The International Writers Magazine
: Film Review

Review: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay Pen Desham
Gemma Ayres

The Earl of Huntingdon, Robin of Locksley, Robert Fitzooth, Robert Hod – he’s gone by many names throughout history, but the most famous name that this legendary character is known by is Robin Hood.

References to “Robin Hood” date back as far as 1262, and the name was frequently used in the years that followed as a criminal alias or name associated with rebellion. Stories about Robin Hood have been told for centuries, and the qualities which the character embodies have remained largely the same. The notion of his ‘robbing the rich to feed the poor’ has become a staple part of the many films about this illustrious hero, and his romantic relationship with Maid Marion, although often portrayed in different ways, is still a key ingredient of this classic story.

Robin Hood has appeared in numerous books, songs and films throughout the last 800 years, not to mention frequently being a part of children’s games. In 1938, one of the most popular films about Robin Hood hit the cinemas. Directed by Michael Curtiz, The Adventures of Robin Hood starred Errol Flynn as the arrow-wielding archer, and was the recipient of three Oscars. In 1973, Disney cashed in on the phenomenon of Robin Hood, with the classic animation, featuring the voice of Peter Ustinov as Prince John. The story was retold in the animal kingdom, with heroic fox Robin Hood having to outwit Prince John (a lion) and The Sheriff of Nottingham (an evil wolf). Then, in 1991, Kevin Costner took the lead role in Kevin Reynold’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

The film begins with Robin escaping an Arab prison with Azeem, a “noble Black” played by the wonderful Morgan Freeman, who vows to stay with Robin until he has saved his life. Robin returns to Locksley, but finds his father murdered and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) attempting to usurp the crown. The basic plot of the film follows the classic Robin Hood story; Robin allies himself with the outlaws living in the forest, plots to fight the Sheriff and thwart his plans, and at the same time fights for the heart of the lovely Maid Marion (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who appears slightly more feisty and independent here than in other versions. In the end though, she still relies on Robin to save her from the dastardly Sheriff. There are, however, things which make this film stand out from other Robin Hood films; the costumes being a key difference. The film is set in 1194, and the filmmakers decided to abandon the traditional costume of Robin Hood, green tights and feathered caps, in favour of leather trousers, shirts and jackets, more fitting with that time.

There are things in the film which show great attention to detail and a keen desire by the creators to accurately portray life in England at the end of the 12th century. All the bows and arrows used in the film were made to the exact size of 5ft 6in, true to the period. However, the filmmakers’ dedication to making a truly accurate film of life in 1194 was let down by certain anachronisms within the movie. Maid Marion hums Le Chant des Oiseaux, a tune which wasn’t composed until the 16th century, and in the scenes inside the church, the people can be seen sitting on benches, although these weren’t introduced to churches until the 19th century. Perhaps the most obvious (if you know your dates well) mistake is Azeem’s use of a telescope. Robin is unfamiliar with the item, and, having looked through it and seen Guy of Gisbourne and his men bearing down on them from the hill, begins swishing his sword to attack, even though they are still at some distance. This is a comic scene in the film, and is punctuated by one of Azeem’s offhand remarks about England, as viewed from an outsider; “How did your uneducated kind ever take Jerusalem?” There’s just one problem with this scene – the telescope wasn’t actually invented until 1608.

Despite these factual errors, the film is well-made, and remains one of my favourites. It has, however, been criticised for a number of things; mainly Kevin Costner speaking in an American accent. This is one of the many things about this film which is parodied in Mel Brooks’ 1993 spoof film, Robin Hood: Men In Tights. During one memorable scene, Prince John asks Robin why the people will listen to him. Robin replies, “Because, unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent”.

The film has a lot of comedy in it, which balances well in certain respects with the drama. Our hero is driven by a desire to avenge his father’s death; he battles injustice and fights for the love of a good woman, and some scenes, particularly the death of Robin’s close friend Duncan, are extremely touching. There are also plenty of comic moments in the film, many deriving from the dialogue; Azeem makes several observations of England, such as; “The hospitality in this country is as warm as the weather.”

Despite this, the most comic element of the film has to be Alan Rickman as the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham. The fight scene at the end is gloriously over-acted, yet while this provides humour, it also creates a slight imbalance in the film. Robin and Marion’s journey to overcome corruption, deception and murder then to find love and resolution are overshadowed by the antagonist of the piece, and the role of the Sheriff in this adaptation has become just as famous, if not more so, than Costner’s Robin.

The film doesn’t tell the story in a particularly ‘new’ way, but the casting is excellent, the dialogue witty, if at times out of keeping with the period (would 12th century men really have said “He fancies you” to a lady of royal blood?). The camera-on-arrow shot is one that anyone who has seen the movie will remember.

The themes of Robin Hood tales – romance, action and the battle between good and evil – are all here. Costner’s Robin Hood is the embodiment of all the characteristics which have made the hero so popular; he’s a champion of the poor, a brave and noble warrior, a leader of the people and a ‘rebel with a cause’. These are the qualities which have made Robin Hood so popular for the last 800 years – and quite possibly for the next 800 to come.

© Gemma Ayres December 2005

Gemma is a Creative Writing major at the University of Portsmouth

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