|Anthony Andrews and Olivia Hussey in Ivanhoe (1982)|
For those of you unfamiliar with the story (which is probably just about everyone), Wilfrid of Ivanhoe is Saxon nobility in 1100s England, the time of King Richard. He goes against his father's wishes and joins Richard when he leaves on a Crusade. Said father disavows him, and Ivanhoe has literally no home to return to. But he does return home, and he challenges three of Prince John's favorite knights in a tournament, winning the day, but injuring himself dreadfully in the process. Isaac of York, a Jew, and his daughter Rebecca had essentially staked Ivanhoe in this tournament because Ivanhoe had defended them on the road. Isaac and Rebecca fly to the injured Ivanhoe's aid now, offering him their protection. A twist of fate has them traveling with Ivanhoe's father and the Lady Rowena, Ivanhoe's love, when they are set upon by the same three knights that Ivanhoe had bested. These men are unaware that Ivanhoe is in the company because their focus is on the Lady Rowena and Rebecca. It is during Ivanhoe's convalescence in hidden captivity that he and Rebecca realize their love for one another, despite the misgivings of them both.
Modern society has broken many of the boundaries placed upon people concerning relationships. In some ways this is fantastic, and in other ways not so much, but for Ivanhoe and Rebecca, no amount of connection would ever be enough to free them from society's traditions and expectations. There are two marks against this potential pair of lovers. One, Ivanhoe is Saxon nobility and Rebecca is peasantry. And two, Ivanhoe is a Christian and Rebecca is a Jew. In my favorite of Ivanhoe's quotes to Rebecca, he says, "Sweet, gentle maiden, if I belonged to your race, I would keep you and treasure you for the rest of my life. One life, that's all that God will give us, and we are not destined to share it." It brings tears to my eyes even now.
|The moment of confession for Ivanhoe and Rebecca.|
The boundary of social classes might have been crossed, if Ivanhoe was willing to risk the disdain of his father yet again, which I'm sure he gladly would have done. But he cannot break God's laws by marrying outside his faith, and neither will she. Whereas Brian de bois Guilbert was willing to forsake his faith, Ivanhoe was not. For some this might mean that he has little character, certainly not enough to pursue what he wants. But look at it another way. Ivanhoe loves Rebecca, more deeply than he loves Rowena, although he loves her too. But he knows that there would be no place for them to call home were he to take Rebecca as his wife. He could not bring her to his father's estate and he would not be welcomed among her people. He yearns for her, desires her, but he will not allow fleshly desires to impact his decision.
And it breaks my heart, every time. They cannot be unequally yoked according to both of their faiths, and Rebecca would not ask it of him. She knows just as he knows that there is no hope for them. How I wish it could be different, but in the very yearning I have for their happiness, I still respect and admire Ivanhoe for his restraint. Two kisses is all that they share, locked together in that tower awaiting rescue. He demands no more of her, and swears to her afterwards, "I shall never forget you, Rebecca. Never."
|"I shall never forget you, Rebecca. Never."|
Chivalry and romance do not mean taking what one wants. Sometimes it means giving up what you love the most. Ivanhoe's love is a sacrificial love. He and Rowena will be happy together, and most likely sire many children. He loves her, very much, and has since his childhood, but it is not the love that a man has for a woman, like he has for Rebecca.
Later in the story, Rebecca is in need of a champion, to defend her honor and save her from death. Ivanhoe never hesitates. This is a fight to the death for two knights, and Ivanhoe could lose the battle. All his plans could be undone, and Rowena's love for him could dissolve into tears of grief, but he never thinks of that. All he knows is that Rebecca needs him and he must fly to her side. He must protect her just as he would if she were his wife. Again, this is a sign of Ivanhoe's sacrificial love for Rebecca. He would die to defend her honor.
If you want Anthony Andrews at his most magnificent, his most chivalrous, and his most, shall we say, attractive, then Ivanhoe is probably the film for you. Even the 40 minutes where he's unconscious and perspiring are delightful because, let's be honest, nobody wears a little bit of grime like our Anthony.
|Because I had to include the kiss!|
I may write about the final battle between Brian de bois Guilbert and Ivanhoe or I may not. But there is a lot of food for thought about the two men, and who actually saves Rebecca's life.