There haven’t exactly been a shortage of films based on Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai, with another remake apparently planned for the near future, and the high point of the films inspired by it is easily The Magnificent Seven, a great Western and a classic in its own right. Ironclad isn’t anywhere near that good, but go into it in the right mindset and you’ll still probably enjoy it.
This adaptation of the story is set in Medieval England, with King John (Paul Giamatti) taking revenge on the barons for forcing him to sign the Magna Carta and grant more freedom to the people. Baron d’Aubigny (Brian Cox) accordingly organises a rebellion against him, and recruits a band of seven warriors to stall the King at Rochester Castle until the French army can arrive and depose him. The star is James Purefoy, playing one of the Knights Templar recruited by d’Aubigny and the leader of the defence at Rochester. The rest of the surprisingly good cast includes Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance and Mackenzie Crook.
The immediate problem with Ironclad is simply that there are too many major characters for a two-hour film. Seven Samurai had over three hours to explore and develop its seven protagonists, but Ironclad only has two, with the result that few of the characters are interesting and you’ll be hard pressed to remember more than a couple of their names after the credits roll. All the same, the acting is consistently good, with the standouts naturally being Purefoy and Cox on account of having the most screen time. Purefoy in particular continues to convince as an action hero, and hopefully his displays of swordsmanship in both Ironclad and Solomon Kane will help to get him noticed for bigger films.
Still, Ironclad isn’t a film about character, but about fighting. Most of the film takes place at Rochester and covers several battle sequences taking place between the defenders and King John’s army of Danish mercenaries, and fortunately, the action is very enjoyable. It’s occasionally let down by choppy editing, and while the close-up shooting does occasionally make it hard to tell what’s going on, it’s still well suited to the brutal, close quarters style of the fighting. There’s a nice variety of battles, ranging from volleys of arrows and catapults fired to and from the castle, right up until the bloody finale where an all-out brawl rages in the courtyard.
If nothing else, it’s nice to see a film which shows how limiting a 12 rating can be to a fight scene, and Ironclad really makes the most of its 15 certificate with blood everywhere, plenty of decapitations and severed limbs, and at least one person being split in half from shoulder to waist by Purefoy’s enormous greatsword. It’s not exactly artful, but the raw, bloody nature of the fighting very nicely complements the grim tone of the film.
Is Ironclad a great film? Well, no, not really. It’s one of the lesser adaptations of Seven Samurai and will probably be all but forgotten in five years, but watch it on a Saturday night with some friends and a few beers and chances are you’ll have a great time.