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Ironclad

Author: Erick Kastel & Jonathan English
Genre: Historical/Action
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

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Logline:

After forcing the King of England to sign the Magna Carta, a disparate group must fight to prevent the king from violating the agreement.

Synopsis:

England, 1215. At Runnymede, a group of exhausted soldiers and barons, along with Archbishop STEPHEN LANGTON, force KING JOHN, 48, to sign a document they’ve prepared — the Magna Carta. Four months later, word spreads that the King is attacking each baron who supported the Magna Carta, either forcing them to surrender to his power and renounce the document, or killing them. MARSHAL, a young Templar knight, arrives in Darnay Castle with a few other knights, greeted by ABBOT MARCUS. Seeing the pain Marshal suffers, Marcus offers to send word to the Order that Marshal is resigning. This shocks Marshal. Quickly, the King attacks with his right-hand man, TIBERIUS, and a group of soldiers. Marshal and the other knights attempt to fight them off, but there are too many men. The other knights fall, but Marshal manages to save Abbot Marcus and create an opportunity to allow the Baron Darnay escape. Marshal puts the injured Marcus on a horse, and the two ride away, leaving Tiberius and the King stunned.

In the woods, Marcus dies. Marshal goes to Canterbury Cathedral to report this to Langton, who tries to dismiss Marshal per Marcus’ order. Marshal confesses his discomfort with the decision. Baron ALBANY arrives, enraged about Darnay. Langton introduces him to Marshal and tells both men that the Vatican has sided with the King in this struggle. Langton suggests asking French prince LOUIS for help. Albany realizes, based on the King’s path, that he’s headed for Rochester Castle. Marshal believes if takes the castle, the King will regain control of all of Southern England. Albany and Marshal offer to team up to defend the castle while Langton goes to France to plead with Louis. As they prepare horses, Albany introduces Marshal to his squire, GUY, who is thrilled by the idea of killing for freedom.

Marshal, Albany, and Guy travel to the town surrounding Albany Castle to find more of Albany’s men. They find his bowman, MARKS, missing an eye. Marshal is slightly horrified when they discover another man, BECKET, lying with whores. They try to enlist the help of a big man, COOPER, who turns them down. Disappointed with the meager group they’ve assembled, the group asks a petty thief in the square’s stocks, JED COTERAL, if he can fight. They release him from the stocks and set out to ride. In the countryside, they come across WULFSTAN, a warrior dog trainer, who immediately punches Becket in the face for sleeping with his wife. The others hold them back. Cooper reports to the King details of Albany’s plan to hold Rochester Castle. They reach the castle, which is fairly small. SHERIFF DE CORNHILL and his wife, ISABEL, sit alone at the castle. He’s verbally abusive. Albany announces their purpose Cornhill.

A group of the King’s scouts arrive in Rochester. Cornhill tries to talk to them peaceably, but they attack. A fight ensues, with the scout captain taking Isabel hostage. Marshal kills the captain and shares an awkward moment with Isabel. Confused by the killing of King’s soldiers, a group of garrison soldiers led by OAKS turn their swords on the ragtag group that has just arrived. Albany tries to explain their political position and the King’s violation of his word. The garrison soldiers put down their swords. Isabel returns to her maid, MADDY, to wash the blood from her dress. Marshal and Albany speak with Oaks to assess their military situation — it’s grim. Eleven knights who have never faced an attack, plus the new arrivals. Marshal’s uncomfortable about the castle’s lack of moat, because of mines. They have no food stores.

From her chamber window, Isabel watches Marshal wistfully. Maddy warns against the Templar, but Isabel remains intrigued. A lone scout approaches, then gallops away. They realize the King is close. Cornhill, who does not support the Magna Carta, asks Albany and Guy why they’re so supportive of a rebellion. Unsatisfied with their answers, he asks if they’ve even read it. Marshal quotes from it, shutting Cornhill up. That night, the men do last-minute battle training. At dawn, the King’s army appears, led by Tiberius. A clerk begins reading the names of everyone within the castle, surprising them. They realize they have at least one traitor, but they have no time to deal with that now. Wulfstan wonders if so few have ever fought against so many, and Marshal confesses he fought at Jacob’s Well in Damascus. This impresses the others. A battle follows, with the few men managing to hold off the King’s troops, destroying their siege tower.
Marshal insists Guy fought bravely, but Guy disagrees — he got his first taste of blood and panicked. After the heat of battle, Becket has sex with a servant girl. Wulfstan cauterizes Coteral’s wounds. Marshal helps Isabel tend to a wounded garrison soldier. She flirts with him, wearing down his guard enough to give her his name. Before it can go further, he walks away. The King explains his motivation to Tiberius: his father taught him that any threat upon the absolute power of the king must be punished ruthlessly. Tiberius warns that the castle is strong, and so are the men inside it, but the King insists on preparing for a second wave.

Isabel approaches Marshal in the stables. He teaches her to stroke his horse (that’s not innuendo) as she continues to flirt, making Marshal uncomfortable. Marks spots an arrow sailing over the castle wall toward the King’s camp, a note attached. They run up the steps to track the source of the arrow but find nothing. Sneaking into Isabel’s room, they find a bow and arrow quiver. It’s light enough for a woman, but Marshal insists Isabel was with him at the time. From the keep roof, they see the King’s men building a new siege tower — double the height, width, and strength of the one they destroyed. Wulfstan suggests building a catapult. Marks reminds Albany of the bow found in Isabel’s chamber. Marshal destroys it.

They build the catapult. The next day, Tiberius approaches with a message to Cornhill: surrender Albany and the King will show the rest mercy. Albany insists the King come to hear Albany’s complaint himself — no weapons. Albany tries to convince the King that his actions are wrong. The King disagrees and leaves to prepare for their next attack. With more men and armaments, the soldiers come at the castle gate with a battering ram. Everyone’s prepared for the possibilities, but there are a few hitches: someone’s wedged a block of wood in the catapult’s gears, preventing it from working; someone has broken every arrow in their quivers; nobody can hear Albany’s repeated cries for hot oil to dump on the rammers. Eventually, Wulfstan gets the block of wood out and uses the catapult to destroy the second siege tower. Becket hears Albany and brings the oil, which they ignite, engulfing all the men below in flames. Marks finds some undamaged arrows, tries to pursue Tiberius but ends up killed by one of the King’s bowmen. The King’s army retreats.

The King blames Tiberius for the failure, but he changes his tune when a sapper mentions the notion of building a mine, since the castle has no moat. It’ll take three or four weeks to build. The King is okay with this, feeling the men in the castle will starve to death before it’s even completed. In France, Langton begs Prince Louis for help. Louis does not agree with the cause, politely refuses. At some point later, the group at Rochester Castle find the cook dead, stabbed in the back. They find Becket’s servant girl sleeping next to an arrow with a scroll attached, indicating that she killed someone last night. Isabel demands to know why Marshal constantly avoids her. He ignores the question. Cornhill shows Albany their empty food stores. He insists they must agree to terms, or risk starving. The servant girl can’t read — she’s been framed. Albany and Cornhill convince the men to calm down — starvation’s affecting their minds. Marshal silences everyone and explains what happened at Jacob’s Well: 5000 Saracens versus 90 Templar knights. After fighting, the Saracens finally decided to just wait, hoping they’d starve. Every night, the knights snuck into the Saracen camp and stole their rations — that’s how they warded off starvation. The Saracens never knew.

That night, Albany, Marshal, and Coteral sneak into the King’s camp. They steal sacks of food but are spotted by a guard and have to make a daring retreat back into the castle. As they eat, Coteral is fascinated by Guy’s ability to read. Guy teaches Coteral to write his name. Isabel follows Marshal to the shadowy stable and drops her cloak. Marshal is overcome with attraction, and they make love. At dawn, the King’s soldiers begin scaling the wall, awakening everyone in a panic. It begins to rain as a massive battle breaks out. They are overwhelmed at have to fall back to the castle keep — but Albany, felled with a wound, is trapped outside. Becket believes he’s already dead, so they don’t go back for him. Frantic, Maddy forces Isabel into the keep, slamming the door on the others. Based on her cryptic raving, Isabel realizes Maddy’s been the King’s spy all along. They fight as Guy and Cornhill try to break down the door. Isabel finally kills Maddy, just as he door bursts open. Everyone’s in a panic as Tiberius approaches the keep with a battering ram. Through a window, Cornhill sees that the King has taken some prisoners — including Albany, still alive. The King tortures him, but the knights refuse to surrender. In France, Langton finally convinces Prince Louis. At the castle, the King initiates the mine, pouring molten hog fat to destroy the castle, from beneath. Cornhill hangs himself. Marshal fights Tiberius, kills him. The King watches Prince Louis’ army arrive, looks at the ruins of the castle, calls a retreat. Marshal, Guy, and Isabel are the only ones who survive, but they’re proud to have held the castle. Marshal meets Langton across the river. Langton releases Marshal from the Order of the Knights Templar. Marshal acceps this and rides off with Isabel.

Comments:

This historical action script revolves around an intriguing concept — the often-ignored battles and rebellions that followed the signing of the Magna Carta. The action sequences are long, but they’re interesting and varied and add a layer of intensity that is unfortunately lacking in the script’s characters. The characters do have some interesting individual qualities, and some of its quieter moments (such as Guy teaching Coteral to write his name) are very well-done. It falters primarily in the love story, the portrayal of the King, and the simplification of the politics surrounding the tale.

The latter two issues actually go hand in hand. This is a very basic “good vs. evil” story, with King John coming as close to a mustache-twirling villain as any character in a post-silent movie. He’s portrayed as little more than a brutal tyrant, utterly lacking in compassion, often indulging in long monologues about how childhood shaped his sinister outlook and why only the King deserves power. Why can’t he be a little more complicated? Even if he’s evil, he’s a king — wouldn’t he be a little more pragmatic? Historically, it wasn’t the notion of personal freedom that got King John all bent out of shape; it was the idea of a proto-Parliament group of Barons with the ability to undermine his decisions. In a land where kings had ruled for centuries, this sort of royal emasculation must have taken a psychological toll. Why couldn’t the King just be trying to cling, rather pathetically, to his power? It’s a bit more interesting than petty revenge killings.

Similarly, in reality the main thing motivating the peasant/baron uprising that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in the first place was the age-old complaint: taxes. Each of our heroes — even petty thief Coteral and man-whore Becket — is portrayed as wanting to do what they can to fight for liberty and freedom. It’s a nice thought, but wouldn’t it be a little bit more interesting to make at least one of them (maybe Albany, the one in charge of collecting taxes and paying the King) more interested in eliminating taxes than in fighting for freedom? I liked the notion of Cornhill — who, ironically, runs Rochester Castle — wanting to run out and surrender every time they have a setback, but everyone else is given such pure and pleasant motives for fighting, their conflict becomes less and less interesting each time they rant about liberty.

The love story does have a bit of complexity, although both making Cornhill abusive and killing him off make the resolution much too easy. The real problem here is the redundancy. The scene where Marshal introduces Isabel to his horse is very sweet and understated, but all their other interactions involve Marshal getting uptight because of his vows to Templar and Isabel trying to engage him in philosophical debate on why cheating on her husband is fine. First of all, it’s an interesting but unexplored dimension of Marshal that the only thing keeping him from ravaging Isabel in the stables is his vow of chastity. He doesn’t seem all that concerned with the moral, ethical, or spiritual repercussions of adultery. The writers should play with this more. At the same time, Isabel doesn’t have much to her character. Despite the abuse she suffers, without more depth her pursuit of Marshal — especially after his repeated pleas for her to go away — make her come across as a bit trampy. This actually makes both the romance and her character a bit more interesting, but I don’t think the writers were going for “trampy.” They can easily eliminate the redundancy of her scenes with Marshal by loading them with character depth instead of bland, repetitive arguing. What does she want out of life, other than getting into Marshal’s pants and/or escaping her marriage?

This is loaded with action, and the historical events they depict make the story seem unique among other “historical action” movies. Although it takes place in England, the championing of personal freedom against political oppression will resonate deeply with audiences across the world.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 31, 2008 10:42 AM  |   | Print-Friendly  | Professional Script Coverage

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