Ivanhoe is a man who has lost his reputation, he is known throughout all of medieval England as a man who betrayed King Richard. Everyone believes that during one of the Crusades he was faced with torture and he gave up his allegiance to Richard so as to be spared. Believing this to be true, Ivanhoe's own father, Cedric the Saxon, disinherits him. But Ivanhoe knows otherwise, he knows that his name has been slandered. While he was suffering torture for King Richard, it was actually a fellow knight, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert who turned away from King Richard. But no one else knows this or believes this and Ivanhoe has to be left with the title "traitor."
In returning to England from the Crusades he is forced to go into hiding and disguise himself. But he is determined to clear his name and to place King Richard back on the throne again, in place of Richard's brother John, who has now taken over. On the way to complete such tasks, he is pleased to find he still has faithful believers in his innocence. These being his old sweetheart Rowena and his friend and servant Gurth. He is also aided in his attempts to clear his name by the Jew Issac of York and his lovely daughter Rebecca. From here we are lead on an adventure and are introduced to an innumerable cast of characters and intrigues.
Once again the A&E/BBC collaboration takes on another movie adaptation of a classic novel. They are known for creating some well done adaptations and the case is no different here. Although there were liberties taken with Sir Walter Scott's story, it still remains faithful to the integrity of the book. About the length of their making of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, it is able to bring to life many events of the novel without much rushing. But that is also a detractor in the film, as it is obvious that this movie is five or six hours. There are scenes that can be tedious and long; you are tempted to push the fast forward button to speed things up. This is the case especially in the beginning of the movie. But towards the end of the film, my interest grew and I could hardly wait to stick the next tape into my VCR.
My other problems with the film was with some of the cinematography: the picture and landscape always seemed dark to me. It was as if there was a thin veil over the picture and you longed to pull it back to see clearly. It hardly seems as if there actually is any soundtrack with the film to speak of; notes of music are interspersed throughout the movie, but they do not really sound well put together; I think the word "harsh" seems to describe it well. Being a fan of period clothing, I enjoyed observing the medieval costumes and I thought some of Rowena and Rebecca's outfits were worth noticing. I found the wide array of characters fascinating, even Robin Hood makes an appearance. Sir Brain de Bois-Guilbert was one of my favorites. He is your typical villain in the beginning, but as time goes on you are allowed to see that there are deeper sides to his character. His love for Rebecca was what I found to be most touching in the film.
To be honest, when the movie was over I found myself liking the villain, Sir Brian, more than the hero, Ivanhoe. I also appreciated the presence of two strong woman characters in Rowena and Rebecca. They were not the clich damsels in distress, but were resourceful and intelligent. I found myself liking the both of them very much. Perhaps even Rebecca more so than Rowena, for Rebecca's strength in morals were something to be admired. There is much violence throughout the film. Although much of it is handled cleanly -- not a whole lot of blood is shown -- it is still very intense all of the same. As it is really an action/adventure movie, violence tends to dominate.
Many morals are given in the movie about love, sacrifice, and forgiveness, as well as bravery and honor. God is mentioned in a praised light by Rebecca, who when faced with trouble repeats Psalms and claims that her strength is in God and that she will put her trust in Him. Taken on a whole, although the movie has some slow parts and is laden with violence, it's something I would still recommend.
There is very little visible sexual content, but a great deal of conversation about it. There is one instance when Rebecca is only in her shift and although material covers her whole body, it is a little too revealing for my taste, as you can easily tell she is wearing nothing underneath. A couple of sexual comments are made; an old woman says to a man that she used to tempt him once and Sir Brian mentions to Rebecca that he has had many whores before and asks why he should treat her differently. Sir Brian wants Rebecca in his bed, and makes no bare bones in trying to tempt her. There's discussion of maidenhood, having to "love" one's husband in bed, and references to rape. A priest informs a woman what will happen when she burns at the stake, and makes mildly lustful comments about her body.
There is some strong and mild language, including the oath "God's blood" which many deem to be offensive.
There are several gruesome scenes when a man is shown with fresh wounds across his face (one eye is missing), and a decapitated head in a sack is briefly shown.