01/02/2011

WATCHING BBC IVANHOE 1997 : BOIS-GILBERT OR IVANHOE?

1. Ivanhoe and Robin Hood
Recently,  I have been teaching  Robin Hood in the Medieval Ballads  of the Outlaws  and comparing the traditional figure of the legendary outlaw to  Sir Walter Scott's Locksley.   Robin Hood and his men were only supporting players in Scott's IVANHOE, providing much needed back-up to the title character. Still, Robin's appearance in Ivanhoe influenced later tellings of the story. For example, through most of the novel, Robin goes by the name of Locksley, which Scott says "From the ballads of Robin Hood, we learn that this celebrated outlaw when in disguise, sometimes assumed the name of Locksley, from a village where he was born". It was probably Scott's use of "Locksley" which turned Robin (particularly the Robin of TV and movies) from Robin Hood, born in Locksley/Loxley into "Robin of Locksley" who only used Robin Hood as an alias.

The success of Ivanhoe was simply astounding. Within a few months of its initial publication, there were at least six stage versions of the story - often competing for theatre goers attention on the same night. It has been adapted into operas, spin-off novels and comic books. And usually, Locksley and the other Robin Hood characters make an appearance in these adaptations. Ivanhoe was one of the most read novels for generations, and so its effect on the legend is not surprising. While the Robin Hood of the novel is not that different from his ballad counterpart, many of Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe's characteristics later became associated with Robin Hood. Sir Wilfred is an ex-Crusader who is disinherited and estranged from his father. Ivanhoe fights Normans and rescues his lady love. None of these plot points appear in the Robin Hood ballads, but they are now a part of Robin's character in most modern movies and novels. ( Read more at Wolfshead Through the Ages )



2. The BBC Drama IVANHOE 1997


While working on Scott's novel, in search for pages with Robin Hood and his Merry Men to read with my students, I remembered I had this old DVD in my collection, a  BBC 6-part dramatization of the historical novel dating back to 1819, which I had never actually seen. Honestly, I had  only quickly skipped from scene to scene in search for the moments I might need for my lessons. For example,  I cut and used the scene of "the trial by combat" , which is very different from the book. In a lab lesson, we compared the written text with the images noticing the differences.
Now, I decided it was time to watch it all and I did it.
From the magnificent pageantry of knightly tournament to the whispered meetings of courtly lovers, Sir Walter Scott's epic Ivanhoe has thrilled readers for generations. It lacks of historical accuracy from the very start: the clash between the Saxons and the Normans had already been settled at the time of King Richard and Prince John. But it is a great tale,  anyway. I also agree with Alessandro Manzoni, who believed the truth or the verosimile had to be the subject of a historical  novel,  while claiming Scott's historical characters are rather inaccurate , so unbelievable. But though "picturesque" his King Richard /Black Knight has got his charm.
Both the book and this 6-part series are set  in the dark days after Richard the Lionheart returns to England, this sweeping saga follows the noble Saxon knight Wilfred of Ivanhoe as he battles the factions of the scheming Prince John.

On his quest, Ivanhoe meets some of English folklore's most fabled figures - including Robin Hood and the fearsome Black Knight - and discovers a romantic passion that will forever divide his heart: Rowena or Rebecca?

The cast is good ( see link below)  but outstanding among them is Ciarán Hinds with his portrayal of Sir Brian de Bois-Gilbert. Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is the classic anti-hero of literature but,  once again, as between Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne (in the 3 BBC series 2006/2009),  I sided with the wicked,  tormented soul in the story.  Brooding characters are definitely more  fascinating and , in this case, Brian's  love for the Jewess Rebecca is far more interesting than that of the hero,  Ivanhoe.
The Irish actor's outward appearance fits perfectly with the portrayal of Bois-Guilbert's as given by Scott.

"High features, naturally strong and powerfully expressive, had been burnt almost into Negro blackness by constant exposure to the tropical sun, and might, in their ordinary state, be said to slumber after the storm of passion that had passed away; but the projection of the veins of the forehead, the readiness with which the upper lip and its thick black moustache quivered upon the slightest emotion, plainly intimated that the tempest might be again and easily awakened. His keen, piercing, dark eyes told in every glance a history of difficulties subdued and dangers dared, and seemed to challenge opposition to his wishes, for the pleasure of sweeping it from his road by a determined exertion of courage and of will; [...]"

Brian de Bois- Gilbert is introduced as the villain,   a dark and brutal Templar Knight who hounds the heroic Ivanhoe.  But he soon reveals himself much more interesting with his  passions and his inner wounds than the hero, who doesn't much evolve. Ivanhoe spends most of the book and the TV series lounging around on a stretcher recovering from a wound, while Bois-Guilbert stamps around swearing, scheming, sword-fighting, and swash-buckling. Bois-Guilbert at first kidnaps and tries to seduce Rebecca, but then falls wildly in love with her – however, she determinedly rejects his overtures, insisting that he can never be her master, never “have her soul”. This is is  finest hour: when he is trying to win the love of proud, lovely Rebecca, not caring at all for the fact that she is  Jewish, hence an outcast. 

 I always wish Rebecca might have accepted him  instead of longing for Ivanhoe. She could have saved him, redeemed him. I  think that Ciaran Hinds and Susan Lynch, as Bois-Gilbert and Rebecca, are  more passionate and haunting than Steven Waddington and Victoria Smurfit as Ivanhoe and Rowena.
Overall,  definitely worth a look. Not perfect, maybe boring and repetitive at times, but not a complete waste of time. I'd watch it again just to enjoy Hinds as Bois de Gilbert ;-)

IVANHOE OR  BOIS-GILBERT?


ROBIN HOOD OR GUY OF GISBORNE?


I bet you know my answers!

12 comments:

heidenkind said...

Seriously? Sir Brian Bois-Gilbert all the way, baby!! I don't know what that crazy Rebecca was thinking.

JaneGS said...

Sir Walter Scott has long been on my TBR list, and I am definitely getting closer to starting to read him. Ivanhoe sounds terrific, and I really like Ciaran Hinds, so maybe I'll watch the BBC adaptation eventually.

Wonderful review and persepective on this stuff that fuels legends :)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Heidenkind
Rebecca was scared by what she felt but I don't want to go further in this analysis. I'm sure YKWIM. Thanks for dropping by and commenting!
@JaneGS
Scott wrote beautiful historical novels if you don't mind his inaccuracy, his picturesque way of depicting past history and historical figures. I find his work interesting, but not the best prose one can meet with. Rob Roy and Waverley are other novels I've worked on in the past.
Thanks for your contribution , Jane.

Ruth said...

I haven't watched this version of Ivanhoe in YEARS, I need to dig out my DVDs!

Anonymous said...

And I bet you know MY answer(s), too! :D
Although whenever I hear of Ivanhoe I can't but think of a very young and handsome Roger Moore in tights, back in the late 50s (!!!)
xx K/V

Traxy said...

I've only seen the 1982 version, but my vote there is for Sir Brian. He doesn't look like the description from the book, but on the other hand, he's played by Sam Neill. And in the one you're posting about, Ciarán Hinds. How can I NOT say "woohoo, Sir Brian all the way!"? ;) Ivanhoe just looks like a pansy and isn't half as intriguing as a character. I like 'em damaged and brooding!

lunarossa said...

The only ever Ivanhoe I've seen is dated 1952 and it was a lavish Hollywood production starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor. I bet RA would be a marvellous Ivanhoe with his black shiny hair and smouldering smile ...Shall we suggest this to some director?
Ciao. A

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@lunarossa
I'd rather suggest him as a perfect Bois - Gilbert! Maybe this time Rebecca ...

arabella_vidal said...

Lovely post, MG, thanks! This reminds me of the film version of Ivanhoe that I watched when I was a kid and I did prefer Blois-Gilbert even though he was not the younger or more handsome of the two. When he saved the girl at the end, I think it was Rebecca, I instantly saw his life as the more romantic of the two men's. I think that is my earliest instance of preference for the anti-hero/villain. Thanks for recommending this TV version, I love Ciaran Hinds.

Blodeuedd said...

Lol, I have always thought the same. Yes Bois was perhaps not the smoothest man with him kidnapping her and all. But she could have looked past that when he fell in love. He would have given up everything for her, while Ivanhoe just said oh sorry, gotta marry good old Christian blondie.

Oh Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else think Brian de Bois-Guilbert is sort of like Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre? Like when he was trying to persuade Rebecca to run away with him to another country and stuff. And the description in the book makes me think of Rochester.

Anonymous said...

Ciaran hinds... the best bois guilbert ever