In its five-year history the G. I. Film Festival does its best to feature a big Hollywood premiere appropriate to their mandate of films that portray military men and women in a positive light. Not easy when Hollywood mostly churns out anti-military propaganda that caters to know-nothings in the industry, who don’t want to upset the Los Angeles-New York-D.C. ultra liberal “artist” status quo.
Ironclad, this year’s big Hollywood-style film, was a stroke of genius that carries an Alamo-like message of fighting for the common man’s freedom. This beautifully shot and acted $20 million feature with spectacular sword-crashing is set against the background of the bloody aftermath of the signing of England’s much earlier version of our U.S. Constitution – the Magna Carta. The film more than delivers the goods to both historical-epic buffs and Conan the Barbarian action fans.
Festival co-founder Brandon Millett recognized the similarities between the story and our own defense of individual freedom. “We are delighted this epic masterpiece will premiere before our Armed Forces at the G.I. Film Festival.”
Despite a reasonable, but not large budget, and thanks to English director Jonathan English and American producer Rick Benattar’s talents, the film looks more like a $75 million epic. Ironclad features the destruction of a full-sized Welsh castle and in-your-face, true-to-life, bone crunching medieval action.
The cast is headlined by Paul Giamatti (Sideways) as the cruel King John, well known English character Brian Cox as his nemesis Baron Albany and James Purefoy as the tortured Templar knight Marshall. American actress Kate Marra plays the young arranged-for wife of an elder English lord (Derek Jacobi) who has lost his nerve in the face of King John’s brutal revenge. Respected English actor Charles Dance gives courage and dignity to his cameo as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Vladimir Kulich is fitting as the cruel leader of King John’s mercenary Danish horde. Giamatti’s updated version of King John, he really was England’s most vicious king, fills the screen in almost Hitler-like cruelty and makes the united English Baron’s stand against him understandable.
Don’t let the English history background of this film put you off. Ironclad is far from a stuffy history lesson. Director and co-writer English wisely slimmed down the true story of the defense of Rochester Castle and the Magna Carta to a workable Magnificent 7 meets The Alamo plot line. The script and performances put the viewer right into the seductive and violent world of 13th-Century England while still allowing the audience to get to know the seven major defenders of the castle as real human beings. Cox’s Baron Albany gets some of the best lines, particularly in response to Derek Jacob’s weak-kneed request to negotiate with the unforgiving King John: “He wants our heads on spikes, that’s his negotiations.”
If word about Ironclad gets out to the comic book adventure fans, as well as to medieval history buffs, it should do well. Ironclad opens July 8th in selected theaters nationwide. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait for the DVD. Go see it on a big screen where films of this type deserve to be viewed. A classic, no, those are few and far between. But a damn good period adventure film with some important things to say about men at war and what is worth fighting for.