One thing we don’t talk about much, or maybe just not often enough, is how movies are really time machines.
I don’t mean in the way that they can be set in far-flung times and places, putting the viewer into medieval Europe or ancient Rome or colonial New South Wales or what have you – that’s pretty obvious, and subject to the inevitable push-pull between historical accuracy and narrative necessity (Braveheart, for example, is a hell of a film but a terrible historical primer). I mean in the way that when someone appears in a movie, especially a successful one, they’re immortalised in a small but significant way. They’re locked at that time of their life, frozen but moving. The real “them” gets older, probably does other movies, lives a life, maybe (well, certainly at some point) dies. But that “them” on the screen? Immortal. Humphrey Bogart will always be saying goodbye to Ingrid Bergman on the Casablanca airfield. Robert De Niro will always be asking the mirror if its talking to him. James Dean’s parents will always be tearing him apart.
And Heath Ledger will always be jousting in the lists.
Released back in 2001, the gleefully anachronistic, utterly stirring medieval adventure, A Knight’s Tale, was an absolute crowd pleaser. Critical response might have been mixed but global audiences threw US$117.5 million at it, almost doubling its US$65 million budget. Watched today (it’s right there on Netflix) it’s still a barnstorming good time, but that enjoyment is tinged with melancholy because, as we all know, Ledger, then on the very brink of stardom, would be dead of an accidental overdose less than seven years later.