Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Monty Python And The Holy Grail has cast a long shadow. And it is unlikely you'll be able to put the sound of coconut clopping from your mind during the early scenes of this post-Robin Hood look at Britain under King John. Ropey CGI and equally dicey early direction mean that Paul Giamatti looks, well, rather like Paul Giamatti playing dress-up in first few scenes as his King John greets Viking hordes on the beach and brokers a deal to try to win back his kingdom.

But for those who've always found Robin Hood yarns a trifle lightweight, this rufty-tufty beer-swilling, limb-lopping examination of King John attempting to quash a rebellion after being forced to sign the Magna Carta is worth a look. Director Jonathan English (and so far as I can tell that really is his name) swaps Lincoln green for Grimsby grey as Brian Cox's baron and a small band of mercenaries try to hold Rochester Castle until the French have found their way out of the duty-free shops and into the breach.

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Among his raggle-taggle crowd is a brooding Knight's Templar (James Purefoy), whose sword proves to be quite a temptation for the sex-starved Lady Isabel (Kate Mara). The plot develops along predictable lines. The small band of 'goodies' skirmish with those dastardly Vikings and find themselves under siege in between some impressively bone-crunching fight scenes. Men split in two? You've got it. A little something for those who've always wanted to see boiling oil in action? Sure. Cut that man's tongue out? Oh yes, let's do that in close up.

While the plot points come straight from the historical epic manual, English should be praised for giving his England a gritty, dirty, realistic feel that even Ridley Scott's Robin Hood failed to muster. Here, those fighting, even the Templar, have the decency to look knackered after a heavy battle, the extras appear genuinely grimy and not too attractive and the depiction of 13th-century weaponry in action - trebuchets, Viking axes and maces, to name but a few - feels surprisingly authentic.

There is silliness here - would Vikings truly leave a horse alive, when they're slaying everything before them? - and the two-hour runtime is at least 20 minutes and a battle too long, but there is enough in the action department to suggest that we'll be hearing from the English again.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2011
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A small group of fighters try stop Rochester Castle falling into the tyrannical hands of King John.
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Director: Jonathan English

Writer: Jonathan English, Erick Kastel, Stephen McDool

Starring: Brian Cox, James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Kate Mara, Jason Flemyng, Derek Jacobi, Mackenzie Crook, Charles Dance, Jamie Foreman, Vladimir Kulich, Guy Siner, Bree Condon, Aneurin Barnard, Steffan Rhodri, Daniel O'Meara

Year: 2011

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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