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A sports movie about a struggling underdog who, through sheer pluck and hard effort, beats the rich and established players at their own game, gets the girl, wins the respect of the big boss and gets to humiliate his rival in front of a cheering crowd in the big final match.
Pretty standard, then. Except... oh yeah, it's set in Medieval Europe. The sport is jousting. The struggling underdog is a peasant posing as a noble knight. The big boss is Edward of England, aka the Black Prince.
Stars Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, Paul Bettany as Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, that one) and a whole bunch of people you recognise from cool stuff and kind of like, even though they've never quite hit the big time (including cast members from Rome, Firefly, The Full Monty, Game of Thrones and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere).
A major, completely unashamed Anachronism Stew. Features 14th-century courtiers dancing to David Bowie and peasants doing the stomp-stomp-clap cadence from We Will Rock You (which was actually filmed by the second unit as a joke, but was considered funny enough to use anyway).
There are two basic reactions to this movie: People who hate it for being wildly historically inaccurate and starring Heath Ledger, and people who love it for being wildly historically inaccurate and starring Heath Ledger. The latter group often also cite Paul Bettany's nude scenes.
- Advantage Ball: Carefully minded throughout. At the beginning, Adhemar has the advantage by virtue of his greater experience, but once William finds his feet and begins to feel more confident, he begins to win easily. At the end, Chaucer's Rousing Speech gives him the edge he needs.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees:
- Widows of blacksmiths and other tradesmen really did take up the job -- not just the Politically-Correct History you may have thought (not that it wouldn't have been out of place).
- The real Ulrich Von Lichtenstein -- yes there was a real one! -- was a 13th c. knight who, on one occassion in his career of errantry, rode the tournament circuit in the guise of 'Queen Venus' complete with silk gown over his armor and long braids of false hair dangled beneath his helmet. He was a huge hit and the tour a massive success with a final score of three hundred broken lances without a single fall. Somebody really did their research to unearth Ulrich. That or they read the Horrible Histories book on knights.
- During the middle ages, blacksmiths paid their taxes to the local feudal lord in arrowheads instead of gold, so nearly all blacksmiths' wives were trained in basic smithing in order to make arrowheads and free up their husband to do the earning jobs.
- Anachronism Stew:
- More astute viewers may notice that neither "Golden Years" nor "The Boys Are Back In Town" were written in the 14th century.
- Nor was the Millennium Eye erected in London at that time. Not even made of wood.
- Every article of clothing worn by Jocelyn, plus her hair.
- A crowd singing "We will rock you".
- Word of God states that the musical anachronism (as well as some of the dialogue "It's called a 'lance', hellooo.") was done intentionally to illustrate that people of the era thought of their music pretty much the same as modern people do of current music. No such excuse for the clothes, though; the costume designer simply though they looked neat.
- Arc Words: A man can change his stars.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Adhemar, the evil rival, is Count of Anjou. On the other hand, the prince is a good guy, and the hero's friends are seen making up stories about how evil his aristocratic opponents are in order to encourage him to beat them. It works a little too well.
- Ascended Fanboy: William, obviously.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Edward, Prince of Wales.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Or, in this case, Awesome Moment of Knighting.
- Badass: William:
Adhemar: "How would you beat him?"
Man: "With a stick! While he slept. But on a horse, with a lance? That man's unbeatable."
- Badass Longcoat: Chaucer and Prince Edward love wearing these.
- The Bard: Chaucer is a variant.
- Battle Cry:WILLIIIIAAAAM
- Berserk Button: Roland is initially unwilling to gamble all of their money on the Paris tournament, ignoring the taunts of the Frenchmen, until they go to far:
Frenchman: And most importantly, because the Pope himself is French.
Roland: ... Well the Pope may be French, but Jesus is English. You're on!
- Better Than It Sounds
- Big Game: The world championships. At which William and Adhemar are finally to meet.
- The Blacksmith: A female one, no less, acting as a farrier and armoursmith.
- Blatant Lies: Prince Edward justifies knighting William by announcing that he's discovered Will is descended from nobility, then basically dares anyone to call him on it: "This is my word, and as such is beyond contestation."
- California Doubling: Well, the Czech Republic, actually.
- Cerebus Callback: In the scene where William first arrives in London, he imagines that a young boy cheering him on is himself as a child. Later on as he sits in the stocks the same boy runs up to him and slaps him in the face.
- The Champion: Despite being motivated to joust for a variety of personal reasons, partway through the movie Will is ready to lose every single match he competes to prove to Jocelyn he is her true champion, putting at risk all these other goals.
- Color Coded for Your Convenience: Adhemar is almost always wearing black.
- Come to Gawk
- Comically Missing the Point
Wat: It's called a lance, helloooooo!
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Adhemar.
- Curtain Clothing: "Eh...green. Um...trimmed in a kind of...pale...green...uh, wi-with, uh...wooden toggles."
- David Versus Goliath: A plucky peasant with an antique suit of armour versus the combined nobility of Europe and, more specifically, the undefeated champion of Europe.
- Dance Sensation: Both in the opening song and the ballroom scene.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played straight, then subverted. William is stripped of everything, put into the pillory, and humiliated for daring to rise above being a peasant squire. Then the Prince knights him anyway.
- Dirt Forcefield: Mostly averted, as characters appear just as dusty and dirty as they ought (and the Black Prince has a bad case of Helmet Hair when William reveals him), most of the time. Played straight, though, when Kate is shown working on the below mentioned Nike armor; a blacksmith working in her forge ought to be covered in soot, while she's just got a little bit of dust on her forehead.
- Fake Brit: Australian Heath Ledger and American Alan Tudyk both put in pretty convincing performances.
- So convincing is Tudyk that he's often mistaken for being Fake American; he's from Texas!
- Fiery Redhead: Wat.
- Five-Man Band: Very apparent in the 'Adhemar lying on his back' scene near the end.
- Foe Yay: Quite possibly deliberate, according to the DVD Commentary.
- Forging Scene: Kate notices that Will wears armor that wasn't made for him. She volunteers to make him some that's so light-weight he wouldn't know he was wearing it. After she is finished the knight is presented with a suit of shiny new armour.
- Grand Romantic Gesture: Will purposefully loses a jousting match to prove his love (getting beat up in the process); to paraphrase Jocelyn, when Will tells her he'll win the tournament for her, "You would win the tournament anyway; if you want to prove your love, you will lose." Then, once he's taken his lumps, she sends her handmaiden to tell him if he loves her, he'll win the tournament. This does not go over well with William, or his friends.
Chaucer: There she is, William. The embodiment of love. Your Venus.
William: And how I hate her.
- Hammy Herald: Geoffrey for William.
- Heroes Prefer Swords: Before he gets the hang of jousting, swordplay is easily William's best skill.
- Hollywood Healing: As soon as William wins the championship, he can move his arm without difficulty. And there's no mention of removing the piece of lance stuck in his shoulder, which would be very risky surgery in that age.
- His arm was never the problem, he had no trouble aiming the lance, he just couldn't grip it.
- Hot-Blooded: Looking at him, you wouldn't think William the type. But when he finds out that his current opponent, the man his rival Adhemar withdrew from rather than face, is Prince Edward the Black? His first response is to charge the man head-on.
- Huddle Shot: The Crowning Moment of Awesome at the end, spoken by the main characters, in turn:
Watt: You have been weighed...
Roland: ...you have been measured...
Kate: ...and you absolutely...
Chaucer: ...have been found wanting.
William: Welcome to the new world. May god have mercy on your soul, if it is right that He should do so."
- I Can't Dance: Will, who subsequently gets lessons from Geoff and Kate
- I Just Want to Be Special: William wants to "change his stars" to become a knight even though he's only a peasant.
- Inevitable Tournament: The movie is a series of inevitable tournaments.
- In the Past Everyone Will Be Famous: Chaucer. The Black Prince, too, but that's slightly more justified by the plot.
- Informed Attractiveness: A great deal of fuss is made of Jocelyn's beauty, when the other female cast members are just as, if not more, attractive. It probably doesn't help that Jocelyn was stuck in rather unfortunate outfits and hairstyles for most of the movie.
- Ironic Echo: "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting."
- It Will Never Catch On:
- Kate invents the Bessemer Process for heating steel 400-500 years before it happened. William is initially ridiculed for wearing thin, light armor. At least until he nimbly leaps onto his horse.
- Her etching "the mark of [her] trade" (the Nike logo) into her armour, which is also received with ridicule.
- Jerkass: Adhemar, upon first meeting William, immediately insults him several times and he just gets worse from there. They seem to have even gone out of their way to make him completely utterly dislikeable.
- King Incognito: The Black Prince. Twice, if you count the crowd scene.
- Kneel Before Frodo: Happens when the King Incognito gets cognito.
- Knight in Shining Armour: Duh. Just to be really old-fashioned, Adhemar wears black armour. And a scowl.
- Ladies and Germs: One of Chaucer's introductions.
Chaucer: My lords...my ladies... (Chaucer bows then turns to the audience)...and everybody else here not sitting on a cushion!
Chaucer: SIR ULLLLLLLLLLLLLRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICH VON LICHENSTEIN!
- The Lost Lenore: A rare male example of this trope being blacksmith Kate's dead husband.
- Love Makes You Dumb: William fully understands this trope, as after making a faux pas to Jocelyn, she tells him that if he loves her, he'll lose. And so, at the beginning of the next tournament, after the flag for William's first joust is dropped, and his opponent spurs on, the four members of the Five-Man Band cheering William on...
Roland: "What are you doing?"
William: (sitting on his horse, going nowhere) "...Losing."
Wat: "I don't understand."
William: "...Neither do I." CRASH!
- Motivational Lie: At one tournament, Roland tells William that his opponent is cruel to his peasants. After an irate Will has charged off to thrash the opponent, Roland remarks that it's probably true.
- Nom De Guerre: Two of them, both due to the men in question trying to hide their identities for various reasons:
- William Thatcher styles himself as Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein, to hide the fact that he is a peasant.
- Edward, the Black Prince, goes as Sir Thomas Colville, as nobody would dare joust with him if they knew who he really was. Notably, Edward is entirely unsuccessful in hiding his identity as word gets around quick who he is.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Done deliberately -- Laura Fraser was apparently expecting to be asked to put on a generic English accent, as usual, and was delighted to be allowed to use her natural (sexy) Scots accent.
- Not So Different: A rare complimentary fashion, Edward laments how alike he and William are.
Edward: What a pair we make, huh? Both trying to hide who we are, both unable to do so.
- The Obstructive Love Interest: Jocelyn
- The Oner: William and Jocelyn's long walk-and-talk scene in the cathedral.
- Pair the Spares: Roland often becomes a Beta Couple with Jocelyn's handmaiden Christiana in fan fics. There are several scenes in the movie in which one can see Roland and Christiana chatting happily in the background. Made explicit in a deleted scene where Chaucer's wife visits the tournament. Jocelyn and William go off together, Roland and Christiana go off together, and Wat attempts to go off with Kate but she just gives him a cookie and walks in the opposite direction.
- Peerless Love Interest: The peasant William falls in love with the noble lady Jocelyn.
William: Geoff, 'tis my lady.
Geoffrey: Oh, geez, william, you aim too high.
William: Oh, if there's another way to aim, I don't know it.
- Product Placement: Not that the movie got any money for it, but that trademark that Kate etches into her armor? A pair of upside down Nike swooshes.
- Word of God states it was unintentional.
- Purely Aesthetic Era
- Purple Prose: Geoffrey Chaucer's job.
- Refuge in Audacity: One way of getting around historical accuracy.
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: William vs. Count Adhemar, though as he keeps winning tournaments, Will gets considerably less poor.
- Rule of Cool: Face it, this is pretty much the entire point of this movie. Not that we're complaining...
- Running Gag: "Well, maybe not you..."
- Say My Name: WILLIIIIIIIIIIIAM!
- Interestingly enough, William is the one who does it.
- Screw The Rules I Have Nobility: The Black Prince pulls one of these. Nice.
- Self-Proclaimed Knight: There are two. One is the classic struggling underdog, William Thatcher, the peasant who's masquerading as the knight Ulrich Von Lichtenstein, and the other is the royal in disguise, Sir Thomas Colville or Edward, the Black Prince.
- Shaming the Mob: Subverted in the theatrical cut; Chaucer, having previously demonstrated his ability to work a crowd, tries to shame the mob that gathers around William when he's in the stocks. He gets as far as three words in before the mob silences him with a volley of rotten vegetables. However, in the extended cut of the film, Chaucer succeeds in Shaming the Mob into chastened silence before Prince Edward steps in. This scene was cut to beef up Prince Edward's role.
- Shout-Out: William's choice of nom-de-guerre has a certain appropriateness (see Aluminium Christmas Trees above).
- So Beautiful It's a Curse: Mocked; Jocelyn, admonished for her beauty by a priest, laments it in a deadpan monotone to get him off her back.
- Spoiled Sweet:
- Jocelyn is very accepting of William and company.
- She offers to live in a shack with pigs if that's what it takes to keep William un-arrested and brings his blind father to the last tournament. Seems to fit pretty well.
- The Stinger: The four non-Will members of the Five-Man Band are having a competition to see who pays for drinks.
- Stock Punishment
- Take That: Roland delivers one during a bet to a trio of bragging Frenchmen in a bar.
Frenchman: And, most importantly, because the Pope, himself, is French!
Roland: ...Well the Pope may be French, but Jesus is English. You're on!
- Tall, Dark and Bishoujo: Jocelyn.
- That Poor Cat: Heard in the background during a bar fight.
- This Is Gonna Suck: William, at one point in the movie, has to lose to all matches in the tournament to prove his love for Jocelyn, all the while taking loads and loads of punishment. See Love Makes You Dumb for more details.
- Throw It In: Besides the aforementioned "We Will Rock You" opening, when Will wins his first sword match, the crowd is silent until Roland spurs them on to cheer. As it happens, the extras who composed he audience were Czech and didn't realize they were supposed to cheer when Chaucer finished his speech.
- According to DVD commentary: Jocelyn's "Oh that is lovely!" in response to a priest's gesture prompting her to kiss his ring was an adlib. "Your entrails will become your extrails" was an audition adlib that helped Alan Tudyk get the part and made it into the film.
- Throwing the Fight: How Jocelyn tells William to prove his love.
- Tired of Running: "I will not run! I am a knight!"
- Trapped by Gambling Debts: Geoffrey Chaucer.
- True Companions:
- Will and his friends, who all stick together to the bitter end.
- As noted earlier, this is a factor in Prince Edward's decision to rescue him. "Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough."
- Truth in Television: Blacksmiths' wives were taught smithing to produce arrowheads more often than not; a widow taking up her late husband's trade would not have been odd at that time.
- Unusual Euphemism: Wat's use of "fong". It's apparently ye old slang for 'kick'.
- Uptown Girl: William tries to get his Blue Blooded love interest to face the realities of life with him, a destitute fugitive from the law.
William: Where will we live? In my hovel, with the pigs inside during the winter so they won't freeze?
Jocelyn: [crying] Yes, William...with the pigs.
- Wandering Minstrel: Geoff Chaucer fills this role.
- Warrior Prince: Prince Edward.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: William, to an extent - his father clearly loves him, he just wanted to prove he could change his stars.
- Widescreen Shot: Two riders coming at each other is just made for this.