Monday, February 10, 2014

Sacrificial Love: Ivanhoe and Rebecca

Anthony Andrews and Olivia Hussey in Ivanhoe (1982)

The best stories leave you wanting more. And sometimes they don't have the perfect ending, like Ivanhoe. I've never read the book (it's on my to-reads list for sometime in the next 5 years), so I have no clue as to whether this film adaptation is faithful or not, and frankly, I don't care. Because Wilfrid of Ivanhoe's story transcends just the tale penned by Sir Walter Scott. It is a tale of chivalry, of honor, of defeat, and of romance, and it never fails to move me to tears because my favorite couple is doomed to the status of unrequited love.

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.




Ivanhoe is bittersweet for those few fans who prefer Rebecca over the Lady Rowena. It is nothing against Rowena's character, for she is a delightful and sweet creature who has loved Ivanhoe all her life. She is destined to be his wife, just as he is destined to be her husband. Which means that Rebecca can never have Ivanhoe, not like that, no matter how much she and he might want it.

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.


I love Wilfrid of Ivanhoe. He's a delightful character of strength and valor and chivalry, a knight of the highest degree and a friend to King Richard himself. And his strength is not in pursuing his desires, but in standing strong against them. I'm usually in tears by the end of the film, and I was in tears just writing about them.

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.

19 comments:

  1. It's official -- my library stinks. They don't have a single movie version of Ivanhoe. GRR! I've added this to my Amazon wish list, which also has the 2002 version on it. One of these days, I'll get them, but so far I've only seen the 1952 version a couple of times.

    And you're right, it's a horribly sad non-relationship, but an impossible one from all angles. Sigh.

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    1. Well, m'dear, you're potentially in luck!

      I'm posting a Scarlet Pimpernel quotation challenge later today or early tomorrow that will run through Valentine's Day. And the prize is your very own DVD copy of Ivanhoe! So make sure to watch TSP sometime this week so you can participate!

      For what it's worth, my library doesn't own his Ivanhoe either. They're so dreadfully behind the times! *winks*

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    2. Awesome! My dear friend and I started it last night, but only got about 45 minutes watched due to technical and child-related difficulties. Might take us the rest of the week at that rate, but I'll certainly participate as well as I'm able!

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  2. Very nice post! You touched on everything that makes the Rebecca/Ivanhoe relationship so wonderful... and so sad. I am not fond of Rowena in this particular version, so that makes me sadder for Rebecca and Ivanhoe here. And I love the very end, when she rides away and he stares after her. I'm a big fan of "Ivanhoe" in general, though I freely admit, I first watched this 1982 version for Sam Neill (my favorite actor at the time), so my affections for the characters were skewed by my love of the actors. Although, Sir Brian was not actually my favorite character. De Bracy is, both in this version and the 1997 miniseries. And I have to apologize! In my review of this version of Ivanhoe on my blog, I nearly completely ignored Anthony Andrews... and he really does a fine job here. I do love his scenes with Rebecca the best. It's my personal attention was just on other characters. LOL!

    Coincidentally, I was just watching parts of this Ivanhoe yesterday!!

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    1. Carissa showed this to me for Anthony and soon as Sam turned up, I shrieked, "SAM NEILL!!!" You have excellent taste. I happen to love them both! =D

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    2. You make me want to re-watch this film. I haven't seen it in years, and most of what I remember is the sexual frustration of Brian for... Rebecca? It's very good, certainly better than the A&E version, in no small part thanks to the cast. Their love story is indeed tragic. I have a love/hate relationship with these kinds of endings -- on one hand, it makes me admire the restraint of people who decide to be moral even if it means forsaking what they want, and on the other hand, it's frustrating because my natural desire is for two people who love one another to be together -- regardless of race or religion.

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    3. Tragic romances are sometimes the most beautiful. And at least Ivanhoe and Rebecca aren't quite as absurd as others I've seen.

      I'm a Sam Neill fan too, so I don't blame you for watching it for him first and foremost! He's an excellent Guilbert and plays the complexities of the role perfectly. I have conflicting emotions about Guilbert because it is obvious that Rebecca does not love him. I thought perhaps she might, when I was younger and liked that pairing, but I can see now that she doesn't. Two such hopeless romances in the same film. *sigh*

      It's so awesome finding other people who love this Ivanhoe!

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    4. Charity, my emotions are always so conflicted about Ivanhoe and Rebecca. Rowena is, well, his childhood love, and their affection is not on the same mature level that Ivanhoe feels for Rebecca. They just . . . clicked. I pray regularly that I don't ever click with someone who doesn't share my faith because it would break me. I might not have Ivanhoe's restraint and strength of character. That's what I love about him most. His ability to refuse his desires, to tamp down on them, and do the right thing no matter what. I fear that some people might overlook Ivanhoe as weak when you have the virile and stubborn Guilbert, but I dislike Guilbert's passionate insistence, his willingness to give up everything for the woman he desires. Relationships need restraint, logic, and common sense, and Guilbert operated on none of these. *sigh*

      Still, I wish the ending had turned out differently, with all my heart. *sniffle*

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    5. I pray regularly that I don't ever click with someone who doesn't share my faith because it would break me.

      This is the main reason I chose to attend a small Lutheran college half a continent away from my parents. I knew that a lot of people meet their future spouse in college, and I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of meeting a man who shared my faith. And God blessed that decision by giving me my husband of almost 12 years now. Some people roll their eyes when I admit that's why I chose the college I did, but to me it was of the utmost importance.

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    6. You made the right call, Rachel. I didn't start attending college until I was 24, and I didn't go to a Christian university until I was 27. By that time, there wasn't much point in going to school on campus because I was too old to find a husband among the students. I might have snagged a professor, but I think the school would have frowned on that. ;)

      If I allowed myself, I would regret not going to college fresh out of high school, and actually traveling to college to meet the fella of my dreams. It just seems that the Lord has other plans for me, and I pray that a husband is in that mix somewhere and he'll come along at the right time.

      But I'm happy for you, and that the Lord gave you the desires of your heart.

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    7. My best friend from college didn't date at all until a couple years ago, when she was about 30. She's getting married next month. It's all about trusting God to bring you together with the right person, whether you're nineteen or forty-nine when you meet!

      (But I actually know someone who was a few years behind us at our college who ended up marrying one of the professors. It does happen.)

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  3. I don't think you'll click with a nonbeliever, because I feel quite certain that your entire family and your BFF would slap you upside the head if you did. ;)

    Ahh... restraint. Goodness. The willingness to abandon desire because it is the right thing to do. More of us should aspire to be like Ivanhoe.

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    1. Yeah, I remember my attraction to Damien however many years ago that was. Thank goodness that was never actual love or I would have been in trouble with just about everyone. ;)

      "More of should aspire to be like Ivanhoe."

      Amen!

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  4. This is my favorite film version of Ivanhoe. You've made me want to re-watch it :) I checked it out of our library because of Anthony Andrews, and was pleasantly surprised to be wowed by the rest of the cast as well (Charity: I had the same reaction to realizing Sam Neil was in this film!).

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    1. Marissa, welcome to my blog! I saw that you a wrote a post for the blog hop, so exciting!

      Yes, the entire cast for Ivanhoe is stunning. I adore James Mason as Isaac and Sam Neill makes a deliciously complex Guilbert. Sometimes the older versions really are the best!

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  5. This is my first and favorite version of Ivanhoe and has been one of my all time favorite movies since I first saw it when I was five years old. Even then, I knew there was something special between Ivanhoe and Rebecca. I have seen it a countless number of times as we had it on video. I never liked him with Rowena...how I wish he and Rebecca had ended up together ;-)

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    1. That makes two of us, wishing for something that should have been, but that social convention never allowed. *sighs* I still resent how this story ends!

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  6. OH MY GOSH. YES. I thought I was the only one who cried like a baby at the end of this film... I agree 100% with everything you said and I'm so excited to have bumped into this blog post... *quietly wipes away the tears that have accumulated while reading this*

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    1. Oh no, you're not alone. I don't often cry over films, but I cry over this one because it's just not fair. They should have a happily-ever-after!

      I'm glad my post moved you, and you enjoyed it. An Anthony Andrews blog party would never be complete without his Ivanhoe! :)

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