Do you know that one movie that for some reason you’ve seen probably five times? You have one of those? It’s not particularly good, or special, or meaningful, and you have no reason to have seen it so many times and to keep watching it, but you do nonetheless. I’ve got a few of those. This week’s article is about one of them.
A Knight’s Tale (2001)
The Plot: William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) is a modest, yet incredibly good-looking peasant who dreams of adventure and fame. He accidentally stumbles across opportunity and together with the help of his peasant buddies Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), and also Chaucer (Paul Bettany) for some reason, and Female Blacksmith (Laura Fraser), and under the unassuming pseudonym Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, he competes in an international jousting tournament, hoping to take the champion title from the ostentatiously evil Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell!), and win the heart of the horrible, horrible, but pretty Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon).
A Knight’s Tale is a really weird movie. It has so many conflicting elements: medieval setting, classic rock soundtrack, Chaucer references, Rufus Sewell, slapstick comedy, goopy romance, heavy drama, sports-style montage sequences. No idea what genre to put it in. Action rom-com period sports drama? I guess the right way to put it is that A Knight’s Tale is, simply, all over the place. This can often pose a bit of a problem for a movie. This was one of Drew’s countless complaints about The Lone Ranger, and it’s why I don’t really like Merchant of Venice. Somehow, though, I can’t mind, because whatever genre or tone it’s going for, A Knight’s Tale manages to achieve it with a consistently endearing dopey smile. You just kind of want to tussle its hair a bit.
But enough of that. Let’s talk about Jocelyn. Things may get a little off-the-wall here, and for that I apologize. Okay, so I surprised myself by having never really noticed this before, but Jocelyn is a stone cold bitch. Sorry, but there’s no better way to put it. I have nothing to verify this, but I’m pretty sure the (Academy Award-winning) writer (of L.A. Confidential and Mystic River) based her on this girl he knew in middle school, because she acts like she’s twelve or thirteen. First, when confronted with having feeling(s) for Heath Ledger, can’t stress that enough, she responds like a girl at a slumber party.
Then, once she’s accepted these feelings, she decides to just kind of toy with our dear Ulrich von Liechtenstein, or string him along, if you will. This culminates in the horrible, “Oh, you love jousting, huh? It’s the only thing—other than me, of course—that you really do love in the world? Well… you need to lose. You know… to prove your love to me, or something.” AND THEN SHE WATCHES HIM GET BEATEN NEARLY TO DEATH IN A JOUSTING TOURNAMENT AND YOU KNOW WHAT SHE LOVES IT. Then, after our hero has endured all of this pain for her she says, “If you love me, you’ll win!” She just changes her mind all of a sudden.
And THEN, after he wins the tournament and (spoiler) Evil Count Rufus discovers his secret, Jocelyn begs William to flee. William’s response is pretty natural, refusing to give up just because The Man is trying to bring him down, asking Jocelyn if she would be happier to see him compete, win, keep his dignity, but go to jail, or if she’d like to be a peasant living with pigs somewhere. And she sasses him. She straight up sasses him. Jocelyn, honey, what are you doing?
She also dresses like a teenage girl who sort of wants to be rebellious and unique, but also doesn’t want to give up all the pretty colors she likes. As I’ve perhaps mentioned before, A Knight’s Tale, as a film, is not overly concerned with historical accuracy… or even really verisimilitude. Well, the costume designer flipped through some picture books about castles and thought, “yeah, I could do that,” and then got to work making all of the costumes. As she was digging through her attic to find some spare chainmail she was pretty sure she had kicking around somewhere, she stumbled upon one of her early sketchbooks from college. Later that night, while splitting a bottle of wine with her pet shih tzu, she accepted a challenge to put the heroine of the film in every single one of the outfits from her sketchbook at least one time. Once again, I find myself incapable of verifying this information, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and assume I maintain some level of journalistic integrity. Let’s take a look at some of Jocelyn’s costumes.
So, I gave it a lot of thought, mostly after discovering the hidden talent of one of my fellow viewers, and I decided that A Knight’s Tale would have been perfect, and Jocelyn would have been entirely forgivable, if for some inexplicable reason she spoke all of her lines with a sassy Brooklyn accent. That’s what was missing from the movie. That’s the element that would have really made it an instant classic. As it is, though, A Knight’s Tale remains a curiously loveable cinematic romp, and I suspect that despite all logic and sense it shall be remembered and re-watched, and re-watched, and re-watched.