This was the next version I saw of the Ivanhoe story. This is an A&E mini-series, and it is fabulous. Just as I watched the first one for Sam Neill, I tuned into this one for another actor, this time, Valentine Pelka. He's one of those British actors most people have never heard of, but I love love love him. He plays Maurice de Bracy, which delighted me no end, after loving Stuart Wilson in the same role.
What I found was a rock solid mini-series that was gripping start to finish. It has an unfair advantage over the 1982 version because it is a mini-series. With a running time of 270 minutes, it has room for character growth and depth that the other versions, of course, don't have, and it uses them wisely. This is also a much grittier, more "realistic" filming of the story. The characters look dirty, scroungy, and like they belong in the time period much more than the 1982 version.
The cast? Really, they're unrivaled here. Everyone of them looks and fits their role and turns in above standard performances. No cheese here! Ciarin Hinds gets the plummy Brian de Bois-Guilbert role and he is perfect. I may have loved Sam Neill, but I can't say I truly cared about his Bois-Guilbert. Not so this time, I was much more invested in the character. (But again with the unfair mini-series advantage of having so much more time and space...) Susan Lynch is Rebecca, and she, also, shines. The two play off each other very well, and their scenes are some of the best in the mini-series. James Cosmo plays Cedric, and, as opposed to the complaining version in the 1982 version, this Cedric is fierce, and definitely more action less talk, and definitely no whining. He'd be a scary stern father that you wouldn't want to mess with. (You know, I don't think I've seen James Cosmo in anything but period/fantasy movies. I can't even picture him in modern day clothes!). Stephen Waddington is Ivanhoe, and is more than adequate. Valentine Pelka makes a most excellent de Bracy, even more honorable than Stuart Wilson's, and if I hadn't already been in love with actor and character, this would have cemented it! Christopher Lee is even here, being absolutely terrifying as the rigid head of the Knights Templar. Everyone else fills in their characters nicely.
Special credit goes to Sian Phillips who has a brief but absolutely priceless appearance as Queen Eleanor, who meets with her two feuding sons. It might just be my favorite scene in the film. At the very least, it's the one that made me grin the most! Brilliant dialogue as she verbally lashes her two sons. Now this is a powerful and smart Queen! She's so good, you almost wish there was more scenes with her!
The only extremely minor downside is this version does not appear to have had a big budget. There are not hundreds of extras available to storm the castle or fill in the stands for the jousts, or even to populate Prince John's castle, which seems woefully understaffed. This didn't actually bother me because the rest was so good, but I've heard other complaints that it's "too small" in scale. Rubbish. I'll take it just as it is.
So, yes, this is far and away my favorite version of Ivanhoe. It's true to the story, has a great cast, great scenery, and is meaty. A&E got this one right!