September 27, 2011 by

Ironclad (2011) — Movie Review


Categories: Research

Ironclad begins with the background that King John was known for losing wars, levying taxes, and sleeping with other men’s wives.  He lost a bloody civil war with his barons that resulted in him signing the Magna Carta.  Fair enough, as far as it goes.  The movie, however, says that it’s about ‘what John did next’.

Which is interesting because this is a small medieval movie in the way that Kingdom of Heaven was big.  It is an interesting choice, because the movie is about John’s seige of Rochester Castle, which was one play in his continuing war against the barons.   It centers on Thomas Marshall, a Templar.  Supposedly, the Templars fought on the side of the Barons in the Civil War–I have no idea if this is true but for the movie’s purposes, it resulted in King John’s hatred of all Templars.

The Good:

The acting is quite good.  As my mother likes to say, there are only a dozen working actors in Britain at any one time, and they all cycle through the movie of the day, so this one has Derek Jacobi (Brother Cadfael) as the reluctant host of the rebels at Rochester Castle, and Brian Cox (Agamemnon in Troy) as the rebel leader, among many others.


For our purposes here, the whole movie was shot in Wales in 2009.  Brian Cox says:   “It’s the story, first of all. This one is an amazing story, and I hadn’t known anything about it. It has a classical feel to it, and it reminded me of The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, because of these seven characters, which is a cross-reference to that. And the fact that it was a film which was being done in a particular location and a particular environment. I liked the idea of being in Wales, and I thought it was very interesting that they were filming it in Wales. A very wet Wales, as it turned out, some of the worst conditions ever.”

It’s in Wales, right?  What did they expect 🙂

The Bad:

It took a while for me to find my feet in this movie, and given my familiarity with British history, I can’t imagine this is a good thing.  John brought in mercenaries, but where they were from wasn’t clear until much later.  It seemed to me that significant portions were cut, leaving parts of the plot unexplained.  For example, John knew that he’d lost Rochester to the rebels, even though he’d sent men to commandeer it and the rebels had just defeated them.  With seven men.  I kid you not.

He brought his seige weapons with him, which he would never have done–they were too heavy to move and were always built on the spot–but despite them, somehow 20 men repelled 1000.  I could have understood it if King John’s army hadn’t brought ladders right up to the walls and come over them.  The defenders didn’t even have elvish archers to help out!  Crazy stuff.

This was a REALLY violent movie, and this coming from someone who liked Kingdom of Heaven.  I realize that violence washes over people these days, but if you don’t want to see tongues cut out, limbs sawed off (this took WAY too long), and other brutal acts of imagined medieval savagery, don’t watch this movie.

In contrast to Robin Hood (2010), which I reviewed here (, this movie was a lot less fun.  And smaller, as I said, in that the entire point was to showcase bloody battle after bloody battle, with a slight romance thrown in (the Templar with Derek Jacobi’s wife, imagine that!) for good measure.  Happily, the squire, Guy, survives.  Given his stunned ineptness, this seems incredible, given the number of seasoned warriors who make it out of this movie alive (that would be one, our hero).

Wikipedia notes:  “The film is only loosely based on reality: Albaney had 140 men under his command to defend the castle; John did take the castle, most of the higher nobles being imprisoned or banished; and the French did not arrive in England until some six months after the siege had ended. Characters departing significantly from the historical record include William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke who was not a Templar Knight, William d’Aubigny who was not an ennobled wool merchant (nor was he tortured and killed in the siege).”

I don’t know what kind of stars to give this.  Three, maybe.  With extra points for filming it in Wales and being medieval.


5 Responses to Ironclad (2011) — Movie Review

  1. Elin Gregory

    I think 3 stars is a little overgenerous if you’re viewing it as an historical movie. As a bit of gritty ‘for the lads’ fantasy, Game of Thrones style, it works very well and, of course, I’m grateful to Hollywood for employing our better known thesps and for paying the fees to film here.

    • Sarah Post author

      Three stars could be too high. It may be that my standards for historical movies are so low to begin with, that I don’t apply the same scale!

  2. Mo

    Urgh, why do script writers feel that they have to make historical movies so unrealistic these days? There’s plenty of stuff to write about that can make a great movie that happened in reality during the medieval time period! I mean I can understand taking some dramatic license here and there to spice things up a little, but it doesn’t have to be way over the top like this sounds. I think I’ll be skipping this movie.

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