Any attempt at harrowing realism is ultimately quashed by melodrama, ineffectual pathos and an over zealous depiction of violence.
Set against the turbulent backdrop of the First Barons’ War in thirteenth-century England, Ironclad is a bloody reconstruction of King John’s (Paul Giamatti) siege of Rochester Castle, held by a meagre 100 soldiers lead by the rebel baron Albany (Brian Cox).
Visually, Ironclad is appropriately bleak and oppressive; a palette of mist-obscured greys, browns and mossy greens successfully set the medieval aesthetic and provide an effectively marshy contrast to the steadily gathering pools of blood.
The film’s director, Jonathan English, has suggested that his is a brutally realistic portrayal of thirteenth-century warfare, and yet Ironclad takes the wrong approach to sculpting that realism on screen; enthusiastically embracing CGI gore and a miasma of one-liners, not to mention a peculiar portrayal of women. The result in something closer to farce than gritty authenticity.
With characters left underdeveloped and lacking substance, the instantly recognisable cast are unable to disappear into their roles. That their back stories are sometimes baffling and always lacklustre doesn’t help, but the larger issue is that most of the supporting roles in the film are obsolete.
The only confrontation of any real dramatic value is between Albany and King John – the others (including a seething Templar played by James Purefoy, and Charles Dance’s Archbishop) are just filler.
It is a familiar situation of stereotyped characters being thrown into an emotionally traumatising situation and the audience being expected to care. Even from the few things we learn about them there is little to like about Albany and his band of mercenaries, despite their honourable cause.
Regrettably, other than King John reflecting sadly about the nature of kingship and a well executed aesthetic, there is not enough to save this film from sinking into the swamp. Any attempt at harrowing realism is ultimately quashed by melodrama, ineffectual pathos and an over zealous depiction of violence.
Gore filled medieval action with a real life castle and Mackenzie Crook.
After the first 10 minutes you just don’t care.
If it had been irony clad it might have been better.