43 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Top 5 Things I Learned Watching Ivanhoe (1982)

  1. large multi person bathtubs were a thing throughout the middle ages, most large towns had specialist bathhouses, where the water was heated, and btahing was communal and often mixed sex. It was only after the black death that thet began to be officially clsoed down as they were seen as palces the disease could spread. often there were snacks and prostitutes available thereien

    1. I don’t think anyone is questioning whether multiperson bathtubs existed at the time, or whether there were heated bathhouses at the time. I think it’s where the concepts are crossed – a stand alone multiperson bath with no heating element, yet clearly so hot that it is steaming – that tests credulity.

      1. Then again, how cold is the room it’s standing in? Get a whole squad of servitors running all together from the kitchen with buckets of hot water to fill the bath, and if that’s an unheated room in a Midlands winter it will steam and stay steamy for quite some time, I promise you!

      2. A knight cleaning up after a long day in the saddle would sponge off with the help of his squire or a body servant, probably using unheated water.
        A bath was an EVENT! and a very elaborate process. . A big wooden tub would be used but it would be lined with linen cloth to protect from splinters and tented to keep the heat in. Snacks might be served and music played. A bath was more about relaxation than getting clean. When the bathers had had enough they would be carefully dried and retire to a warm bed to let their pores close and their flesh ‘harden’.

        1. Could it have been placed over a natural hot spring? Not to excuse anything ridiculous, but there are hot springs in Britain (e.g. Bath).

  2. Don’t trust Sir Walter Scott as a source for historical accuracy. The Norman-Saxon tension is often brought up in the Robin Hood legendry, and Scott plays on it. But Scott also tells us in another story (cinematized as “King Richard and the Crusaders” that a European knight’s sword can split an anvil (it can’t, any more than a samurai katana can) or that the Saracen scimitar is so sharp that it can split a piece of silk wafting through the air. Mark Twain tells us in “Connecticut Yankee” that a suit of armour is so heavy knights had to be hoisted onto their horses. While this may occasionally have been true for jousting armour, it was not the case for war harness. “King Richard***” also has one of the most inane lines ever uttered on film by his sister, visiting at a battle site “War, war, war! That’s all you ever think about, Dickie Plantagenet.”

    1. In fairness to Sir Walter he was following to historical thought of his time, which was pretty inaccurate. Making Conisburgh Castle, a Norman keep, Athelstan’s seat for example.

    2. That is a fabulous line. (Are we sure it’s “Dickie,” as opposed to “Dick” or “Dickon”?) Must try it out on the little man one of these evenings: “Handel, Handel, Handel! That’s all you ever think about, Hubby!”

  3. Gosh, all the mylar and sparkle. Must be alchemists involved to chance silks and nice warm wool to such crap. Maybe it was due to threat or maybe whatever. Lol. But check out SnappyDragon on YouTube as she actually has blogs on what Jewish women wore. And the garments were regional.

  4. Hahaha, this is great. That version was more of a hot mess than any of the other Ivanhoe versions, of which there have been many, on stage (Scott attended one in 1826, shortly after the book’s publication) and the big and small screen. Perhaps the most notable film version starred Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Taylor in 1952. I have seen the various versions and can confidently say that the costuming is bad in all of them, but this one wins the best worst award! The best is probably the 1997 TV miniseries, but it’s a low bar.
    I’ve been an Ivanhoe fan since Junior High, when my English teacher forced us to read the novel and analyze it chapter by chapter, and actually ACT OUT the last Ivanhoe/Bois Guilbert fight scene. (I think she had a “thing” for the novel. I got extra credit because my father made a really nice wooden sword for the event, and I let the teacher keep it. Yeah, a real suck-up.)
    The book has about four simultaneous plots, and even without Scott’s writing style can be realllly slow going. The anachronisms in the plot are astounding and become humorous. BTW Rowena is the ward of Cedric, Ivanhoe’s father, and the last descendent of a noble Saxon line. Cedric is determined that she marry Athelstane to rebuild the Saxon dynasty, but she loves Ivanhoe (sad trombone). In reality Normans and Saxons had already integrated by this point in history, but whatev.

    1. What irritates the heck out of me in the book is how Rebecca, a woman so out of his class it isn’t funny, yearns for Ivanhoe and announces her intent to remain unmarried for his sake when he’s showed clearly that he considers her beyond the pale. Mind you I’m not blaming Wilfred for that, of course a Twelfth century Christian would feel like that. I’m just desperately annoyed that Rebecca isn’t regarding him as a Twelfth century Jewish woman would regard a gentile!

      1. You can blame Scott and 18th C attitudes for that one. Jews are beyond the Pale, whereas Christians are desirable, and Any Respectable Person would want one. Readers at the time who loved Rebecca and wanted a better outcome for her wanted her to become Christian as the solution. W.M. Thakeray, who famously wrote a fanfic at the time to resolve this unsatisfactory ending, had her converting and marrying Ivanhoe. You actually have to give Scott credit for presenting a positive, strong, and endearing Jewish heroine and arguing against the prejudice she and Jews faced in the Middle Ages–especially given that anti-Semitism hadn’t improved much in his time (indeed, that was what he was indirectly pointing to).

      2. I enjoyed the Rebecca-Ivanhoe story as a tragic, impossible love story. He doesn’t say “If only you were of my race,” – he says (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact words), “Had I been of your race …” and he nearly gets killed to save her at the end.

        1. Wilfred certainly finds Rebecca attractive, he’s prejudiced not dead but he isn’t in love with her. He risks his life to save her because he owes her his life and because caring for him is what put her in danger. He is in love with Rowena, who isn’t all that bad.

          1. I am of course thinking of the book. Wilfred and Isaac and Rebecca’s relationship is a complicated web of debts and benefits. Wilfred saves Isaac so Isaac gives him the armor to joust in. Wilfred then pays Isaac back the price of the armour which makes them quits until he’s wounded and Rebecca takes him to nurse. Which gets her captured, carried off by Brian de B-G and threatened with burning. Which I rather think is anachronistic btw. Honorably Wilfred can do nothing but try to save her. It probably would have been wiser to send somebody who wasn’t recovering from wounds though!

  5. The book is VERY romantic and not wealth of accuracy, of course, so not going museum curator on it is understandable. But repeated cliches in 80s synthetics was not the way to go.

  6. If you want a fun take on Ivanhoe, I recommend a YA book, “Knigh’s Castle,” by Edward Eager.

    1. I adore this book and am so glad to see someone mention it! It is so much fun to see how the kids respond to the 1952 movie. I still remember Rowena in their adventure being sanctimonious and addicted to bonbons.

      As for the eighties version, I remember watching it at the time and dubbing Rowena the Breck Girl, because her hair was always so lustrous and bouncy.

  7. If you want to learn about actual medieval Jewish women’s clothing, SnappyDragon on YouTube has a few video essays on the topic that are really great. She talks about what the evidence says they were wearing, what was imposed on them by the Christians, and has some discussion of differences in clothing by area. And she’s made some really beautiful recreations.

  8. Ahhh, yes, Ivanhoe! I loved the book as a teen – but only as long as I read it in German. I think some of Scott’s long-windedness was lost in the translation I read. When I went back and read the original in English, I could barely make it. Saw the 1952 film a few times because it was always on in TNT’s “Swashbuckling Season” and I watched the heck out of that! The cut out a lot of the story in that film though. I hadn’t seen it in years, but actually watched it together with a friend for laughs a few weeks ago. And we did have a good giggle. Ah, cone-shaped bras under medieval gowns!
    Anyway, fast forward a few years after reading Ivanhoe, I developed a “thing” for Anthony Andrews (blame it on the Scarlet Pimpernel!) and when I found out about THIS TV version, of course I had to see it! It’s pretty faithful to the book story-wise, much more so than the 50s film, but I agree, the costumes are a mess. This Rowena in my view is Medieval Barbie doll! As for Sam Neill, I think that was his first TV or movie role outside of Australia/New Zealand.
    I have seen the 90s version on TV too – but remember pretty much nothing. Clearly, it left no lasting impression…

  9. I learned that a tambourine can make a really good headpiece from the first image, and that the sequin fabric that you can stroke to change colour would make really good chain mail. If only they had access to it in 1982. But seriously (?) this takes way more inspiration from Hollywood takes on the era rather than the actual time period, so if you think of it as an accurate tribute to THAT era, it’s kind of accurate, or meta accurate? It’s a stretch! (velvet)

  10. Today I learned if you can’t be bothered to go period, use lots of shiny synthetics to blind the audience.

  11. Good to see a guest appearance by the French soldier who farts in your general direction. Judging from his expression, he didn’t think much of Sam Neill’s hair, either

  12. Ok, y’all, I don’t HATE Sam Neill’s hair here. I mean, it’s not great, but…he still manages to be a hottie. I just learned that the 90’s era Ivanhoe is also streaming on Amazon. I watched about 5 minutes of it…eh… the good news was Ciaran Hinds and the guy who gets set on fire in Last of the Mohicans. The bad news…everything else. Maybe one day when I’m not soo tired I’ll try to watch both versions and/or read the book. Also, please tell I’m the only who thinks “Jesus’s Mom!” every time I see Oliva Hussey on screen.

        1. True, but it’s still my favourite version of the movie and I adore the Danilo Donati costumes.

  13. As I recall I liked the costumes in the Eighties Ivanhoe. I was young and loved sparkly. Come to that I still do! But even back then I knew that wasn’t what was actually worn.
    Personally I’d rather see Rebecca end up with Brian than Wilfred. The bland blonds deserve each other. Brian is a villain but by the end he’s so serious about Rebecca he’s ready to abandon his entire life and every ambition he’s ever had if she’ll take him. But for me, as a Jew, was his offer to start their lives over in the Homeland. Rebecca is of course far too moral to accept this unscrupulous bastard. I’m not. I’d be tempted.

    1. Totally agree with you regarding the Rebecca/Bois Guilbert pairing! Ivanhoe has to be one of the dullest protagonists in literature. Which is why the 1997 version is by far my favorite. I mean, I Iiked Sam Neill in the role, but watching Ciarán Hinds as Bois Guilbert…
      Because it was a TV six-episode miniseries it followed the book’s plot(s?) more closely, which is not necessarily a good thing, given that the book sets records for verbosity and tediousness.
      But do try to watch it again! Skip over the boring parts if you must, but I’d hate for you to miss the Rebecca and Brian scenes. The miniseries extends them more than the other films and even the book, which IS FINE BY ME. Sometimes I just re-watch the last few episodes, which is where most of the action is .

      1. Definitely have to check that out! I’m not saying Brian is a good romantic choice but he’s miles more interesting than Wilfred, he’s not in love with another woman and by God he’s interested in Rebecca!

  14. A while back, while griping about PFG somebody posted that historical novels get costume wrong too. Sir Walter is no exception. Rowena and Rebecca are described in ensembles right out of Liberty’s collection.
    Rowena first appears with her hair falling in ringlets over her shoulders, and ams bare to the elbows in a loose crimson robe worn over a sea green ‘gown and kirtle’. She wears jewels in her hair and a sort of drapery round her shoulders.
    Rebecca also wears ringlets flowing beneath a yellow turban with a plume attached by a glittering jewel. She has a diamond necklace also sparkling, obviously cut stones. And she wears a flowing robe, purple embroidered with a floral design, fastened by jeweled clasps.
    As for the men Brian wears an authentic mail suit while traveling but otherwise the men are clad in fourteenth century tourney armour and fourteenth century fashions.

  15. I always thought Wilford was a goop and Rowena deserved to get him. Rebecca deserved someone MUCH better, and who better than a reformed bad boy? as for the costumes? they’re traditional Hollywood “Ye Olde Tyme” so spot on! glimmer and shine on!

  16. The actress in the thankless role of Rowena, Lysette Anthony, later played a far more dynamic character, the witch Angelique, in the 1991 remake of Dark Shadows – unfortunately, it only lasted one season.

    The character of Rebecca in Scott’s novel was said to be inspired by Rebecca Gratz of Philadelphia, a Jewish philanthropist and educator. Gratz and Scott had a mutual friend in Washington Irving, who spoke admiringly to Scott of Rebecca Gratz. Gratz had been asked to marry a Gentile, but had refused to marry him due to her faith. (she never married anyone) Gratz seems to have been attractive, sophisticated, and intelligent.

  17. So funny that in Soviet Union another adaptation was made (Ballad of the Valiant Knight Ivanhoe) about the same time, 1982 or 1983. I even thought this post was about it! Not sure about its costumes, but male ones seemed fine.

  18. This movie (well, miniseries) is such a guilty pleasure for me, costume-wise.* It’s basically just one big ol’ Ren Faire, with minimal historical accuracy, improbable colors, clearly modern fabrics, and obviously glass jewels. But, well, I love Ren Faires! And besides, what is Ivanhoe but a Ren Faire of a story, what with all the tournaments and Templars and a guest appearance by Robin Hood?

    *In terms of performances, though, it has nothing to apologize for. What a cast!

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