This time out, a slightly different take on adaptations. Instead of looking at a specific work being adapted, today’s post will examine how a work can use modern sensibilities to adapt past cultural events into a form that can be understood by a modern audience. For this, Lost in Translation will examine the 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger as William Thatcher aka Sir Ulrik von Lichtenstein, Rufus Sewell as Count Adhemar, Mark Addy as Roland, Alan Tudyk as Wat, Shannyn Sossamon as Jocelyn, Laura Fraser as Kate, and Paul Bettany as the Fourteenth Century writer Geoffrey Chaucer.
The movie opens as William, Roland, and Wat try to wake up Sir Ector (Nick Brimble), only to discover that the knight is no more. Sir Ector managed to get to the finals of the jousting competition with one last tilt. If Sir Ector does not ride, the three men would go hungry. William decides to ride in Sir Ector’s place, taking advantage of the knight’s helm to hide his face.
William wins. He gets an idea – his dream was always to become a knight. If he takes Sir Ector’s place in the tournament circuit, he could get recognized while his compatriots can get wealth beyond their wildest dreams. It takes some persuasion, but Wat and Roland agree and the three start William’s training.
On the road to the next tournament, the three run into a man so down on his luck he doesn’t have a stitch of clothes to his name. Chaucer has a small gambling problem, and the people he owes money to took his clothes as a partial payment. Chaucer points out that the tournament requires participant to produce their patents of nobility, proof that they are of noble blood. Fortunately, Chaucer just happens to know how to create a patent.
At the tournament, after presenting the patent of nobility for one Ulrik von Lichenstein, William chooses his events, the melee and the joust. Both events take a toll on his armour, and no blacksmith is going to do the work without payment up front. Even Kate, a widow who has taken over her husband’s smithy, refuses William, but he challenges her and gets his armour repaired. William wins the melee. He does well in the joust, showing both honour and mercy to an injured Thomas Colville, who has never withdrawn from a tilt. However, William also meets Adhemar, a French count who rides with the Free Company. Both have caught the eye of Jocelyn, the daughter of a noble, and Adhemar does not like to lose.
William’s prize from winning the melee lets him pay off Chaucer’s gambling debts, the repairs to his armour, and has some left to improve his equipment. Kate joins the crew, providing both the ability to fix and make armour and a feminine insight to William in his quest for romance. Adhemar, though, is recalled to duty in southern France, meaning William’s goal to be the best in joust will go unfulfilled.
The troup continues on the tournament circuit with William not feeling like he’s deserved his position despite winning at each one. News of William’s success reaches the Free Company. Adhemar can’t make it to the Paris tournament, but he is available for the World Championships in London. The Count has a spy follow William around in London, discovering the rookie sensation’s secret. Exposed as a commoner, William is placed in the stocks. It is Sir Thomas Coville, or as it is confirmed, Edward, the Black Prince of England, who steps forward. He has seen William on the jousting tilts, and praises his honour and mercy, then knights William himself.
At the stadium, the finals come down to Adhemar against William, refined skill tempered with hate versus raw talent. Adhemar gets two strikes to none fast, and has a rigged lance to boot. The lance penetrates William’s armour to the point he can’t breathe in it, and the blow numbs his arm to the point he can’t hold his lance. While Chaucer distracts the crowd and delays the next tilt, William ditches his armour and has Wat lash the lance on to his arm. Still, William has a task in front of him – he has to unhorse or kill Adhemar to win.
A Knight’s Tale, while tagged as Action, Adventure, and Romance on Netflix, is a sports movie at heart. The beats follow movies such as Major League as the action takes place over a season. Instead of a season schedule, knights went on a tournament circuit. tournaments started as a way for knights and other nobles to keep their skills in warfare and battle. Events at a tournament included archery, the grand melee, and jousting, where the winner of the joust was also declared the winner of the tourney. Naturally, crowds would come out to watch and cheer on their favourites. Not much has changed with modern sports, where crowds come out to cheer on their favourite rich men performing specialized skills.
The first joust of the movie is introduced with the crowd being pumped. Obviously, Queen didn’t exist in the Fourteenth Century, but the crowd getting excited over the finals isn’t hard to imagine. The film uses “We Will Rock You” because of the song’s use today to get crowds pumped up. The song’s drum beat is easy to do and once started, easy for people to join in. The surviving records that show who won the different events don’t include audience reactions, but that’s the same for today’s sports pages. At one point in the film, there is a vendor walking around selling meat on a stick and hot wine, not much different from hot dogs and beer today.
The dance scene at the first buffet William attends begins with music that sounds traditional. The dance begins as a modified farandole, but to show what the dancing is meant to be, the movie brings in David Bowie’s “Golden Years” and updates the dance moves. The dancing wasn’t meant to be formal and stuffy, but a celebration. Less baller, more disco.
Bettany’s Chaucer is William’s herald, but heralds presented their liege to the noble hosting the tournament. Chaucer in the movie ramps it up a notch, not just reciting William’s, well, Ulrik’s deeds and patent, but brings in the crowd. Athletes will mention the feeling of having the crowd behind them, providing that last extra bit of energy needed. Audiences are there for the entertainment. While the real life Chaucer wasn’t an announcer at a boxing match, there are parallels. He was a writer, and writers do want to gran the audience’s attention. Adhemar’s own herald tries the same thing in the London tournament, not quite getting the enthusiasm but taking a step in that direction.
The final scene can be described as being the bottom of the ninth, two out, home team down by two and needing a three run home run to win. The tension is built up accordingly, coming down to Adhemar and William as the crowd fades out. The fastball versus the power hitter, with one knock back pitch already. The last charge down the tilt builds to the climactic hit.
A Knight’s Tale received some criticism because of the anachronisms. At the box office, it recovered its budget and then some. The Fourteenth Century is now 700 years in the past with all records kept on paper. There is no video of jousts, no reaction shots of audiences, just records of who participated and who won. A Knight’s Tale brings the tournament circuit of the Fourteenth Century to a modern understanding by using modern equivalents, making the concepts involved easier to understand.
On a side note, the music of the pandemic, Bardcore, might have helped. At the same time, “The Golden Years” fit the banquet dance so well, fitting anything else in would be a step backwards.