Ironclad is an entertaining picture that combines historical drama with violent war movie. What makes the film refreshing is that it tackles a little-known incident in British history, rather than being a yet another take on a more famous event.
In 13th century England, King John is pushed into signing the Magna Carter. Hiring Danish soldiers, King John wants to reclaim power over his country. Only a small group of Knights Templar stands between him and his goal. They must defend Rochester Castle against an immense assault…
Ironclad follows a fairly familiar chain of events. Even though it is based on a minor historical event, it is clear what the outcome will be. The incidents that lead towards this conclusion are similar to those featured in a sword and sorcery or epic film. At the heart there is the requisite quest for the protagonists. It is apparent that not all of the group will survive the onslaught, yet they are committed to the cause. Given that the film is set in the 13th century, the writers only use the basis of the event to build their story on. Therefore, despite its roots in reality, Ironclad functions much like The Lord of the Rings and other quest-heavy narratives.
Ironclad has the style of a war film, despite its largely uneven battle. There are shades of 300 in the violence depicted, as well as the sombreness of more serious fare such as Saving Private Ryan. Marshall is of the silent hero type, and thus very typical of this style of film. Elsewhere the familiar archetypes are present, with the wise old sage character, and the villain unrelenting in his brutality.
Jonathan English’s direction is frenetic when combined with the editing in the action sequences. No doubt this is to illustrate the chaotic nature of the events, as well as to disguise some of the more graphic violence. Nonetheless, at times this a bit too dizzying and detracts from the overall enjoyment.
Ironclad‘s production values are good, particular the production design and costuming. Despite being an independent picture, Ironclad shares many of the features of a big-budget studio production. Effects blend in, and the film has a very particular look with the dank scenery and palette of greys.
Casting in Ironclad is great, with the extras appearing authentic for the period the film is set. Paul Giamatti is solid as King John, seeming every bit the aggrieved monarch. James Purefoy offers a decent performance as Marshall, however the actor is in danger of being typecast with his numerous roles in period films.
Ironclad is fairly standard in what it offers as a action film based on a historical event. The film is worth a watch, however, as it depicts a period of history that is not often featured in mainstream film, as well as an incident that is merely a footnote to a much more significant event.