Expert Eye

No 1: Terry Jones, director and medievalist, on `Ivanhoe'
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ivanhoe is the old story of the wronged hero arriving home to find the girl he loves betrothed to someone else - the Ulysses story, I suppose. The BBC have done a good job, on the whole. I love the way they distinguish the Saxons from the Normans, giving them all fair hair and slightly lower-class Northern accents. The only thing I wasn't quite sure about was their boorish behaviour. It's always difficult to portray people having a good time on film, but the BBC made a classic mistake: they thought that because it's medieval everyone ate huge amounts. It's like Errol Flynn eating a whole chicken in Robin Hood, in the 1938 film. Our ancestors didn't eat more meat than us: they ate considerably less. It's a myth that comes from people believing that the few surviving medieval menus are a serving for one person, when of course they're for a whole table.

The script was full of things that nobody ever says except when they want to inform the audience of something: "Have you heard of the Knights Templar?" "Oh aye, the warrior monks." The overall design was very much of a style, the sort of Holy Grail style - bleak, bare castles and lots of mud. It looks very good, but I don't think anyone ever actually lived like that.

As for Walter Scott, I'm sure he did a lot of very thorough research, but he does romanticise the era a bit. Chaucer is of course the most authentic source for impressions of medieval life - he had his eye on the subject very well.

Terry Jones is the author of Chaucer's Knight and regularly lectures on Chaucer. He was one of the Monty Python team involved in, among other projects, the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. His book for children, The Knight and the Squire, will be published later this year.

Interview by Maggie O'Farrell

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