While reading Ivanhoe I determined to see every film version that I could. This was first on the list. And may I say it is totally worthy of that place! Also, just for fun I decided not to put in any spoilers. Hence, all and sundry may read on with impunity.
Accuracy to book
This being an oldie interpretation of a classic, as you might guess there were a great many changes. However, I feel it kept close to the good old spirit of the story. And as the length of the film was much shorter than would allow for easy explanation of some problems, I think most of the changes made a great deal of sense.
Things to note
My mother didn’t have my youngest sister watching it, but that was mainly because of some of the intensity, which would have been a bit much for her to take in. Otherwise there are no irritating scenes.
Costumes, scenery, and music
The costumes are the almost fairy-tale finery that we all know and love from that era of film. The scenery and music go along with that—the part with the burning castle being especially thrilling!
I have to say it. This Ivanhoe was way “better” than the book—which is good as he is not only Ivanhoe, but the “Black Knight” as well. He does make one or two rather strange mistakes, however he carries off the whole “more or less in love with two girls at the same time” difficulty very honorably, is quick on his feet and altogether is a good egg.
Rowena is a bit more mature and forthright than in the book. She also totally apprehends Rebecca’s feelings for Ivanhoe., indeed that whole loop comes in quite a bit. Otherwise she was quite good—and she and her chosen one make quite a noble couple.
Beautiful, mysterious and with an inner glowing purity, this Rebecca is exactly how I picture her in the book. And the last scene with her and Bois-Guilbert and Rowena is simply perfection.
My very first reaction to discovering that George Sanders played Bois-Guilbert was inelegant snickers. I feared the worst. But judging from my past career I am sure you might guess what happened. That feeling totally reversed. Indeed I have decided that (barring Basil Rathbone who was born to play Bois-Guilbert, though he never did) I can picture no other actor from the time showing the roughness and deep tension of his character and temperament so well. And his soft repentant sort of expression? No one could have done that better.
Other important characters
Prince John is THE most evil faced John I have seen yet, but what was really fun is that he and King Richard looked extraordinarily alike (except that one had all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it :)). No wait, I just got carried away—Richard actually had both. Isaac of York is shown as a good upstanding fellow—as is Locksley. Wamba’s loyalty was bravely shown. De Bracy (who as you may know, is one of my favorites!) is mainly shown as Bois-Guilbert’s henchman, hence he doesn’t really have the screen time of the novel, however, in its context, it actually turned out quite satisfactory. Cedric was not quite as antagonistic as he is in the novel, but he was still fairly grouchy.
This is the Ivanhoe that I will go to when I want a nice homey evening with plenty of comfortable thrills. Good old medieval excitement of the best tradition, it has everything I love in a medieval classic drama—sword-fights, the storming of castles, and epic romance!