A Knight's Tale review

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The DVD age means that everyone can freeze-frame to spot the mistakes - anything from historical inaccuracies to cameras visible in windows. But anyone who's maddened by healthy 20th-century teeth on peasants or 14th-century swords in 16th-century scabbards will have to either miss A Knight's Tale entirely or simply calm down. This aint history, and an opening scene where a tournament crowd chant along to a Queen track makes this clear.

It's a fairytale world that merely looks a bit like medieval Europe. A world where clear-skinned babes can be sarcastic to clergymen without being flogged, where a lance striking the chest squarely merely chafes inconsequentially and where a young ruffian can train himself to be a knight in a single pop music montage. Once you realise this, everything up to and including the rickety Millennium Wheel on the London Town skyline is totally acceptable,as the thoroughly modern characters try to bluff their way through the etiquette of the 14th century.

Being a fairytale, there are lovable sidekicks, an evil nobleman, a beautiful maiden and a quest. Best buddies Roland and Wat (Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk) are the comedy Brits abroad, but it's Paul Bettany's Chaucer who's the revelation. As the scribe with a gift of the gab, his tournament warm-up routines are the clear comic highlights here. Rufus Sewell lets his brooding looks do most of the talking as he puts the evil in medieval, but his role as Count Adhemar is woefully underwritten, while Angelina Jolie-alike Shannyn Sossamon is merely wheeled in to wear fantastically un-medieval costumes and to give Heath someone to love in a weary and entirely arbitrary romantic plot strand.

So although every fairytale needs a bit of love, A Knight's Tale is most fun when you get to hang out with the boys. The easy charm of Ledger and the chemistry with his buddies makes the training and bickering scenes a treat, while director Helgeland wisely keeps the jousting to a bare minimum. A good choice, because after a few bouts it's clear that the sport is of limited interest - riders either fall off or don't, and lances either hit and explode or don't.

It's far more entertaining than many of this summer's bloated blockbusters, but it too has its faults. It's 25 minutes too long, pixie blacksmith Kate (Laura Fraser) is one friend too many, and the scenes between Lady Jocelyn and Will Thatcher fail every time. But so what if it's just Rocky with big toothpicks? It's funny enough, exciting enough and silly enough to make you love the only mix of soft rock, hard armour and wattle and daub you're going to see this year.

Cry three "huzzahs" to writer-director Brian Helgeland for dreaming up the WWF of the 14th century. Sports movie, buddy movie and passable date movie - you can't help wondering why more historical flicks aren't as inconsequentially fun as this one.

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