Ironclad revolves around the historical siege of Rochester Castle in 1215-6, when King John decided to renege on the recently signed Magna Carta but was faced with a fierce resistance from a small band of men determined not to lose what so many had fought for, a kind of medieval Thermopylae. It’s a story that hooked writer/ director Jonathan English as soon as he heard about it, no doubt helped by his childhood obsession with castles and the stories around them.

Buoyed by the Pope’s backing and an army of Danish mercenaries, King John (Paul Giamatti) sets off towards London to reclaim what he has lost and punish the Barons for their impudence, inadvertently crossing paths with an elderly monk and three Knights Templar en route to Canterbury, with bloody consequences. Recently returned from the Crusades, and struggling to come to terms with the atrocities he has witnessed and carried out in the Church’s name and what it means for his faith, Marshall (James Purefoy) carries word of the attack to Canterbury. There he meets Baron Albany (Brian Cox), setting the wheels of rebellion in motion.

It’s a ragtag company that wrenches control of Rochester Castle from the hands of the aging Reginald de Cornhill (Derek Jacobi), leaving him and the garrison little choice but to throw their lot in with the rebellion and prepare for the arrival of the king and his army of stereotypical Danes, bristling with fur, beards and axes. Giamatti holds it all together though- his impassioned diatribe about his god-given right to rule is brilliant, powerful and a highlight amidst the blood and steel that explodes across the screen soon after his arrival at Rochester.

English purposefully refused to shy away from the reality of combat in that period and the catastrophic effect it has on the human body. The generally accepted Hollywoodism of ‘Thou shalt die from a single blow’ was tossed out of the window at an early stage, and the result is a visceral smorgasbord of violence amidst the most immersive combat scenes since Saving Private Ryan.

The bulk of the shooting was done in the Welsh countryside, where the crew had rebuilt Rochester castle in full, and director English has made the most of the harsh weather and bleakness of the rain-lashed landscape, using both to complement the gritty atmosphere of the movie and to squeeze some great performances from the cast.

Cleverly shot and crammed with more medieval mayhem than you can shake an axe at, it’s a bloody delight and a jewel in the crown of British indie movies.

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  1. Lukasz /

    Best movie since I have seen This Is No Country For Old Man and Gran Torino.

  2. Have just found this forum, thought you might like to see the info and pictures re the Ironclad screening at Rochester Castle last year 🙂


  1. Press coverage of Ironclad – shot in Wales « Wales Screen's Blog - [...] Geek Syndicate “Cleverly shot and crammed with more medieval mayhem than you can shake an axe at, it’s a…
  2. The year so far.. « Mark de Jager - [...] was brilliant. You can read my review here, and watch the trailer [...]
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