Monday, October 3, 2011

Off-the-cuff movie review: IVANHOE

Last night our family watched the 1982 made-for-TV version of Sir Walter Scott's romantic adventure, Ivanhoe. The boys liked it because of the jousting and sword fighting, I liked that too, but also enjoyed the political and religious and social interactions between the varying parties. 
Ivanhoe is set in the time of King Richard the Lionheart, and Prince John's attempt to seize the throne is the backdrop for the story.  The main character, Wilfred of Ivanhoe (played by Anthony Andrews), is a young knight, disowned by his Saxon father for running off with Norman King Richard to fight in the Crusades. Ivanhoe returns and hopes to favorably influence his father by competing anonymously in a tournament, where he defeats and makes enemies of three Norman knights, who are loyal to Prince John. On the way to the tourney, he befriends Issac, the Jew of York, played by the excellent James Mason, who is almost chewing the scenery every time he's on screen. Isaac's daughter Rebecca, played by the lovely Olivia Hussey, gets it bad for Ivanhoe, even though they are kept apart by religion, and the fact that Ivanhoe only has eyes for Rowena, his father's ward. Rowena, played by Lysette Anthony, is also desired by one of the Norman knights that Ivanhoe gave a whuppin' to. 
Cedric, Ivanhoe's father, refuses to acknowledge his son, even when he is gravely wounded at the tourney, so if falls to Isaac and Rebecca to give Ivanhoe aid. They fall in with Cedric's party on the way home, and all of them are captured by the Norman three, and taken to the castle of Front-de-Bouef,played by John Rhys-Davies, who DOES chew the scenery every time he's on screen.
Enter the Black Knight, played by Julian Glover with heaps of presence and gravitas, who with the aid of Cedric's fool Womba, and the surprise arrival of Robin Hood and his band, attacks the castle and rescues (nearly) everyone. One of the knights, Brian Gilbert, played by Sam Neill, has gotten the hots for Rebecca, who unsurprisingly, wants nothing to do with him. So Brian flees the castle with Rebecca in tow, and runs off to the HQ of his religious order, probably meant to be the Knights Templar. The head of their order decides she's a witch, and orders Rebecca's execution. In the end, Ivanhoe saves the day, and the Black Knight's name and position are revealed. Everybody should be happy, except for Isaac and Rebecca, who depart in sadness for Spain, hoping to escape the religious bigotry and persecution they endured in England. Oh, and Rebecca doesn't want to stick around now that Ivanhoe and Rowena are married.
Apart from the scenery chewing, the acting all around was very good. Even the secondary characters were fully rounded people, not just stereotyped cutouts. The scenery, English countryside, was of course beautiful, and the costume people did not skimp at all on the robes, banners, armor, coats of arms, etc. The plot was multilayered, with large-scale politics blending with and interfering with such basic personal relations as father and son, lovers, friends and masters. The Fool Wamba, for example, very knowingly and very calmly puts himself in the way of certain death so that his master Cedric can escape, a fact which Cedric very gratefully promises will be remembered "as long as there is honor in the world".
Now, on the down side. There is one scene in which Front-de-Boeuf is threatening to torture Isaac, and this could be terrifying to younger kids. It doesn't happen, but we get right up to the edge before events intervene to stop it. The tourney scenes and the battle scenes are not bloody or gory (remember this was filmed for TV in 1982) but are very loud and I think more realistic than theatrical. Lots of knights and other fighting men do die. At one point Brian Gilbert is trying (not very well) to woo Rebecca, but she sees him as trying to assault her, and while the word rape is not used, nor is any violence done to her in the scene, the tension is very palpable, and may prove confusing and upsetting to younger kids. Especially when Rebecca threatens to throw herself out a high window rather than accept Brian's advances. Rebecca's treatment at the hands of 'Christian' knights was also deplorable, and prompted some discussion with our boys about whether these guys were acting in accordance with the Christian faith. I am proud to say they saw right through the knight's self-righteousness, and we had a good conversation about the importance of our actions matching our profession of faith.
Run time was two and a half hours, with convenient fade out-fade in breaks every fifteen minutes, where the commercials would have gone. Overall, this was a good, well acted movie with a mature plot that is still accessible to kids, and enjoyable on several levels by grown-ups.

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