Knight & Day: Fine and Less-Fine Finery in A Knight’s Tale

I recently had the extraordinary experience of witnessing real live jousting.

Yes, jousting! By the poetically hight (to indulge in a little Middle English) “Knights of Valour”:

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Inspired by this memorable experience (which, quite honestly, felt surreally as though I had walked straight into a Mediaeval tapestry), I naturally had to re-watch A Knight’s Tale….

Ah, A Knight’s Tale. So much great stuff! So much less-than-great stuff! And among the latter, it boasts (or perhaps cringes to display?) some of my LEAST FAVOURITE costumes on film.

(Disclaimer: if you adore Jocelyn’s attire, please stop reading now! I may offend thee.)

Now, I fully recognize that it is a very tricky balancing act to take historical activities, set in a historical time period, and attempt to bring them into the modern era (in order to convey how these were actually the hippest trends of their day), via updating the costumes, music, etc.

Sometimes it can work spectacularly well! To wit, please see my prior post on The Great Gatsby – a film which achieved the vintage/modern balance nigh-on perfectly, in my opinion… with some utterly splendid costumery to boot (or to saddle-shoe).

A Knight’s Tale? Not quite as perfectly, at least costume-wise.

For example: what in the Dark Ages is this?

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I admit, the colour is glorious. The fabric is lovely. But what is that ill-fitting neckline? Why does she have spiky hair? And what is going on with that stance?

Again, I completely, entirely understand and acknowledge that the filmmakers weren’t going for 100% historical authenticity. No problem! However, the accuracy in re-creation is so on-again-off-again throughout the film, that one is left feeling rather queasy…. Are we being historical here? (Looking at you, people in crowd scenes with quite convincing simple tunics & leggings.) Or are we being modern? (Looking at your costumes, Jocelyn, although I’d personally rather not… see image below, for my general reaction.)

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Here is a line-up of what I consider the worst offenders:

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Weird, Goth-y aesthetic + wildly anachronistic see-through mesh panels + … “side boob”? Really??

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Ecclesiastical chic was never a thing… and in my view, never ought to be.

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(“And with this hat?”)

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And the dancing dress…. Many kinds of unpleasant going on here, in my opinion:

  1. the colour is troublingly reminiscent of algae, rendering the chartreuse gauze a bit sick-making
  2. fake wound markings (?) have absolutely no long-&-ignoble history, and red streaks on the face don’t really carry any other connotation
  3. why the odd punk-like (and yet not truly punk) aesthetic of spiky, dyed hair? It grated on me throughout, since in addition to its being visually anachronistic, I don’t even think it suited the character, who is hardly a rabble-rouser.

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Lampshade. Enough said.

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(Her only admirable accessory in this scene is the exquisite Rufus Sewell… but more on him later!)

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I applaud the repeat-wearing of the same necklace, which seems realistic; however, I also think it looks like cheap, flimsy dime-store jewellery.

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The “edgy” space buns didn’t sit right with me, as again, I didn’t see any indication that Jocelyn has much of an “alternative” personality – more along the lines of the nasty, self-absorbed popular girl whom the other kids in school kind of envy/loathe.

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The persistently slightly-too-loose bodices irked me. More costume fittings needed?

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That literally looks like tinsel or gift-wrapping ribbon in her hair.

In my opinion, her only appealing costume-&-hair ensemble is this one:

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(However, the appearance of this red Chinoiserie gown is detracted from by the fact that the wearer is simultaneously whinging about how “all the knights want to win the tournament for her, it’s so tiresome, etc.”, all the while her much nicer – and better dressed – lady’s maid is listening with her polite-face on.)

Yes, better dressed! There, I’ve answered it (just in case your question was, “Well, how do you think they ought to have garbed her?”)

I hereby present my evidence:

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From the first time I saw this film, I was struck by how much better suited Christiana (Bérénice Bejo, yet to attain fame in The Artist: a truly exquisite film I look forward to profiling later on) would have been, to the role of leading lady.

In every single scene, Christiana’s outfits strike what, to me, is a more visually satisfying balance between historical and modern: not jarringly out-of-step with the Middle Ages, but containing a touch of timelessness, and a soupçon of mischief. The same goes for her hairstyles, and even her facial expressions and mannerisms.

In a nutshell, had Christiana been the leading lady, I would probably not have been asking myself all the way through the film, “But Will, why aren’t you going for Kate instead?”

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Kate: She’s strong, she’s kind, she’s bold, she’s principled, she’s beautiful, she makes a mean set of armour… and she looks like a modern girl seamlessly translated into the Middle Ages, as these characters should.

So, why don’t any of the boys recognize her as attractive?

(To quote Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, chiding Thor for his – genuinely inexplicable – preference for Jane Foster over the Lady Sif, “You’d be better served by what lies in front of you.”)

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Nice costume, too (ooh, that side-lacing!), particularly when accessorized by double hammers!

On that note, let’s proceed to more of what I myself DID enjoy in this film, costume-wise….

Heath Ledger’s lovely white linen jacket, which looks legitimately handmade, and highlights his youthful innocence nicely:

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It also stands in stark opposition to his less-than-great green dancing jacket, which (via its too-loose fit and sickly greenness) does indeed “match” his lady’s seaweed-ensemble….

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Except that these two greens actually don’t match at all:

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Ew.

Another piece I did appreciate was the aqua-coloured, phoenix-printed tunic worn by Wat (Alan Tudyk):

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Great & creative nod to heraldic devices!

Adhemar’s black garb (if slightly simplistic in its adherence to the “good-guy-white, bad-guy-black” trope), was definitely nearly as easy-on-the-eyes as he is:

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Not to mention that black armour….

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No, seriously, I’m not going to mention it (at least any further), because I have a guest post on armour coming up… stay tuned…. 🙂

And finally, my favourite costume piece in the film:

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The fantastic leather coat worn by Edward, the Black Prince of Wales (James Purefoy).

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Part surcoat, part aviator jacket, part robe-of-state, this piece achieves the historical/modern mélange with complete success, evoking simultaneously the Prince’s elevated status, royal bloodline, and rakish adventurer side.

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So there you have it!

Except the armour… more to come on that…. 🙂

~ Costume design: Caroline Harris ~

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