Movie Review: Ironclad

Ironclad official posterIronclad

2011 film directed by Jonathan English and starring Paul Giamatti, James Purefoy and Brian Cox.

“You’re no more the King than the boil on my ass!…what a tedious little man” ~ William d’Aubigny

The Background

The year is 1215, King John has just signed the Magna Carta on the field of Runnymede and is busy pissing off the nation. A rag tag band of Templars and their band of merry barons get together to combat King John in the colossal siege of Rochester castle.


The Review

After spending two nights watching terrible Ancient Roman films, this medieval mayhem was refreshing. The movie has a star studded cast – you’re blown away by how many famous, good actors are in it.

Starting off, we have James Purefoy (The Following, Rome) as head Templar, Thomas Marshall. Thomas is loosely based on medieval knight extraordinaire, William Marshall, even though William was never a Templar. After taking a vow of silence, Marshall and his two Templar companions stay at Darnay castle on their way towards Canterbury. While there, an angry King John comes to Darnay castle and attempts to take it. Marshall battles the king as he tries to save his good friend, Abbot Marcus and Lord Darnay. Marshall escapes with Marcus but he dies of his wounds and Marshall swears to avenge him. Together with embittered baron William D’ Aubigny played superbly by Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy, Troy), and a group of soldiers, they vow to stave off evil King John at Rochester castle.


The actors in the movie are impressive – Derek Jacobi (Underworld: Evolution, Cadfael) gives a great supporting performance as Reginald de Cornhill, lord of Rochester castle. Kate Mara (Brokeback Mountain, Iron Man 2) gives an okay performance and tolerable English accent as Lady Isabel, De Cornhill’s wife and Marshall’s lover. However, the budding love story between Marshall and Isabel felt forced and was unnecessary filler.

Other honourable mentions go to fabulous actors like Charles Dance (Alien 3, Game of Thrones) who had a brief role as Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. The tour de force performance belonged to Paul Giamatti (Saving Private Ryan, Downton Abbey) who did such an amazing job of playing King John of England, you forget he’s American! His English accent is pretty good and he takes the role of King John to the limit – he is nasty and maniacal. He is the King we love to hate! In a sea of fantastic English and Welsh actors, this American giant holds his own. He was my favourite on screen character.

ironclad movie review

The cinematography is beautiful. The movie was made entirely in Wales and it has a gritty and raw edge to it that I really enjoyed. The film is fairly fast paced and violent, but not to the point where it’s just swords and flash. It didn’t rely on fight scenes to carry the day. I like that there wasn’t a lot of CGI used and the acting *for the most part* was solid. ~ Sandra

“You see John, any action against the throne must be punished ruthlessly, for that is the only way to maintain the absolute power of a King” ~ King John


Peter’s Take

As a straightforward film, Ironclad does a pretty effective job of delivering a good story with intense action. I enjoyed how they tell story through the few soldiers who gather together with Thomas Marshall and William D’ Aubigny – a kind of ragtag team of different personalities who work together to fight against seemingly impossible odds. Each of these men get at least one or two scenes of character development, which is a nice touch.

The real Rochester Castle
The real Rochester Castle

Giamatti’s King John is done very well. Although he is the villain of the piece, he comes across as person who truly believes in the righteousness in his own cause. The little quote above was a telling scene in how he sees himself and how he must show his own ironclad fist towards his realm. He is certainly a different John than the one we see in the most recent Robin Hood film.

The scenes of battle reminds me of The Walking Dead TV series – lots of severe wounds and blood, but also realistic in a gritty fashion. The fighting is a little too rushed for medieval standards – we have the attackers rushing upon the walls at the same time as they hurl fireballs and stones from trebuchets at it.


Judging it historically, one can give it a mixed grade. While many aspects of the siege are taken straight from the chronicle accounts, the film also departs from history on several occasions in order to make the defenders more heroic and King John more evil. The most serious difference is that the siege ends with King John victorious and those inside taken prisoner. In Ironclad, we get a Hollywood type ending, which is probably forgivable as it would be surprising to have the film with the bad guys winning. BBC History Magazine has made available this video that explains the real siege of Rochester Castle.