Reviewer: Carissa Horton
I have always been enamored of the world in which bandits thrived and swashbuckling events were anticipated. But especially when the thieves actually meant good for a people unable to defend themselves. Honor was their way of life. Robin Hood stole my heart at an extremely young age. Imagine my delight in discovering that Wilfred of Ivanhoe is equally as impressive in his motives and intentions.
A young knight returns home from following his now captured king to France in the fighting of the Crusades. Ivanhoe (Anthony Andrews) has been castigated from his home by a once beloved father Sir Cedric (Michael Hordern), and now must once again prove himself worth of admiration. And what is more, the traitor Prince John (Ronald Pickup) now resides on what is King Richards (Julian Glover) rightful throne. A generous soul, even in his current state, Ivanhoe continues to befriend others, including one most would cast off as an infidel. Isaac of York (James Mason) and his lovely daughter Rebecca (Olivia Hussey) are Jews in a strange land, bereft of many friends until Ivanhoe makes an appearance in their lives. He offers them one good turn and Isaac lends him the means to defeat three of Prince Johns strongest knights at a tournament.
On the tournaments second day, the knights previously unseated have proclaimed revenge upon the young upstart who so disgraced them. Brian de Bois-Guilbert (Sam Neill), Front de Boeuf (John Rhys-Davies), and De Bracy (Stuart Wilson) are truly forces to be reckoned with, and they have Prince Johns utter approval for their actions. Outnumbered, Ivanhoe fights valiantly but cannot long survive such an onslaught. Gravely wounded, Ivanhoe has only the old Jew and his daughter from whom to seek assistance. His own father will not acknowledge him, and Ivanhoe's lady love, Rowena (Lysette Anthony), is helpless to offer aid. As she cares for him, Rebecca's affection for Ivanhoe matures and develops, and one could hardly blame her for he is a warm and caring youth. If only their heritage was not such a vast chasm between them.
Through somewhat ironic circumstances, Isaac, Rebecca, and Ivanhoe find themselves under the somewhat resentful protection of Ivanhoe's father. As they journey home, their whereabouts comes to the attention of the three disgraced knights. Honorable men would not have heeded such a scheme, but with wounded pride, they can be driven to any action. Taking hostage the entire entourage, the men have a devious scheme where the ladies are concerned. Rowena is fated to marry De Bracy who, though a cad and a brute, is not quite as distasteful of manner as his fellows. And poor Rebecca has drawn the unfortunate attention of Brian Guilbert, a formidable man who goes after whatever pleases him in whatever manner he considers the most forthcoming. Ivanhoe is still weak from his wounds and unable to provide aid in even the smallest degree and here is where he is needed most. Unless something can be done, murder and rape will most assuredly win the day. But then, were not reckoning on the determination of King Richard and a certain outlaw by the name of Robin Hood.
Not quite on par technically with other films of its genre, Ivanhoe still manages to rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, I have never read Sir Walter Scotts novel by the same name, so am going simply by what I enjoyed about the storyline. The violence, while present, does not pervade the entire film. I, for one, love seeing tournaments and such where men are battling it out for the fair hand of a maiden. Injuries do occur from these encounters, but nothing to turn your stomach. A castle is besieged with King Richards troops, including the deaths of several men on both sides. A man is threatened with the prospect of his daughter's rape and his own death by being roasted slowly over a fire pit (neither is shown, and the daughter escapes harm altogether). A woman is accused of being a sorceress and is very nearly burned at the stake because she will not abandon her religion. Men are stabbed, shot with arrows, and otherwise mortally wounded throughout the film.
Any sexual tension is kept fairly mild, although men are drawn to ladies who are determined to refuse them. Brian de Bois-Guilbert comes to mind. He makes a passionate case to Rebecca, and were it not for a promise of protection made on his honor, she would have been bedded by him before the end of the film. De Bracy is not quite so forthright in pleading his case with Rowena, but I was still concerned for her. Ivanhoe himself is drawn in two entirely different directions where love is concerned. He has worshiped Rowena since the time of their childhood, and has sworn to marry her against all odds. Yet, Rebecca manages to creep into his affections as well, and personally, I believe his love for her would have been deeper and more mature than the childhood romance of Rowena. But overall, blatant romance is not present through the film, and that is the way I prefer it. Give me subtlety any day.
Now for the actors. All I can do is applaud. I knew many of these actors from past films, and even radio dramas (such as Michael Hordern). I especially admire Olivia Hussey's portrayal of Rebecca. She is a gentle, caring woman, but with a determination that sparks from her gaze, stemming from the strength of her faith. The actress truly caught the character of Rebecca. Ah, Anthony Andrews. What more is there to say, except that I wish he were in every scene in the movie. The man is a marvel, and I love his version of Ivanhoe. Every one of the actors seemed ideally cast, although I did not much care for Lysette Anthony until nearer the end. She's never appealed to me very much. And finally, a Robin Hood who is an accurate portrayal of the jolly merry man from Howard Pyles depiction. The villains are not quite as villainous as in other versions, but still not entirely likeable. This is an ideal chance to see John Rhys-Davies in an earlier role, long before The Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately, the cinematography was not entirely impressive. This movie was made for television and it does show. The score has a tendency to move up and down with dramatic moments, which is the case in most older films, and it does grate on ones nerves occasionally. However, having seen the newer film version produced by A&E, I can honestly say that I love this one more. It may not be as long or anywhere as near in depth, but the characters are far more likeable and less flawed. It is not so morbidly disturbing, but offers hope just around the corner for one and all. We already know that this tale does not paint Christianity in a very friendly light. Every religion had its dark time in history, and as I watch this, all I can do is thank God that believers have the Light to brighten their path. We are no longer steeped in the darkness and superstition prevalent in Ivanhoe.
Here is an Ivanhoe whom you can truly admire for he is pure of heart. Here is a Rebecca who is courageous without being vicious or distrusting of others. I can only say what I know, and that is, here is a movie to be loved and watched continuously. Now, if only it were the length of the A&E adaptation, I would be deliriously happy with the outcome.
Sexual tension with overtones of intended rape (none come to pass).
A castle is besieged with King Richards troops, including the deaths of several men on both sides. A man is threatened with the prospect of his daughter's rape and his own death by being roasted slowly over a fire pit (neither is shown, and the daughter escapes harm altogether). A woman is accused of being a sorceress and is very nearly burned at the stake because she will not abandon her religion. Men are stabbed, shot with arrows, and otherwise mortally wounded throughout the film.