Posted by: Dr P | May 26, 2010

Robin Hood

Well it’s been quite some time since we had a Robin Hood movie hasn’t it. Let’s not forget what happened the last time either. That baseball-obsessed Yank Costner got a bunch of his American mates to leap round in the trees and then we had to suffer Bryan Adams’ worst ever song at the top of the charts for almost 5 years. I can still see that part in the video where he’s lining up a shot and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio leans in and gently blows on his shaft … I’ll leave it there!

A generation later and it’s the turn of cricket-obsessed Kiwi bad boy Russ Crowe and his directorial fave Ridley Scott to turn the spotlight on one of England’s greatest “fictional” characters. Billed widely as a “reimagining” (generally not a good sign, I once “reimagined” a shepherd’s pie and was ill for a week), this basically gave the duo license to put the Hoodie in almost any scenario they want.

So what do we find? Old Robin Longstride (presumably so called because of his height and inside leg measurement as opposed to the fashionably lengthy cut of his trousers) is an English longbowman who has been fighting in King Richard’s Crusades and is helping his royal majesty assail a French castle as the movie opens. In between takes, er, attacks on the turrets, Robin’s got a handy sideshow going as a sleight of hand trickster, and is purveyor of a quite shocking Midlands accent. Of course many critics have scoffed at this, but personally I think all Midlands accents are shocking, so Crowe must have got it spot on.

After a brawl goes belly up, Robin and his pals Will Scarlett and Little John (present and correct, SAH) are removed from battle. Unfortunately the king is then killed in combat and Robin and his mates have had enough and decide to scarper from the battlelines and head for England. As you would. Unfortunately there are all manner of secret shenanigans now afoot between Richard’s younger brother (and soon-to-be-king) John and the King of France, and the fleeing group come across a group of their former army comrades dead or dying by the roadside, en route to returning the king’s crown to England. Once of the dying men, Robert of Locksley entrusts Longstride with not only ensuring that John gets his crown but that his own sword is returned to Nottingham and his wife and father.

The slightly less than merry men now find themselves in a strange situation, and they manage to meet an English ship and return to London with the English crown. Having delivered it safely to John, who is crowned on the spot, Longstride and his chums set off for Nottingham. One small fly in the ointment is that one of King John’s trusted henchmen, played by the excellent Mark “If it’s a bad guy role in 2010, it’s mine” Strong, had a hand in butchering Locksley and his troops and is secretly plotting with the French. He recognises Longstride and despatches men to follow the group; he also manages to convince King John that the best way to strengthen England is to raid all the towns and cities and plunder their wealth for the royal coffers. It was never like this in the Costner version.

Cut to Nottingham, where we discover the future Maid Marian (the sublime Cate Blanchett) battling against her own troubles. As Locksley’s wife (technically widow but she doesn’t yet know), she’s the chief noblelady in a city being plundered by outlaw kids from the local forest and also by greedy churchmen, who take the winter’s seed for themselves. So there’s no seed being scattered in Nottingham … bet Ridley Scott had a great time trying to persuade Crowe to take this role … “right, so there’s Cate Blanchett right, and she’s on her own, and basically she needs someone to come and fill her barn with seed …”. Ahem.

If none of this sounds anything like the traditional story of Robin Hood you’d be right there – and it’s about to get weirder. Longstride arrives at Nottingham and meets Marion and Locksley Sr (a completely blind and mad Max Von Sydow) and informs them of Robert’s death. In order to stop the locals rioting and all power being taken away, Dad convinces Longstride to “become” his son. After all, he’s been away 10 years, who will notice? Well, presumably, no-one, as they’re all a bit dim. This involves the rather elaborate charade of Longstride having to share sleeping quarters with the delightful Marian, who tells him in no uncertain terms that if he comes anywhere near her, she’ll chop his bits off. There’s a dreadfully rude gag I could make there, but I’ll let you work it out.

Anyway, just as Robin is accepted as Robert and his followers decide to stay with him, he’s called away to a council of war with King John. However, his despicable henchman arrives and sets about trying to plunder the village in his absence. Robin now not only has to give the new king battle counsel but also protect his own city, and so he provides a bit of a stirring speech (echoes of the Gladiator moment here: “I’m Robert of Locksley (not really), husband of a noblewoman (not really), son of a madman (not really), leader of a band of men (kind of true, even if they are all drunkards and lechers) and I will have my vengeance … in this forest or the next!”

Cue a mad dash back to Nottingham where the archers save the day, then it’s whizz bang down to the South Coast where Robin is now de facto leader of the English army (all in a days work for our Russell, he must have some bloody good horses). Forget Robin Hood: Men in Tights, this is Robin Hood: Men in Fights. And what fights! The French arrive on the beach to be met by archers, knights and the best beach-related battle charge since the opening bit of Saving Private Ryan. At one point, Robin’s almost in danger of being crushed as two ships gently loll together in the waves.

If you’re wondering where are the outlaws, the lincoln green, the sheriff of Nottingham and all that malarkey, you’d be forgiven. However, thanks mainly to the wonderful English justice system, not only does Robin pretty much single-handedly lead England to victory over the French AND get the girl AND steal crops to feed Nottingham AND own the fastest horses ever, he then gets outlawed FINALLY in the last couple of minutes.

It’s a barnstorming tale but don’t be expecting Robin Hood. This could really be anyone. I think there are plans for 2 or 3 sequels so hopefully the next story will involve less Frenchies and more robbing the sheriff’s men. The one sad part for me was that Crowe didn’t throw a phone at anyone, but hey not all reimaginings are perfect are they …

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