Ironclad (2011)



Director:     Jonathan English. 

Starring:      James Purefoy (Marshal), Brian Cox (Albany), Kate Mara (Isabel), Derek Jacobi (Cornhill), Paul Giamatti (King John), Charles Dance (Archbishop Langton), Jason Flemyng (Becket), Jamie Foreman (Coteral), Mackenzie Crook (Marks), Rhys Parry Jones (Wulfstan), Aneurin Barnard (Guy), Vladimir Kulich (Tiberius), David Melville (Baron Darnay), Annabelle Apsion(Maddy), Steffan Rhodri (Cooper), Daniel O'Meara (Phipps), Bree Condon (Agnes), Guy Siner (Oaks), Marcus Hoyland (Abbott Marcus).

King John tries to recapture total power after the Magna carta; a brave knight of the Knights Templar does what he can to stop him


"England, in the year 1215, had been under the reign of King John for 16 years.  The most villainous of England's monarchs, John was renowned for losing wars with France, levying punitive taxes, and sleeping with the wives of barons.  The barons finally rebelled against their king and became locked in a bloody civil war lasting for over 3 years and decimating both armies.  In time, the Knights Templar were drawn into this conflict.  With the help of these highly trained warrior monks, King John and his royal army were eventually defeated.  It was agreed that John could remain on the throne on one condition:  that he would sign a document upholding the rights and privileges of all free men, but ultimately limiting the power of the monarchy.  The Magna Carta was sealed at Runnymeade on the 15th of June in the year of our Lord 1215.  It will be remembered throughout history.  What is not remembered is what King John did next."

Men start coming off what look like Viking ships.  They are Danes.  King John talks with Danish Captain Tiberius.  Tiberius says to him:  "We'll get your country back."

A man named Abbot Marcus comes to a fortress saying that his group seeks seeks shelter from the storm.  The gates open and Marcus and his small group come in.  A head man from the fortress, a man named Darnay, says they look like they are Knights Templar, but they are unarmed.  The fellow finds this hard to believe, especially since the Knights Templar fought against King John and this fortress is one that belongs to the king.  He tells Abbot Marcus they must eat early and leave immediately afterward. 

Marcus speaks with Thomas Marshal, who has taken a vow of silence.  He tells him that when they get to Canterbury he is going to request a leave for Marshal from the order of the Knights Templar.  He has seen enough battle in the Crusades. 

The next morning Marshal looks out over the land and sees that King John is coming to the castle.  He wakes the sleeping guards and they announce that the king is coming. 

The king comes into the fortress and Darnay is brought to him by force.  He asks Darnay if that is his signature on the Magna Carta document?  Darnay says the barons forced him to sign it.  The king gives the order to hang Darnay. 

Abbot Marcus tells the 3 Knights Templar to remain behind while he intercedes on behalf of Baron Darnay.  When Abbot Marcus speaks with the king, silently King John gives the order for the man's tongue to be cut off.  When the 3 Knights Templar see this they hurry downstairs to stop any violence that will be done to Marcus. They have to kill several guards to get to Marcus.  But the Knights run into many opponents.  Marcus has his tongue cut out and Darnay is hung.

Darnay's rope is cut and Darnay is back on the ground.  Marshal grabs Marcus, throws him atop la horse, gets on the horse and rides away from the fortress while the two comrades are left behind fighting a mob of soldiers..  King John is thrown off by his horse.  The two remaining Knights Templar are killed. 

Abbot Marcus dies from his wound.  Marshal buries the man and then continues on to Canterbury.  There the Archbishop questions him on the death of Marcus and the role of King John.  A man bursts into the Archbishop's room.  The Archbishop introduces Brother Thomas Marshal to Baron William de Albany.  He goes on to say that the Pope sides with the king.  The Archbishop himself is to be excommunicated for writing the Magna Carta.

Meanwhile King John has had executed many of the men in the fortress. 

The Archbishop says that French Prince Louis has an army and he may join them.  The Baron figures that John may take the Dover Road to London.  In doing so he has to cross the Medway River at Rochester.  Baron William says he will seize Rochester Castle giving the Archbishop enough time to negotiate with the French.  The Archbishop doesn't like the plan because it would be suicidal for William and his men.  Marshal jumps in to say that Rochester Castle is the keystone to the King's plans.

William, Marshal and a squire ride to Rochester.  There William connects up with his men staying in Rochester. He finds men like Gil Becket and Daniel Marks.  He tells his main man that the king has taken all the castles along the eastern coast and if he takes Rochester, he will control southern England.  The main man says that the King has with him an army of Danish mercenaries.  The main man bows out of the coming conflict.  William is not discouraged.  He travels around picking up more men. 

A messenger arrives to give King John a message.  King John reads the message and tells Captain Tiberius to pick his six fastest horsemen and hurry to Rochester Castle to take it by force if necessary and the hold the castle. 

William and his men reach Rochester Castle before King John does.  They are let into the castle.  William tells the man in charge, Cornhill, that they claim this castle in the name of the rebellion.   Their host says that the King's men are already here and the King himself is only a day's ride away.  The two sides start fighting each other.  In the fight Marshal kills the man holding as a hostage the hostess of the castle and thereby saves the young married woman.  Now the castle guards arrive and William tells everyone to stand down.  He tells the guards that King John is executing every baron who signed the Magna Carta.  He also says that the French are sending them help.  They will have a new, true king. 

Marshal goes around to examine all the fort's defensive positions.  They have less than 20 soldiers in all. 

King John arrives, but makes no headway with Baron William.  So the King's army uses catapults to toss big stones long distances to hit the castle walls.  The rocks are devastating.  The archers open up with their arrows and kill still more of those in the castle.  Now the infantry carrying ladders charge toward the castle.  It's quite a battle with lots of action.  The Danes start retreating. 

That gives the soldiers in the fort a respite.  Baroness Cornhill helps Marshal patch up some of their wounded.  He walks away from her, but she comes again to try and seduce him.  She fails again. 

The French have not even sailed.  They negotiate for better terms with King John.  The archbishop says he will go to France to hurry the French up.  And what about Baron William?  Pray God is on his side. 

The Danes attack again and are forced to retreat again. 

"After that the King did not come again, but the rains did."  The King waits through the autumn and into the winter.  Meanwhile, the people in the fortress were slowly starving to death. 

The baroness tries with Marshal again.  another failure.  Marshal goes out into the dark and the people in the fortress wonder where he went.  Later at night he returns with two sacks on his back.  The defenders rush out to help him back into the fortress.  The sacks are filled with horse and pig meat  --  enough to last the defenders for three months. 

The baroness tries again with Marshal.  This time she picks up her skirt quite a ways.  Marshal is getting weaker.  They hug and kiss. 

Another attack on the fortress, but this attack is directed at the back wall.  The King's forces have much better luck at the back wall and start pouring over the walls.  Other forces are in hiding, just waiting to ram the door behind the gate open.  Baron William is badly wounded.  Marshal is also badly wounded. 

The King's men open the gate from the inside and now the ram is used against the door and opens it. 

Marshal gets up and goes down to ride his horse.  He rides into his enemies and knocks a good many of them down, but they surround his horse and pull him off.  His boot gets stuck in the stirrup and the horse breaks out of the encirclement and follows the other defenders up inside the main part of the castle. 

The King's men find that Baron William is still alive.  The King has the hands and feet of the two other captives with William cut off.  The King now goes on a long rant against Baron William and for the God-given right of monarchy.  Now the King has one and then the other hand of the Baron's cut off.  Then one of his feet is loped off. 

The King goes for some fresh air.  Tiberius tells him that the French are only a few days behind them. 

The King's miner dug a tunnel underground beneath the castle. 

Cornhill is going to ask the King for terms of surrender.  But the squire won't let him go.  Marshal comes in and tells the squire to release him.  Cornhill no longer tries to ask for terms.  Later they find that Cornhill has hanged himself. 

Pigs are driven into the tunnel and the place is set on fire.  This was done to make an extremely hot fire due to the abundance of pig fat.  Actually one whole side of the castle collapses. 

The enemy pour into and onto the ruined side of the castle.  Marshal is fetched from underneath some stones and taken to the loft.  Becket is killed.

Now the only ones left are the squire, the wounded Marshall and the hostess.  Marshal recovers and goes to fight the giant Tiberius.  He manages to kill Tiberius.

Now the French are descending on the castle.  John will have to make a run for it.  The squire and the baroness are saved.  Marshall's horse is also still alive.  And now Marshall shows up astride his horse.   He picks up the baroness and rides to meet the French.  The archbishop is with the French and he tells Marshall that a French prince now holds the English crown.  [King Louis the Lion who ruled for parts of the years 1216-1217.]

Now Marshal heads out alone with his baroness. 

"Within a year the rebellion was won.   While fleeing for his life, King John died of dysentery. . . . In time, the great keep of Rochester was rebuilt.  It stands to this day.  So too does the noble dream that was the Magna Carta." 


This is a good action film with plenty of action.  There is a lot of history here too.  But with the history, they condense the ending of the history for this period.  Rochester fell to King John and his men.  After that he marched up along the coast taking one town or village after another.  After all this battling, the situation in southeastern England became a stymied one.  It was around this time that King John caught dysentery and died of the illness.  Nevertheless, there is good history here.  Especially good is the mention of the Magna Carta. Little did I know that King John then set as his goal the execution of every man that signed the Magna Carta, excepting himself, of course.  The king ran into a stalemate and then dysentery took him out.  It's probably easier to remember this fact after you have seen the film, because then you feel like you know something more about history than just the Hollywood version. 

James Purefoy as Thomas Marshal was great in the lead.  He was quiet-spoken and gentle, but when called to battle he becomes a fierce fighter for the causes of the Knights Templar.  Kate Mara as Isabel is also good.  She has a more subtle beauty and was good at acting very persistent in trying to get Marshal into her bed.  I thought it was a bit strange to cast Paul Giamatti as King John.  He's a great actor but it feels strange to see Giamatti as the bad, bad King John.  I'm sure others might disagree with that. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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