I recently re-watched three versions of Ivanhoe, and thought I'd write up my thoughts on each here. The three versions are the 1952 Robert Taylor movie, the 1982 TV movie, and the 1997 TV mini-series. I'm going to start with the 1982 version, as that was the first Ivanhoe I saw. After I've written up each individually, I'll do a compare/contrast.
I did not see it when it aired, but caught it several years later on video. I rented it solely for Sam Neill, and fell in love with the story of Ivanhoe, among other things. I grew up on the Robin Hood legend, King Richard, Prince John, the Magna Carta, and that whole time period, so Ivanhoe was a natural for me. I'm just surprised it took me that long before I saw a version. (I read the book shortly thereafter, loved it too.)
This is a star-studded version, with a decent budget, lots of action and vibrant color, but a bit cheesy and/or dated in places (depending on how you want to look at it). Sam Neill plays Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the Knight Templar who falls in love with Rebecca of York, whose played by Olivia Hussey. I loved her in Romeo & Juliet, and she did not disappoint here. James Mason plays her father, Isaac of York. Julian Glover is King Richard, Ronald Pickup is Prince John, Anthony Andrews plays Ivanhoe, John Rhys Davies is Front-de-Boeuf, Michael Hordern Cedric, and Stuart Wilson played Maurice de Bracy.
I was surprised by a couple things when I saw this movie. Ivanhoe may be the title character, but he's not the heart of this story. He spends most of it sidelined with injuries he receives in a melee that was unfairly stacked against him. If not for King Richard, he wouldn't have made it out alive! So, while he moans and groans and tries to recover, the other characters take over the story. In particularly, Bois-Guilbert's forbidden love for Rebecca. In many ways, he is the main character. He's also the only character who truly has a character arc, the only one who changes throughout the story. This, naturally, makes him the most interesting character. Well, almost.
I also fell in love with Bois-Guilbert's cohort, Maurice de Bracy (and by extension, the actor that played him, Stuart Wilson. After seeing him in this, I sought him out in other films, and still keep my eye out for him. He has never disappointed me in a role yet.) De Bracy is a mercenary knight, leader of the Free Companions, but he's honorable, and I am always a sucker for honorable men. He also is lovely to watch when he swordfights. He's quick and very graceful, more so than any of the other actors. In an unstaged fight, I think he would have beaten everyone. His fights are too short, but that's what the rewind button is for! LOL!
As much as I love Sam Neill, in this particular film, I liked Stuart Wilson more. Not to say there was anything wrong with Sam Neill. He was deliciously angry, smarmy and condescending, and finally frustrated with the whole unrequited love thing. One of the things I love about this version is that he nearly takes Ivanhoe apart in their final showdown. Ivanhoe may have bested him in the joust, but I think even were Ivanhoe fully recovered from his injuries, this particular Bois-Guilbert is the better swordsman, and the victory is clearly in his hands. I loved that, because it made his sacrifice for Rebecca that much more poignant.
Things I didn't like: Michael Hordern and Lysette Anthony (Rowena). I like both actors in other movies, but they both annoyed me here. Hordern because his Cedric was a whining complainer and a bit of a fool (not the actor's fault, but the script's), and Rowena because her spunk was overridden by her simpering and sad pouting. Hard to explain, but she just annoyed me here. Too bad, because she had some sassy dialogue and showed spirit. The actor playing Ivanhoe was adequate, but his character is overshadowed by the others, so honestly, I didn't pay that much attention to him.