The movie starts with ‘bad’ King John (boo hiss) signing Magna Carta but then being a treacherous so-and-so, he seeks retribution against the Barons who have humiliated him. John brings over foreign soldiers to England to fight his enemies – who include the Templars. Actor James Purefoy – who you may recall played Mark Antony in the HBO series ‘Rome’ – is a brooding Templar.
Charles Dance plays an excommunicated Archbishop who seems to be wearing Tudor costume in a movie set three hundred years before – must have been a slip up in the costumer department. Brian Cox plays a baron called Albany who delivers some of the unintentionally funniest lines in any historical movie I’ve watched. “You are no more a king than the boil on my arse” is pretty silly and not an isolated case.
One castle stands in the way of King John and his mercenaries – Rochester. So potty-mouthed Albany with the blessing of excommunicated Archbishop and broody Templar Purefoy ride off to Rochester to stop King John getting any further. King John, by the way, is played by Paul Giamatti which kind of works.
When they get to Rochester, some of King John’s mercenaries have already arrived and taken up residence. Needless to say that Albany and Purefoy kill them all, arteries severed with gusto and blood literally spurting all over the furniture in the Great Hall. I felt sorry for the servants who’d have a devil of a time getting all those stains out of the woodwork and tapestries.
The baron is charge of the castle is played by Derek Jacobi who metaphorically chews the furniture in his usual manner. He’s none too happy with his new guests who are defying the king. But the baron’s young and rather good looking wife takes a shine to the Templars, particularly Purefoy. Shame they’re celibate, a bitchy old servant points out. However we will soon discover that the Templars were capable of some laxity in the trouser department.
The king arrives at Rochester with a huge mercenary army and Albany/Purefoy must defend it which they do with unbelievable carnage. If you like watching heavy swords cleave bodies in two then you’re in for a treat. I can’t believe one reviewer on a movie website complained that you couldn’t see the violence! There was more than enough for me thank you very much! Needless to say that this battle makes the point that one Templar is worth about a hundred ordinary soldiers – they’re like medieval superheroes.
I’m not going to spoil the rest of the movie for you but it’s not the stinker some have suggested. If you’re in to this period of history, get the popcorn in and forgive some of its shortcomings.