Paul Giamatti signs the Magna Carta, and all hell breaks loose.
In this movie, a haphazard crew of fighters (a baron, a Knight Templar, a squire, and several ignoble ruffians) team up to defend an essential strategic castle from King John and his Danish mercenaries. Full of grit and blood and a bit of medieval lust, this is a nicely paced film – waves of attacks broken by moments of contemplative calm, heavy-hearted questioning, and one regrettably silly romance.
The knight, played by the scruffy James Purefoy (who spends a surprising amount of battle time unconscious) is passable as a medieval warrior-monk, a hunk in a knight costume who at least looks cool swinging a sword. Paul Giamatti is often stunning as King John, and wins the award for the most authoritative screaming voice of the cast. Brian Cox is fiercely noble, a powerful screen presence. Derek Jacobi sadly doesn’t get to chew on any lines that are worth his Shakespearean chops and he seems to sense the screenplay’s worst hammy lines approaching in the final minutes of the film and carefully makes his exit.
The climax wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the rest of the film and the writers couldn’t seem to decide what bad line to end on, so they used them all: “blah blah the noble dream that was Magna Carta;” “Is killing a noble thing? A life fought for others is a life worth living. That is a noble thing;” “We held!” But the bulk of the film was fairly thrilling, one raw battle after another, a determined movie about determination.