Dutch Region 2 (PAL) Edition - Reviewed by Tim Symonds

Director Stuart Orme

Starring:  Steven Waddington, Victoria Smurfit, Ciaran Hinds, Susan Lynch


Sir Walter Scott’s classic novel Ivanhoe has been adapted a number of times for film and television, including a ten-part BBC version in 1970, starring Eric Flynn (which, somewhat remarkably, still survives in the BBC’s vaults), and a curiously-neglected ITC series, made in 1958, which gave Roger Moore his first TV starring role.

This two-disc Dutch import contains the 1997 version of Scott’s tale, a co-production between the BBC and A&E Network.

Set during the time of the Third Crusade, the serial tells the story of Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who returns from fighting in Palestine to find himself regarded as a traitor to the King, disowned by his father, given up for dead, and with his childhood sweetheart betrothed to another man. The country is under the thumb of the Normans, ruled by Prince John, in the absence of his brother, King Richard. Ivanhoe returns to the country determined to reveal the true traitor, the Templar Knight Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert, clear his name and win back the woman he loves.

This adaptation of Ivanhoe was filmed almost entirely on location in a number of castles in England and Scotland, with a few interiors mounted at Pinewood Studios, which gives the relatively low budget serial (approx £6m for six episodes) an expensive and authentic look. The only time the budget limitations really show are during scenes at the tournament, where the shields of the knights appear to be made out of cardboard, and during the set-piece battle sequence in the second half of the serial.

The 1997 version is said to be fairly representative of the book, which I haven't read, but the parts of Bois-Guilbert (Ciaran Hinds) and Rebecca of York (Susan Lynch) have been expanded and their relationship is at the heart of the second half of the production. This is fortunate, as Steven Waddington makes for a particularly uncharismatic Ivanhoe and Hinds and Lynch handle their roles superbly. Their two-handed scenes are a real treat and they act their socks off throughout. The rest of the cast, which includes such luminaries as Christopher Lee, Ronald Pickup, David Horovitch, Ralph Brown, James Cosmo and Sian Phillips, are excellent, with Brown's camp portrayal of Prince John particularly good.


The menu screens are very simple and consist of a list of options on the right, accompanied by a looping video clip. The viewer is presented with few options, as the discs are fairly straightforward affairs, with nothing in the way of commentaries or other extra features, apart from a text biography of Sir Walter Scott, which is written in Dutch (how inconsiderate!!) The individual episodes, three to a disc, cannot be accessed from the menu, which is something of an oversight. Each episode is present in its entirety, complete with credits, but you can only choose individual episodes using Scene Selection from the menus (you can choose them on the fly however) and even then you are usually taken to the credit roll of the previous episode. The only subtitles present are Dutch and they play by default. You can switch them off but, again, you have to do this on the fly as there's no menu option to disable them.

With the serial shot entirely on film and in some fairly dark locations, you would hope for a healthy bitrate and use of DVD 9s to allow for this. Unfortunately, both discs in the set are DVD 5s and the bitrate averages a paltry 3.35 Mb/s. The picture is fairly noisy, particularly in scenes set in the forest, walls appear to move about a little from time to time and there are a couple of blocky moments, but I personally found the overall quality acceptable.

Nothing has been done to clean up the prints, with some sequences surprisingly dirty and scratchy for a serial less than ten years old. The aspect ratio is as broadcast, presented in 4:3 format with the image framed at 14:9 and the few English captions needed in the serial are present, burned into the picture.

Sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo at 224kbps. Sadly, there is one major fault with the sound, a dropout, during episode two (at approx 3.10) when the word "bankrupt" disappears during a rant by Prince John. A very brief loss of the left channel also occurs, right at the beginning of the fourth episode, but this is very brief indeed and I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been watching whilst wearing headphones.


If the BBC gets around to releasing this in the UK it will need some work; at the very least a decent clean up and higher bitrate. The production deserves a better presentation on DVD than this, but despite being far from perfect I am quite happy with the set, which can be obtained for under €20 from www.memphisbelle.nl or can be found on eBay for around £10. A Region 1 release, which is apparently presented on two dual-layer discs, is also available, from A&E Home Video.












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