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The Kingdom's greatest defender in his greatest battle!
Based on Sir Walter Scott's legendary text of the same name, Ivanhoe is an exciting effort that captures the energy associated with the cream of its genre. The movie has failings and certainly won't hold you for every one of its 142 minutes, but overall fans of epic cinema should give this little-seen TV movie a run in their DVD players.
The year is 1194, the same time that the crusades where being fought in the Holy Land. England is ruled under the nefarious Prince John (Ronald Pickup, Greyfriars Bobby) who intends to take both crown and throne to himself in the absence of rightful king, Richard, still battling in Jerusalem. However things are not completely lost, as the brave Saxon hero Ivanhoe (Anthony Andrews, Last Night) returns to fight for his country and ensure that the kingdom is returned to its rightful master. The film works along this basic narrative whilst throwing in the epic action and blossoming romances necessary to make a work of the genre compelling. It's not a perfect effort, nor has it dated particularly well, but Ivanhoe is in truth a more than passable way to spend two and a half hours.
The film's greatest achievement is its joyously romping tone. The picture wants to embrace all the heroics and gallant behavior of the period, and a lot of that unabashed love comes across in the viewing. It's obvious that the filmmakers set out to create the most enjoyable and unapologetically heroic swords and shields picture they could, and for the most part they succeed. Ivanhoe plays like an old-time swashbuckling quest for honor, where the hero is virtuous and the bad guys sneer and smirk with the best of them. It's all gloriously over the top and definitely pales in comparison to recent and more notable additions to the genre, but overall this is a film that is really easy to have a good time with.
The performances are campy and overzealous in the extreme, but no less appealing for it. As the brave title hero, Anthony Andrews is stoic and commendable, a bit wooden at times but always exuding an aura of courage and valor. As Prince John, Pickup is acceptably devilish and snarky, a villain whom the audience always roots against. However he's upstaged by Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), playing a twisted and deeply sadistic enemy of Ivanhoe. Neill is, as always, truly magnificent in his part. The romantic interests in the story are a bit less impressive. Lysette Anthony (Krull) is flat as Ivanhoe's old love now betrothed to another, whilst Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas) exudes charm but fails to truly develop her character. Both actresses look ravishing and each gets at least one instance to shine, but ultimately one feels the adaptation shortchanges them both.
The film is well worth investing in for those who revel in all things medieval. The jousting sequences are clearly budgeted yet exciting, and reference to Robin Hood only adds to the delirious sense of escapism. The film isn't really memorable and at times feels a little plodding and clumsy in execution, but it is well intentioned, and ultimately a jolly and riotous watch. Those looking for some old-time escapades could do a lot worse than this innocent and rather appealing adventure.
The disc is vanilla and, true to its made-for-TV roots, features very average technical qualities. The film is currently not rated by the MPAA, but families can be assured this is wholesome viewing for ages 7 and up. Indeed if you're planning a family night in, renting this fabulously straightforward tale would mark a pleasant way to spend it.
Ye Olde DVD Verdict finds this film not guilty.
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