You may actually find Ironclad a passable timewaster. (Yes, I saw it on Netflix Canada.)
It’s not that Mr. Giamatti doesn’t do his level best as the infamous British monarch. It’s just that everytime Giamatti’s King threw a fit (which is often), I kept picturing the actor in better films (Private Parts, Sideways, American Splendour) in which his particular onscreen personality was a better fit. (This is roughly how I felt when I saw John Wayne trying to play Genghis Khan. And, no, I’m not making this up. The Duke, complete with fu manchu mustache and crazy eyebrows, actually portrays Mongol warrior Temujin, Iater Genghis Khan, in a misbegotten 1956 film called The Conqueror.)
Gone is the cranky charm and/or sly wit that has characterized some of Mr. Giamatti’s best performances. (Yes, I know he has been in period films before but maybe he had a better wig in John Adams. In this one he has one of those dollar-a-holler hairpieces I buy on Halloween.)
Too bad, since the producers had a perfectly serviceable King John already in the cast. Charles Dance is wasted as a high church official who sides with the rebels and against the presiding Pope (who has apparently given King John his blessing to claw back the power he lost when he was forced to sign the Magna Carta.) And if you doubt Mr. Dance’s ability to portray a villainous and believable King John you obviously haven’t seen him as Lord Tywin in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Speaking of miscasting, I also found it hard to accept Kate Mara as a medieval English maiden with the hots for hunky Knight Templar Thomas Marshall (James Purefoy). She seems much more believable in contemporary roles such as the spunky girl reporter on House of Cards (the Netflix remake of a BBC-TV series of the same name, also available on the streaming service.)
On the other hand, veteran actor Brian Cox has been believable in modern dramas (he was the original Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter and a hardened con in The Escapist) and yet he is a good fit here as Baron Albany (who leads the rebellion against King John.)
I’ll say one thing about director Jonathan English, though. He knows how to stage medieval battle scenes. In the 12th century violence was up close and very personal. And so we see limbs hacked off, heads split in two and blood spurting everywhere. (Obviously, this is not a date movie.)