Should I Watch..? Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
What's ye olde big deal?
Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is an action adventure film released in 1991 and is a loose interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the film sees Kevin Costner play Robin of Locksley who returns from the Crusades with a Saracen bodyguard named Azeem to find his land being plundered by the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham. Determined to fight back, Robin becomes an outlaw in order to bring justice back to the people. The film also stars Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and the late Alan Rickman, whose unforgettable appearance as Nottingham earned him a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor. Despite mixed reviews, the film became a massive hit at the box office and its theme tune - (Everything I Do) I Do It For You by Bryan Adams - went on to become one of the best selling singles of all time.
What is thy drama about?
Young Robin of Locksley returns to England from the Third Crusade together with Azeem, a Moor warrior who has sworn to protect Robin after they escaped capture together. However, England is a very different place from the one Robin left - with King Richard the Lionheart away, the land is governed by the power-hungry Sheriff of Nottingham along with his cousin Guy of Gisborne and the mysterious witch Mortianna. Robin's father Lord Locksley, who remains loyal to King Richard, is murdered by Nottingham's men after he refused to join them and Robin returns to find his castle in ruins and his father's body being eaten by crows.
Swearing revenge and fleeing from Nottingham's men, Robin and Azeem find themselves set upon by outlaws led by John Little in Sherwood Forest. Robin decides to lead these men into a rebellion against Nottingham to find for their freedom. Finding a loyal ally in the form of Maid Marian and the frequently drunk Friar Tuck, Robin's resistance against Nottingham provokes a full-on war between those loyal to the king and those loyal to the slimy Sheriff.
Ye Olde Trailer
Robin Of Locksley / Robin Hood
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
George, Sheriff Of Nottingham
Guy Of Gisborne
Pen Densham & John Watson *
Release Date (UK)
19th July, 1991
Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Song ((Everything I Do) I Do It For You)
Worst Actor (Costner)
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Supporting Actor (Slater)
What is most agreeable, sire?
It's impossible to start anywhere other than with Rickman's gloriously demented performance as Nottingham, especially in the immediate days after his untimely passing. Without question, he is the best thing in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves as he hits the exact right tone for this, arguably the most camp interpretation of the legend Hollywood has ever seen. Displaying real menace and a wicked sense of humour, he gives the movie a proper pantomime feel which the material demands. The only thing missing is the sound of an audience booing whenever he walks onto set through a door.
The film certainly provides plenty of bang for your bucks, delivering an often intense blend of swordplay and swashbuckling amid the rich and varied landscape that only England could provide. Yes, it is very Hollywood - hair styles are all immaculate despite being in the middle of a forest and costumes seem impossibly well woven, given the poverty of most of Robin's merry men. It's clearly ridiculous but despite all the faults and issues, you still find yourself enjoying the film. Like a pantomime, you might know the ending and can even predict how you might get there but you are still entertained along the way even if you're not surprised. The film's humour and complete disregard for historical accuracy provide plenty of laughs while Rickman continues to crash through the scenery like a drunken dinosaur, roaring and belching fury at anything that moves.
- Rumours persist that Costner wanted to use an English accent but director Reynolds insisted otherwise. Costner has claimed that he originally had a dialect coach but this was stopped after Costner's performance wasn't too good.
- The Azeem character was based on the character Nasir from the 1980's TV series Robin Of Sherwood and was even called Nasir in the script. But after discovering that Nasir was created solely for the show, producers insisted on the name change to prevent any potential legal action.
- Rickman turned down the part of the Sheriff twice before being told he could interpret the character however he wished. It's believed that Costner ordered some of Rickman's scenes cut when he realised he was being upstaged by him.
Is there much to displease?
Traditionally a hero should be as charismatic as their nemesis but opposite the scene-stealing Rickman, Costner is devoid of genuine life. The accent doesn't help his performance but in truth, the blend of British and North American actors means that others like Slater and McShane are equally as guilty of ignoring the character's origins. But there seems to be a curious lack of interest from certain cast members - Mastrantonio seems somewhat distant as Marian who goes from being a go-it-alone heroine to helpless damsel-in-distress during the film. And if McShane thought that over-acting like Rickman was the right approach, his red-faced bluster as Tuck doesn't seem in keeping with my recollections of the character. No film should ever have two cast members in panto-mode and frankly, Rickman does it better than anyone.
While the film utilises several picturesque locations, it's also blatantly guilty of playing as fast-and-loose with geography as it does with the legend - I laughed loudly at Robin's insistence to Azeem that they'd reach Nottingham on foot before nightfall from the south coast of England (and on that point, why take him up to Hadrian's Wall before coming back down the country to go to Nottingham?). And as the film flies haphazardly towards the conclusion, it gives up all pretence of historical accuracy with ludicrously explosive action and modern (and somewhat vulgar) language popping up. It also seems to occasionally forget its target audience - the film is remarkably violent and blood-soaked for what perhaps should have been a more family-orientated production.
Must I avert thine eyes?
It won't do anything for your street-cred and it will also get you singing along to Bryan Adams for a bit but Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves is a rare example of Hollywood spending a large amount of money on a full-blown pantomime production. With Rickman swooshing his black cloak about and Costner looking handsome in leathers, the film has an old-school charm to it and it is undeniably fun. It is the polar opposite of Ridley Scott's warts-and-all version of Robin Hood - bright, colourful and goofy.
Great For: women of a certain age, date movies, Rickman's reputation of playing baddies
Not So Great For: historical scholars, British viewers, critics
What else doth ye suggest?
Robin Hood is one of those characters, like Sherlock Holmes, who keeps popping up throughout cinema history in various guises from Russell Crowe's dodgy accent in Robin Hood to the wily fox voiced by Brian Bedford (who coincidentally died at the age of 80 the day before Rickman passed) in Disney's Robin Hood from 1973. For many, the part is synonymous with Errol Flynn's dashing portrayal of the outlaw in 1938's The Adventures Of Robin Hood which helped to shape the legend on screen as he appears today.
British folklore, it seems, appears to have given rise to a number of Hollywood movies from Ray Winstone's Beowulf to Liam Neeson's appearance as Rob Roy. But surely none match the scope, scale, gritty grandeur and critical acclaim of Mel Gibson's Braveheart which sees the troubled star in happier times leading a Scottish rebellion against the cruel English invaders with a whacking great sword and half his face painted blue.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox