be around. The audience knows, watching the film, Ledger will best him… it’s just how he’s going to do it.
Unfortunately, the romance between Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon weakens the film. Helgeland just can’t figure a way to make it work and he just pretends it does. The film doesn’t lose its charm, but it does wobble.
The best thing in the film is Paul Bettany, whose performance as Geoffrey Chaucer is a constant delight. The entire supporting cast is solid–Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk are Ledger’s sidekicks, who take demotion in screen time once Sossamon shows up, but remain excellent. Laura Fraser is their girl Friday (who gets shortchanged in terms of character development). James Purefoy is good in a small part.
Helgeland’s direction is good without being extraordinary, but there’s not a bad shot in the film.
Oh, and the Olivia Williams cameo is wonderful.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Tony Burrough; produced by Todd Black, Helgeland and Tim Van Rellim; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Heath Ledger (William Thatcher), Rufus Sewell (Count Adhemar), Shannyn Sossamon (Jocelyn), Paul Bettany (Geoffrey Chaucer), Laura Fraser (Kate), Mark Addy (Roland), Alan Tudyk (Wat) and James Purefoy (Colville).