Sunday, 5 February 2012


During the week I also watched two films meriting a record. The first is another travesty of history for the purpose of a creating a film to entertain and interest. Ironclad is not a about a ship as might be expected but the warrior apparel of a Knight Templar who it is suggested gave his life in defence of his comrades in the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215 at the time of Magna Carter and the rebellions of the Barons against King John.

The film which has a distinguished cast begins with King John (Paul Giamatti) being forced to agree to a charter of rights Magna Carter, drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Charles Dance) on behalf of the Barons at the water meadow by the Thames Runnymede, a site which I have visited. Contrary to popular belief he did not sign the document and agreed only to buy himself time. He then contacted the Pope who not only rejected the Charter but ex communicated the Archbishop of Canterbury for his behaviour. King John then enlisted the help of mercenaries, in the film from Demark, in a deal which would guarantee that the Pope did not intervene in the Danish religion and affairs of State.

The film then shows an Abbot and three Knights Templar on their way to Canterbury having assisted in the rebellion of the Barons taking shelter at the fictitious castle of Darnway (there is a Castle Darnaway in Scotland). Here King John and his mercenaries capture the Abbot tearing out his tongue who has taken a vow of silence. A feature of the film is its vivid gratuitous blood letting.

One of the Knights Templar, Thomas Marshal (James Purefoy) manages to escape with the Abbot while his two companions lose their lives in assisting him. The Abbot dies but Thomas makes his way to Canterbury to report was has occurred to the Archbishop and the rebellion supporter William d’Aubigny (Brian Cox) who in the knowledge of its futility elects to take control of Rochester Castle then an important gateway between the South East coast and London. The film shows William accompanied by Thomas and his new young squire locate potential fighters for the cause before making their way to Rochester where some of King John’s men have already taken occupation after gaining intelligence of the plot. The rebels take control much to the opposition of the Castle custodian Reginald de Cornhill played by Derek Jacobi who has a young wife marriage of convenience (Lady Isabel-Kate Mara)

Receiving information of what the rebels are attempting King John dispatches some men to enter the Castle to prevent the take over. They meet no opposition from the man in charge and his young wife.

In reality there were an estimated larger contingent of Barons and Knights at the Castle than in the film although in fairness accounts of the subsequent siege are limited. The siege a familiar affair with ladders and burning oil, catapults and a siege tower which is set on fire burning the men inside, an established feature used in many other portrayals. The Castle defences are eventually breached because there is no moat and the rebels are slowly worn down over six weeks and killed including William who has his hands and legs chopped off but who in reality was among the rebels who after surrendering from the lack of food were imprisoned or banished.

The most important dabbling with history is that the French did not arrive in England until much after the siege ended whereas in the film the Mercenaries decide to go home and King John retreats when the French come in sight. Marshall the Templar is released from the order and is free to ride off with the widow Lady Isabel.

I have not visited Rochester Castle which continued to play an important role in English affairs and both Samuel Peppys and Charles Dickens were fans with Dickens mentioning the place in the Mystery of Edwin Drood, recently televised and the Pickwick Papers.

No comments:

Post a Comment