After a spate of Victorian novels hitting our screens, the BBC brings in the New Year with Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott’s romantic tale of medieval knights and beautiful maidens. Fraser Massey reports.
Somewhere in Ivanhoe. there's a cultural battle trying to ﬁght its way out. This lavish and. by television standards. epic adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s swashbuckler about plucky Saxons taking on the might oftheir Norman conquerors. is the BBC’s attempt to reclaim our history and literary heritage from an invading army of deep-pocketed Hollywood storytellers.
Mel Gibson‘s Brave/wart — and to a lesser extent, the patchy Rob Roy and unspeakable First K night — threw down the gauntlet (or whatever it was that medieval folk did when they issued a challenge) to anyone considering producing a home-grown historical epic. It showed there was still a market for blood-soaked and battle-scarred costume yarns. but it also demonstrated that you need to hurl buckets of money at the screen to make them work for today’s audiences fed on mega-bucks movies.
It's not like the old days oftelevision. when a few yards of Lincoln green cloth for the tunics and a tree trunk on castors was all that was required to shoot countless episodes of Robin Hood. This six-patter. made with a king's ransom-sized budget of £6 million. is the BBC‘s ﬂagship drama production for
the winter season. And the result. it‘s fair to say. is rather more sumptuous than the I958 [TV version.
Ivanhoe: ‘a classic story with everything - love, honour and betrayal.’
BBC looked to their approach to hook at mass
which launched Roger Moore‘s career as a dashing lead.
‘It had to be an ambitious project because the visual context for this kind of piece has ‘ Ry feature
films like Brave/mm and Rob ’ iducer Jeremy Gwilt. ‘We have tried ' tallenge with a robust and earthy produ ' want this to be a romanticised view of tht i-uryf
The story centres on Ivanhoc's IL. :aom the Crusades to England. where he is falsely accused of having betrayed King Richard. As he attempts to clear his name. he becomes caught up in the politics of the day. as his scheming brother tries to manoeuvre himself onto the throne. Naturally there is a romantic sub-plot. as Ivanhoe arrives home in time to watch his childhood sweetheart, Rowena (Victoria Smurlitt), betrothed to another.
Gwilt and screenwriter Deborah C ook‘s previous credits include the soapy BBC drama. The House Of lih'ott. and that‘s puhaps an indication of where It‘utt/tm' is heading. Undemanding. romance-laden populist drama is the duo's strong point. and with that kind of money at stake you can understand why the
Like the poverty-stricken Saxons taking on the might of the better-equipped Normans. the BBC has had to adopt a certain amount of guile to stretch a budget which would barely have covered Mel Gibson‘s woad bill. Much of the ﬁrst episode is played out at a banquet in the darkness of a baronial castle. The flickering candles, no doubt authentic lighting for the period. cast a splendid gloom which eliminates the need for vast sets and costumed extras. To be fair. the sword ﬁghts and jousting scenes in later episodes are shown to good effect using such locations as Blackness and Craigmillar castles outside Edinburgh.
Starring as Ivanhoe is Steven Waddington. whose film credits include Carrington and Last of the Mohimns. He enjoyed the complexity of Scott‘s character who is as anti-Semitic as he is dashing. ‘He isn‘t just a hero.‘ says Waddington. ‘He doesn‘t always do the honourable thing — he‘s human too. For me the appeal of Ivanhoe is the joumey that he takes. It is a classic story which has everything — love, honour. betrayal.‘ And very big swords.
Ivanhoe starts on Sun [2 Jan at 9.05pm on BBC 1 .
While Billy Connolly was given a Range ltover tor his recent tour at Scotland, Phil Bitter gets a VIN Beetle to drive the length at the country in search at people practising weird and wondertul beliets. Phil and Bill’s journeys appear to be accompanied by the same couthy tolk tune, however, which must be BBC Scotland shorthand tor road travel.
In the punningly titled night to Bitter, the presenter goes in search at the word at God, as spoken by
Phil Bitter: once a Catholic . . .
alternative taiths around Scotland. The tact that Bitter is better known as a BBC Scotland comedy producer suggested there would be rather more levity than leviticus, but this series was commissioned by the religious attairs department, so a straight tace was required - and duly kept.
Unlike Channel 4’s Desperately Seeking Something, where Pete McCarthy makes tun ot the crystal- huggers and tree-worshippers he encounters, Bitter says he approached each taith with an open mind. Or as open a mind as a lapsed Catholic can manage. ‘I teel that within the religion I was brought up in, there was a very narrow view at lite,’ says Bitter. ‘I still had a tew prejudices which can be attributed to my upbringing.’
‘I'hese were kept in check, however,
and Bitter says that with every religion he encountered, he telt that the believers were at least genuine in their taith. the ﬁrst programme considers the phenomenon ot speaking in tongues, and concludes that it can be explained as an expression at taith - even it you don’t believe the person has become some kind of temporary divine mouthpiece.
So was he converted by anything he saw? ‘llothing happened that made me go, wow, I better get to contessional betore the world ends,’ says Bitter. ‘But the thing that struck me about the Pentecostal service was it was like having a good time, where I was used to staring at a latin text you don’t understand.’ Amen to that, brother. (Eddie Cibb) Right to Bitter Is on Thursdays at 8pm on 8802.
The List lO-23 Jan I997 83