This stirring made-for-British television film based on the Walter Scott novel, Ivanhoe is set in the reign of Richard I during the Crusades. Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Steven Waddington) returns from the Crusades, disgraced and disinherited, to a troubled England under the rule of petulant Prince John (Ralph Brown). While the Norman knights run amok in Richard’s absence, Ivanhoe’s father hopes to perpetuate the Anglo Saxon line by marrying his ward, Rowena (Victoria Smurfit) to a descendant of King Alfred the Great, Lord Athelstane (Chris Walker).
This 1997 adaptation, at 270 minutes, is gripping, but it’s not a big budget production. This explains the lackluster tournament, and the sound of the hollow wooden stage set when various characters walk around in Prince John’s castle.
That said, Ivanhoe is a rousing tale of loyalty, and passion as the scattered remnants of the Anglo Saxons try to salvage some dignity under the excesses of the Norman knights. The film, set in an age of feudalism, shows the conflicting loyalties experienced by many of the characters in all levels of society. The Norman knights (de Bois-Guilbert, de Bracey, de Boeuf) vacillate between loyalties to Prince John and the head of the Templar knights, the fanatical Lucas de Beaumanoir (Christopher Lee). The kingdom is not yet united under the banner of Nationalism, and so opposing forces within the country vie for various spoils and favours. Prince John plays a dastardly, weak man who remains, even in adulthood, bitterly jealous of his elder brother. Although the film is well-acted, and boasts a good script, the character of Ivanhoe seemed, unfortunately, too bland, and ultimately Ciaran Hinds steals the film as Brian de Bois-Guilbert. From director Stuart Orme.