Assault on Rochester Castle…

Ironclad review

Inspired by a little-known episode in English history, this blood-soaked 13th-century actioner may not have the budget to compete with Hollywood’s historical epics. But, in common with its heroes, it faces big odds with a hardy combo of tenacity and savagery.

In 1215, the megalomaniacal King John (Paul Giamatti), having been forced to sign the Magna Carta, seeks payback on the barons who coerced his endorsement of the power-limiting document. With the pope’s blessing, he aims to reclaim country-wide control.

Standing in his way are a small band of rebels defending Rochester castle (then a pivotal garrison in Southern England) against a siege by John’s Danish army.

Leading the resistance is Brian Cox’s Baron Albany, alongside grizzled mercs Jason Flemyng and Mackenzie Crook and James Purefoy’s templar Knight, Thomas Marshall.

One of the script’s few fictional characters, Marshall also proves less sketchy than the stereotype-edging rest. On top of the mounting threat of annihilation and/or starvation, Marshall is grappling with vows of silence and celibacy, the latter put to the test by Kate Mara’s young baroness Isabel. Alas, such sparks of human interest are often doused, not least by a couple of cheesily obvious sword-metaphors.

Luckily, when it comes to literal blade-brandishing, director Jonathan English nails it.

Despite the budgetary constraints, the aptly named filmmaker orchestrates the ample violence with verve, crafting one of the bloodiest Brit-flicks of recent times. Heads are hacked, bodies split, tongues sliced, hands (and feet) cleaved…

English namechecks both The Vikings and El Cid as influences, but there’s more than a doff of the scabbard to The Alamo and Seven Samurai.

The resulting tone stays the right side of solemn, revelling in the grit and gore. And while Purefoy broods manfully, jaw-clenched throughout, Giamatti plays to the rafters, his John a bug-eyed, scenery-gnawing sadist.


A ripping yarn capably told, this cinematic history lesson may not be wholly factually sound, but scores brownie points for unflinching brutality and ruthless realism.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • Lingdada

      Feb 28th 2011, 5:57

      Not another predictably scripted warriors,swords,slash 'historically' based on a ' true' story of one mans fight against the villains and his love for a perky princess and revenge for his murdered father toss? Back to the studio and re-write an original script for your half million dollar fee!

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    • patches89

      Mar 1st 2011, 13:54

      i always have a soft spot for the medievel action movie and will certainly be seeing this

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    • Antoloch

      Mar 13th 2011, 10:25

      Having read the review in issue 178, I checked the net for my local cinema and found Ironclad was about to go off. In a moment of madness I grabbed a friend and hit the road... Two and a bit hours later I emerged into the late night air with the sense of confusion: Brian Cox and Charles Dance playing good guys in a historical film? When did that happen? Okay- Lingdada, go and see the film- or not- just don't predict it when you haven't seen it. Also, reading the advance synopsis might give you a more informed opinion? No-where does it mention anything about father revenge or falling in love with a princess. That myopic opinion aside, let's get down to business. What's it about? Read the synopsis above! I'm not going to repeat that here. The cast of British character actors are worthwhile and there's no embarrassing line delivery or clunky acting: apart from Paul Giamatti as King John who really does chew up the scenery faster than a starving man at a free for all buffet. Dialogue is sparse and sufficient for the film, but enough to give something of a character to each in what is basically "the medieval mucky seven" (they're not that magnificent, but they can kill people really well) Action: the film boasts "historically accurate fight choreography" and being a student of fighting techniques myself, it looked (to my eye) to do just that: (the fight between Purefoy's longsword and Kulich's battle axe being a classic case) BUT in order to keep the rating down to 15 (i imagine) the editing cuts in the fight scenes are very quick and a little dizzying for my taste. Many cuts are confusing half second or less shots that give you the impression they either a) did it to not show yet another gratuitous war hammer smacking someone across the jaw blow and get an '18', or b) they dropped a journalist with a movie cam into the middle of the fight with an eternal battery. The 'love story' such as it is, within the time frame is handled sensitively and it's not surprising Kate Mara's character turns against her over bearing stuffy husband and shows an interest in the tall dark brooding hero. Although this was my only criticism: the end. If you've seen it, you'll know what I mean. if not, I won't spoil it. Had me thinking "hang on a minute, you've gone through all that and...that's it?" Overall, as an indie film it's enjoyable, fun, gritty, extremely violent (they kept it at a 15? even with the "come out or we hurt the prisoners" scene?) and even though you don't really get behind any of the characters, it is worth seeing if medieval rampaging is your scene. You can't shoot and axe / hammer to the face blow and keep a fight scene "nice"- it just can't be done! Also, we haven't had too many medieval films with decent fight scenes. Let's face it- the fight choreography in films like Braveheart is embarrassing and this far outstrips that! If you sat through the three hours of Kingdom of Heaven's extended bits, you'll probably enjoy this, because you'll be a fan of the genre anyway. One piece of advice: don't take the girlfriend or wife, unless they're into a muddy, mucky James Purefoy and don't mind the excessive violence. Antoloch

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    • nastycafe13

      Apr 16th 2011, 18:32


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    • Igrayne

      Jul 30th 2011, 14:03

      It was paid for with pounds not dollars you arsehole.

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