Interview: Jonathan English from "Ironclad: Battle for Blood"

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A survivor of the Great Siege of Rochester Castle fights to save his clan from from Celtic raiders. A sequel to the 2011 film, "Ironclad."
Photo Credit: © 2014 - Warner Bros. UK
July 15th, 2014

When “Ironclad” was released back in 2011 people really got to see a medieval world come to life. Director Jonathan English did a beautiful job taking the audience back in time while giving them a gripping tale of war. Good news for those who are fans of this film because Jonathon has just released a sequel called “Ironclad: Battle for Blood”. The film revolves around different characters, but still has everything you loved about the first film. Jonathan was kind enough to sit down and tell us here at The Movie Network all about his new movie.

Nick Leyland from The Movie Network: Congratulations on your new film “Ironclad: Battle for Blood”.

Jonathan English: Thank you very much.

TMN: Now, it comes out on VOD on the 11th, right? And then it's available in theaters on the 25th?

Jonathan English: I believe so.

TMN: Okay. So is this more of like a sequel, or is it a partner story to the last film Ironclad?

Jonathan English: Well, it is a sequel, but it's a stand-alone sequel. It's not a continuation, necessarily, of the same characters. The character of Guy is featured in the first Ironclad movie, but he's played by a different actor in this film. The idea really is a continuation of the themes of the first film and the medieval world, as I said before. There was a lot of interest to go back to that same medieval world. Not necessarily to see the same characters, but to really experience the world again and often through new characters. And to experience the same action and violence that we saw in the first film. So that was one of the real draws and the driving engines of the sequel. I wanted this film to very much be about a castle, again, like the first film, but a castle, a different castle. So that obviously brought with it a fresh group of characters which we see in this film.

TMN: It was absolutely gorgeous, the filming. Where was it filmed at?

Jonathan English: The film was actually made in Serbia. In Belgrade, Serbia.

TMN: Now your first one was in the UK or something, wasn't it?

Jonathan English: The first one was made in the United Kingdom, in Wales, in fact. In Wales, where there are a lot of castles, and we were able to make that film with a lot of financial support from the UK whereas with the sequel, the sequel was entirely financed by all the distributors of the first film, so we had really a lot more flexibility as to where we could make the film. And although we certainly considered taking it back to the United Kingdom again, we actually found we were able to make the film a little bit more effectively, cost-effectively, in Eastern Europe. And a friend of mine, who's actually from Serbia and is the DP of the film, he mentioned to me that there were some great castles here and I was a little surprised to hear that, because I didn't know there were castles in Serbia. But we started looking into it, investigating and indeed there were some amazing castles, not just in Belgrade, but on the outskirts and in the Serbian countryside, incredible medieval castles. So it was a combination of that and the cost of production that brought us to this part of the world.

TMN: Now you wrote the films. Is there anything historical about the films, or is it all just kind of what you've made up?

Jonathan English: Well, it's based on the real historical situation, or conflict of the English lords, or the Norman lords having castles on the border with England and Scotland. And this particular conflict, of course, is seen in Mel Gibson's movie Braveheart. In Braveheart, we see it from the Scottish point of view. But we've never seen it from the English point of view, so I thought to take that as a perspective would be interesting. But I was very drawn to the idea of these castles that are on the borders of the European countries. You have these pagan tribesman, Celtic tribe people, who were attacking these English castles, which is exactly the story of Braveheart. So, I was interested in that as a sort of historical event but then to create a fictional story with fictional characters that allow us to sort of, to make our Ironclad style film.

TMN: You had a lot of gory-type fight scenes in the film, what are the challenges to doing that compared to these days with gun... Your hand-to-hand combat versus gun violence. I feel like hand-to-hand would be a lot harder to make seem real. Can you tell me about the challenges between doing a film like this, with hand-to-hand combat compared to, like, gun violent films.

Jonathan English: Well, the first challenge is, of course it's dangerous and you have to be very careful and choreograph and prepare the fight scenes very carefully. It's more dangerous when you're doing these things on the location. I'm very happy to say that we've never had, either this film or the first film, we've never had any serious accidents, so, I'm proud of that. Because there is a lot of fighting in this movie and the first film, a lot of fighting involving a lot of people and because these are not American studio films, they're independent movies. So, we don't have a huge budget. We have very limited independent budget and we don't have a lot of time.

So, there are challenges to do these things and make them really effective and entertaining and exciting to watch but there is a limited amount of time. I mean, I think, that's probably one of the key challenges or the objective, for me, is to try and make these things feel real and gritty and gripping to watch, and frightening to watch. The idea of the movies is this notion that if you were really involved in a Medieval battle, it would be very frightening. It wouldn't be an exciting glamorous affair, it would be actually really terrifying and there would be a lot of bloodshed, a lot of screaming and a lot of people being hurt, in a very unpleasant way all around you and it would be very chaotic and confusing, and a sort of very nightmarish experience. So, the idea is to really try to put that on film which I think that's really what's always driving me in these battle scene.

TMN: Well, everyone looked very authentic in the film. Can you tell me what life was like behind the scenes? Was everyone just really dirty and mad and hot from being in all that armor and stuff?

Jonathan English: Absolutely. The actors were great. The actors generally, in both the movies, and particularly this one, were really fantastic. I mean, I think when you work with actors on this kind of a movie, and they wear these great costumes, the costumes were beautifully made and they're all handmade for the film. We were filming in a castle at one point about three hours from Belgrade, up in the mountains. We were up in the mountains for about a week filming at this castle. And when you put actors in these costumes and you take them to that kind of a, absolutely beautiful location and then we're doing these fights scenes or even the simple, the more simpler dialog scenes, they're great. They really commit to it and they really get into the role. But yes, I mean in reality, they were covered in mud and very cold. I mean the movie was made in extremely cold conditions. It was made in the winter time. In the middle of the film there's a scene in the snow and that was literally because... It snowed halfway through June. It snowed and the set was completely covered in snow and there was no way I was able to film the scheduled scenes. So, after sort of thinking about it at the moment and looking at the actors standing in the snow, I thought, "Well, hell, this looks amazing. Let's shoot".

[chuckle]

Jonathan English: "Let's like shoot a battle scene in the snow and let's shoot this castle in the snow", and that's probably one of my favorite scenes in the movie is that montage, sequence in the snow. I think it's really beautiful and it feels very cinematic and I was really proud of that piece.

TMN: And it was free, right? Free set design, when it snows, right?

Jonathan English: Yeah. Exactly.

[chuckle]

TMN: I really appreciate it, Jonathan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Jonathan English: Thank you, Nick. It's a pleasure to talk with you and thanks for watching the movie and reviewing it.