A Knight's Tale

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A Knight's Tale
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brian Helgeland
Produced by
Written byBrian Helgeland
Based on"The Knight's Tale"
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Richard Greatrex
Edited byKevin Stitt [1]
Columbia Pictures [1]
Escape Artists [2]
Finestkind Productions
Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing [1]
Release date
  • May 11, 2001 (2001-05-11)
Running time
132 minutes [3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$65 million [4]
Box office$117.5 million

A Knight's Tale is a 2001 American quasi-medieval adventure comedy-romance film. It was written, produced, and directed by Brian Helgeland; it stars Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Laura Fraser, Paul Bettany (as Geoffrey Chaucer), and James Purefoy (as Sir Thomas Colville / Edward the Black Prince).


The story is presented in an anachronistic style, with many modern references and background music. It follows a peasant named William Thatcher, a squire who poses as a knight and competes in tournaments, winning accolades and acquiring friendships with such historical figures as Edward the Black Prince and Geoffrey Chaucer.

The film takes its name from Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" in his The Canterbury Tales , but the two plots are un-related. It received mixed reviews, and grossed $117.5 million against a budget of $65 million.


At a jousting tournament in 14th century Europe, several years after the Black Plague, squires William, Roland, and Wat discover that their master, Sir Ector, has died. With just one more pass, he could have won the tournament. Destitute, William wears Sir Ector's armour to impersonate him, taking the prize.

Although only nobles are allowed in tournaments, William is inspired to compete and win more prizes. Roland and Wat would rather take their winnings and leave, but William convinces them to stay and help him train. While traveling, the trio encounters a young Geoffrey Chaucer, who is also destitute and agrees to forge a patent of nobility so William can enter, assuming the name of "Sir  Ulrich von Liechtenstein" from Gelderland. But William is brought before Simon the Summoner and Peter the Pardoner: Chaucer has a gambling problem and is in their debt. William demands Chaucer be released and promises payment.

During the competition, William's armor is damaged very badly; he goads Kate, a female blacksmith, into repairing it without payment. He wins the tournament's sword event, enabling him to pay Chaucer's debt. In the joust, he faces Sir Thomas Colville, who withdraws from the tournament after being injured by William, though they exchange a ceremonial pass so that Colville can retain the honor of never having failed to complete a match. The proceedings are observed by Jocelyn, a noblewoman with whom William has become infatuated, and Count Adhemar of Anjou, a rival both in the joust and for Jocelyn's heart. In the final joust, Adhemar defeats William. At the prize ceremony, William vows revenge on Adhemar, who then taunts William, "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting."

Kate joins William's party and forges new lightweight armor. In the following tournament, Adhemar and William are both assigned to tilt against Sir Thomas Colville, but they learn that he is actually Prince Edward. Unwilling to risk harming the future King of England, Adhemar immediately withdraws prior to their match. William, despite his friends' objections, chooses to joust against Edward anyway and then addresses him by name, further earning his respect.

Adhemar is called away to the Battle of Poitiers, and William achieves several victories in his absence. William proves his love for Jocelyn by complying when she first asks him to deliberately lose (in contrast to knights who promise to win "in her name"), and then, just before he would be eliminated, to win the tournament after all.

The group travels to London for the World Championship. William recalls leaving his father to squire for Sir Ector and learn to become a knight, hoping to "change his stars". Adhemar has also arrived in London and announces that he is in negotiations with Jocelyn's father for her hand in marriage. William dominates at the tournament, but when he visits and is seen patching his now-blind father's leaky roof, Adhemar discovers his true identity and alerts the authorities.

William is arrested and placed in the pillory, but is defended from the hostile crowd by his friends. Just as the mob reaches its frenzy, Prince Edward reveals himself. He acknowledges William's honor and an ability to inspire his friends' dedication that is in the best traditions of knighthood. Edward then announces that William is in fact descended from an ancient noble family, and knights him "Sir William". He asserts that as Prince-royal, his declaration is "beyond contestation".

William returns to the tournament to face Adhemar in the final match, but Adhemar cheats with an illegally sharpened lance, seriously injuring William. Entering the final pass, William is losing by two lances and must unhorse Adhemar to win. He demands to be stripped of his armor while Chaucer buys time by performing the introduction of William that he omitted earlier. William, unable to hold the lance due to his injuries, asks Wat to strap it to his arm. Finally, he tilts against Adhemar, with his father and Jocelyn in attendance. Bellowing his true name as he charges, he knocks Adhemar to the ground with a crushing blow. On the ground, Adhemar experiences a vision of William and his friends mockingly telling him that he has been "weighed, measured, and found wanting". With this final blow, William wins the world championship tournament. In the ensuing celebration, as Jocelyn and William embrace, Chaucer remarks that he should write an account of these events.



The film was shot at the Barrandov Studios in Prague, Czechia. [5]

Lances were created that would convincingly explode upon impact without injuring the stunt riders. The body of each lance was scored so it would break easily, and the tips were made of balsa wood. Each was also hollowed out, with the holes filled with balsa splinters and uncooked linguine. [6]

In the DVD commentary, director Helgeland, commentating with Bettany, states that the film was intended to have occurred sometime in the 1370s during a six-month period in which Chaucer seems to have gone missing, and show what he might have done during this time, which Helgeland says later on in the commentary inspired Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales .

Heath Ledger's principal suit of armour was made in steel by UK-based Armordillo Ltd. They also created several stunt replicas of this armour, Count Adhemar's armour, and all the jousting armours for men and horses in lightweight, flexible, and nearly unbreakable polyurethane resin.


The film, which notionally took place during the Middle Ages, is notable for its deliberate use of classic rock songs in its soundtrack. The ten that were credited in the film are listed in order of appearance: [7]


Critical reception

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 58% based on reviews from 148 critics. "Once you get past the anachronism," according to the site, "A Knight's Tale becomes a predictable, if spirited, Rocky on horseback." [8] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 54 out of 100, sampled from 32 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews". [9]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and argued that the anachronisms made little difference, writing that the director himself "pointed out that an orchestral score would be equally anachronistic, since orchestras hadn't been invented in the 1400s." [10] [11] In an obituary for David Bowie, culture critic Anthony Lane referred to the film's use of the song "Golden Years" as "the best and most honest use of anachronism that I know of." [12]

Newsweek revealed in June 2001 that print ads contained glowing comments from a film reviewer who did not exist for at least four films released by Columbia Pictures, including A Knight's Tale and The Animal (2001). [13] The fake critic was named David Manning and was created by a Columbia employee who worked in the advertising department. [13] "Manning" was fraudulently presented as a reviewer for The Ridgefield Press , a small Connecticut weekly. [13]

Box office

The film earned $56.6 million at the North American box office and an additional $60.9 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $117.5 million. [4]


The film was nominated for three awards at the 2002 MTV Movie Awards. Shannyn Sossamon was nominated for Breakthrough Female performance, losing to Mandy Moore in A Walk to Remember. [14] The film was also nominated for Best Kiss, and Best Musical Sequence, losing to American Pie 2 and Moulin Rouge! , respectively. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

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