PolitFlix 15: Robin Hood on Film : The Silver Arrow of podcasts, from the Princes of Political and Cinematic Content. Everything we Do..we do it for..
(and I’m done trying to pun so let’s just get on with it).
Robin Hood is one of those legends that Cinema simply cannot resist revisiting. This year sees Kingsman star, Taron Egerton, playing the part. Why are there so many cinematic versions of the story, even today?
Well: the sadly still relevant motif of class war is there. Robin comes from yet clashes with an elite establishment; uniting disparate groups in a common cause. There is the taxation question, too: quantity and quality. Robin fights a ‘legal’ taxation system corrupted by immoral aims and unjust methods. Always relevant.
After taxation? There is death: life’s other certainty. Mortal dangers are a daily reality in Robin’s adventures. And much like King Arthur, the legends, (despite lacking ‘canon’ in the strictest sense), allow for reaching a mortal end, albeit with both name and legend passing on and thereby living forever.
Above all? Robin Hood is the first great ‘gentleman thief’: synonymous with adventure and romance. Historical set-pieces: from crusade to castle siege. Relishing the great outdoors. And so, the hero in Lincoln Green and his Merry Men will be with us and on film no doubt, indefinitely.
Kick /sit back; get Friar Tuck to put something on the roast. Snug up with your Maid Marian (or Will Scarlet?). Stick the fire on. And enjoy Dave and James’ journey through three very different Robin Hood films, via the usual movie news and political comment.
(Just click the link below and pump up the volume!.)
Post Script Show-Notes
Dave Bond is Host at Do You Expect us to Talk
James Murphy is Editor in Chief at Movie Viral. Just back from the Crusades and looking forward to some time at Loxley Castle.
Robin Hood declined our request for an interview for the podcast. Unavailable? 😉
Robin is a legendary character. Like all legends, there is of course a tremor of truth and even fact behind the man and the myth. The natural association is twelfth century England and the return from the crusades; facing off against Prince John in the absence of King Richard the ‘Lion-Heart’.
The clearest literary origin of a specific Robin Hood figure however is generally agreed to be the Piers Plowman poem of the 1370s, followed then by ballads and other poetic stories of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The stories filtered into traditions such as games and plays and like all great legends, evolved, with various consolidations and reinventions. The 18th and 19th centuries saw many of the Robin Hood stories compiled and retold, before the advent of cinema and a whole new chapter for the legend in the 20th century and beyond.
Errol Flynn is regarded as perhaps the definitive Robin Hood on film. When one thinks of the character, it is hard to escape Errol’s image. He certainly captured the sense of adventure and romance needed for the part. And it helped that 1938’s Adventures of Robin Hood is an excellent action film: of its time but with an enduring appeal.
Flynn himself has an interesting life story, to say the least; at once distinguished and chequered, somewhat, by revelations about his private life. But as a template of swashbuckling super-hero onscreen? Flynn was undoubtedly one of the pioneers.
One could do an entire podcast around his life and work. And one day, we might. If interested, meantime: Kevin Kline played Flynn in The Last of Robin Hood (2013): a small movie but with an excellent lead performance and supporting cast including Susan Sarandon and Dakota Fanning.
I remember once confusing Kline with Patrick Bergin. Well: they both have moustaches on occasion. Bergin was a baddie of choice in Hollywood for a while (Sleeping with the Enemy, Patriot Games). He can now be seen in the ghastly soap opera, Eastenders. But Patrick too is a member of the Robin Hood club: his film featured Uma Thurman as Maid Marian.
Richard Todd played Robin Hood in a Disney backed television series, consolidated into a movie anthology: The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). Wholesome, family friendly fun from and arguably a source of Robin Hood on film’s association with a boys’ own adventure ethos? Todd is also loved for his role as Guy Gibson in The Dambusters: as famous for its theme as the perfect summary of British innovation and fortitude at their very best (just don’t mention the dog’s name).
Speaking of Theme tunes? Like Richard Todd, Richard Greene also saw active and distinguished service during WW2. And Greene also played Robin Hood. THAT famous television show theme from the 1950s: sing along now..’Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen‘. Launched a thousand jokes and stories.
One lady recalled asking for the ‘theme from Robin Hood’ to be played as she walked up the aisle. She meant ‘Everything I do‘ by Bryan Adams. She and the gathered dearly beloved were amused, amazed and shocked to hear THIS, instead.
There is also that distinctly Irish joke of the kid who is asked ‘who is Robin Hood’s girlfriend?’; He replies: ‘Trudy Glenn’. ‘No! It’s Maid Marian. Where did you get Trudy Glenn from?, asks his teacher. ‘It’s in the song: Robin Hood, Robin Hood RIDING TRUDY GLENN.’..Etc. Well, I thought it was funny. But then, I also laughed at THIS
Now what was I saying about innocent idealism? Oh yes..back on topic..
Robin and Marian (1976) tells the story of an older Robin (Sean Connery), returning from the crusades to win back Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn) and face a final battle against his old adversary, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw). Directed by Richard Lester (Superman III), the film is a curiosity. What it lacks in pace and purpose, it more than makes up for in its attention to atmospheric and character detail.
The casting is spot on, too: Ronnie Barker as Friar Tuck; Richard Harris as Richard Lionheart. And yet no actor here is providing a caricature. This is a sensitive meditation on mortality and aging and love and war. It just happens to feature Robin Hood.
Trivia: Denholm Elliott plays Will Scarlet here and would later team with Connery for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). The film was initially pitched, aptly as ‘The Death of Robin Hood’ (see also: Coppola’s Godfather 3, which he wanted called ‘The Death of Michael Corleone’).
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).
If Robin and Marian is the ‘death’ of Robin Hood (spoiler) and Ridley Scott’s 2010 ‘Robin Hood’ is the origin story? Well, Director Kevin Reynolds’ Prince of Thieves is the closest in recent cinematic history we have to a serial adventure style series of set pieces with Robin (Kevin Costner) at the height of his powers.
We do get a kind of backstory: escaping the crusades (note the blood, gore and limb lopping: fairly tame compared to today’s pre-watershed average soap opera on British television but much criticised at the time). But then it’s the familiar beats: Robin returns to Loxley, encounters injustice, meets LittleJohn in a fight by the river and thereby recruits a team of Merry-Men to his cause.
They all team up to save Maid Marian and England itself from the clutches of boo hiss baddie, Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). And – potential spoiler- looks like the goodies win and live happily ever after. A sequel was desired and discussed but never developed actively. The film was a massive hit, second only to Terminator 2 in the 1991 summer box office race.
A sort of greatest hits of the late 80s/early 90s. Costner as leading man; Christian Slater as young hothead; Alan Rickman as the baddie; wise Morgan Freeman as sidekick; a Michael Kamen score with chart topping, soundtrack crowning hit and so on. Film owes a LOT to Indiana Jones and even throws in a Sean Connery cameo at the end. Trivia: Richard E Grant almost played the Sheriff.
Robin Hood (2010)
Ridley Scott directs this origin story for the man and the mythology of Robin; reteaming with his Gladiator star, Russell Crowe. And there lies both the strength and weakness of the film. The calibre of the team is unbeatable. The quality of work undeniably excellent.
It’s just not Gladiator 2 and neither is it quite a true Robin Hood film, or even a satisfactory new spin on the legend. It’s a giant missed opportunity, relative to the initial script pitches. Such a shame we never got ‘Nottingham’: a revisionist take, told from the Sheriff’s viewpoint like a kind of medieval CSI: Nottingham; (Sienna Miller was initially linked to play a take on Maid Marian and old script drafts can be found online).
What we do get, however, is as close to a historically accurate take on Robin Hood as possible. The castle /siege stuff at the start is excellent, as are the closing battle scenes. Oscar Isaac is an amusing baddie (hence my loathing of his Poe Dameron in Star Wars: he can do better!). Cate Blanchett is an earthy, compelling and credible Marian. Beautiful score from Marc Streitenfeld. Scott directs the action with precision and attention to detail. Crowe proves yet again he is one of the greatest actors of all time, in the pantheon with Olivier, Brando, Pacino, Nicholson et al, whilst remaining an action hero ‘star’, too (yes, even with the accent he gives to Robin: a product of his usual, meticulous research, no doubt).
Worth a watch, definitely. Just don’t expect sequels anytime. The film is now almost a decade old and whilst it set up further adventures for Robin and friends, a series was never launched. See also: Master and Commander (2003).
Robin Hood (1973)
A playful, endearing, Disney take on the Robin Hood myth. Owes a LOT to Jungle Book, without ever reaching the distinction of that film. This is Disney at its low to middling phase, before the renaissance of the early 90s with Beauty and the Beast / Aladdin/Lion King (all now being remade in live action). But it is worth a watch and has a charm to it, with each animal avatar of the legend’s characters somehow a perfect fit.
Robin of Sherwood (TV series 1984-6)
A take on the legend that manages to do the impossible: uniting every permutation and thread, both historical and possibly, fantastical, whilst retaining some sense of verisimilitude. Top notch production values for its time and a first rate cast make this one of the better television takes on the Robin stories.
Michael Praed showed his star quality here in the initial lead, and was at one point considered to play James Bond. I met him once: lovely bloke. Praed left the show and they continued, in continuity, by having his ‘Robin’ killed off and succeeded by a new hero who assumes the mantle (Jason Connery took the role: yep, son of Sir Sean..small world!).
IE: Robin of Sherwood stands out because it works the evolution of the Robin myth into its own storylines. Genius! Look out for a young Ray Winstone as Will Scarlet. Catchy tune from Clannad, too!
Post-post script personnel:
Kevin Costner is an actor/director and was THE Leading man go to star of the late 1980s to early to mid 1990s. He won Oscars for his excellent and epic direction of Dances with Wolves and was a bankable box office draw and heartthrob for The Bodyguard (1992). A convincing action-hero, Costner was therefore a natural fit for a Robin Hood film and the accent was an irrelevance.
He went onto pick a string of flops (‘just because a film doesn’t make money doesn’t mean it’s not a success’: actually, Kevin: that’s exactly what success/lack of means, in Hollywood). Bodyguard 2 (set in Hong Kong, apparently?) would have been a licence to print money, but Costner passed on it, after his leading lady of choice (Princess Diana) tragically was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997.
After flirting with a Michael Collins biopic (ultimately a different version was filmed by Neil Jordan, with Liam Neeson in the title role, opposite Prince of Thieves’ Sheriff, Alan Rickman, as DeValera), Costner went onto make films of varying quality, as actor and director.
The Postman did not work. Waterworld is fun and underrated but not great. Thirteen Days an excellent political and historical film. Open Range a work of beauty. Kev has returned to television with Yellowstone: an intriguing pulp affair that looks like True Detective meets Dallas /Dynasty? He is also, rumor has it, circling an adaptation of the Irish playwright Brian Friel’s Translations, in conjunction with Mel Gibson’s Icon Films. But hope springs eternal for Robin Hood: King of Thieves (a pitch does exist; you never know..).
Lewis Gilbert never directed a Robin Hood film. But he did define a type of Bond film (villain trying to destroy the world: Bond to the rescue!) with 1967’s You Only Live Twice, 1977’s Spy who Loved Me and 1979’s MoonRaker. He also made some smaller movies which are equally loved, notably Educating Rita. He died, aged 97. May he rest in peace and his work live on.
Movie-Viral’s SUPERBOWL trailer overview (Mission:Impossible: Fallout, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Han Solo, Skyscraper, Avengers:Infinity War) can be found here.
Black Panther continues to smash records, worldwide. And rightly so. For all its minor flaws (lulls in pace /action); it is a film of heart and soul and enormous fun. Long may it reign!
Its casino scene owes a BIT to…
Casino Royale was the 21st James Bond film, released in 2006. It was the first outing in a ‘rebooted’ canon, with Daniel Craig taking on the 007 role vacated by Pierce Brosnan’s departure.
We all know what happened : the film was a huge success both critically and commercially, leading onto 2012’s SKYFALL (The first billion dollar Bond film), 2015’s SPECTRE (less successful but still loved, largely, minor caveats aside) and the forthcoming Bond 25 (2019: Daniel Craig confirmed to return as Bond; Director still to be announced but Danny Boyle a hot favourite to take the helm, Christopher Nolan having ruled himself out).
But back between 2003 and 6: all options were on the table, including a possible return by Pierce Brosnan to the 007 role, having successfully appeared in four films as Bond between 1995 and 2002 (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day). It is thought that Quentin Tarantino might have proposed a take on Casino Royale at that stage but little if anything is known about how far that went beyond a conversation between Quentin and Pierce. Trivia: Henry Cavill screen-tested for the Bond part and was the runner-up to Daniel Craig. Who knows? Cavill might one day play Bond, when he’s done being Superman.
Meantime: Daniel can be seen in KINGS
And Pierce: See Mama Mia 2!
Class War / battles for equality in Britain? Look no further than the current debates on promotion at the BBC. But fear not: ALAN PARTRIDGE is returning to save the day 😉 We can but hope for a return appearance from Sally Phillips, too (my pick for playing Princess Leia, should LucasFilm/Disney sensibly recast the part).
Robin Hood (starring Taron Egerton) is released on Thanksgiving weekend, 2018.
PoltFlix will Return soon: looking at the other great English Legend on film: KING ARTHUR! See you then.