My family moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the suburbs of Orlando in the summer of 1990. The following summer, my mother decided to take my sister and I back there, leaving my father behind. When you are young, you think little of such things. For me, it was simply an adventure, the opportunity to be back where I had always felt was truly home. I missed my dad terribly. One thing that I did to fill the time, though, was go to see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). I thought it was the coolest movie ever, but then again I was eleven. When you are that young, you do not notice such things like the tracks for dolly shots left in frame as in one of the early Sherwood Forest scenes. At that age, you do not catch it when swords bend easily, or wonder why an English hero has an American accent. No, for me then it was all about battles and history. The film could have been directed by Michael Bay for all I cared. Watching it now, I wonder how I ever made it to the age I have if I thought this was quality filmmaking.
We get the familiar opening crawl in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves about the state of affairs in England, with King Richard I (Sean Connery) away on Crusade and the country devolving into chaos. This time, we do not get a mention of the king’s brother, Prince John. Instead, the plots against the king are focused on characters like Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman), aided by his cousin, Guy of Gisborne (Michael Wincott). At least we do not get an invented rift between Normans and Saxons. One of the people standing up for Richard’s interests is Lord Locksley (Brian Blessed), but he is killed by the Sheriff and Guy in the opening minutes. Lord Locksley’s son, Robin (Kevin Costner), is away in the Holy Land, and currently a prisoner in Jerusalem. He manages to escape with the help of the Muslim Azeem Edin Bashir Al Bakir (Morgan Freeman), though Robin had to free Azeem in order for this to happen. In so doing, Azeem pledges a life-debt to Robin, and together they make their way to England. Not long after they step foot on English soil, the pair encounter a young boy on the run from Guy and his men. In saving the boy, Robin already has run afoul of the aspiring new rulers in the area. Robin is emboldened to do so because he believes his father is still alive. Yet, when he arrives at the family castle, he finds the gibbeted corpse of his father, and only their family’s blinded servant Duncan (Walter Sparrow) to tell the tale. Their next move is to visit the estate of his deceased comrade Peter Dubois (Liam Halligan), who died during their escape from Jerusalem. Before he passed, Peter made Robin swear to protect his sister, Lady Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and Robin therefore pledges to do so upon his reuniting with his childhood acquaintance. Meanwhile, news of Robin’s arrival and activities reaches the Sheriff. Initially, he dismisses the information. However, when he consults the witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan), she predicts that Robin and Azeem will be the end of both of them, coinciding with Richard’s return. While the Sheriff plots, Robin goes about doing the familiar things the legends his character is based on says he does. He goes into Sherwood Forest, assembles a group of men who have been made outlaws simply for trying to survive, and gives money to the poor that he takes from the rich. No archery contest in this one, however. Instead, Marian finds her way into Sherwood Forest on her own. Once there, she sees the work that he is doing to help the downtrodden, and they begin to fall in love. When she asks if there is anything she can do to help, Robin tasks her with writing to the king, who is also her cousin, to urge him to return to England and put things aright. He also sends Duncan with her. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s men seize her letter before it can reach its intended audience, and they take her hostage at her home. In the confusion, Duncan manages to get on a horse that magically takes him back to Robin’s secret base in the woods. Following closely behind Duncan are a small army of Celtic mercenaries and other soldiers assembled by the Sheriff to wipe out Robin and his band. In the fighting, those who are not killed are captured, among them one Will Scarlett (Christian Slater). He had been against Robin from the start, and he agrees to personally find his former leader to finish the Sheriff’s job. As it turns out, Will is Robin’s half-brother, and the reason he had been resentful is because Robin had wanted his father to disown the illegitimate child that his father had conceived with a peasant woman after the death of Robin’s mother. Anyway, they have a tearful reconciliation, and Will relays the news to those who had evaded capture and death that the Sheriff intends to give the prisoners to Marian as a wedding gift. Of course, Robin is not having any of that, and goes to the Sheriff’s castle to put a stop to the executions and save Marian. After doing so, killing the Sheriff in the process, he and Marian agree to be married by Friar Tuck (Michael McShane), a ceremony interrupted by the arrival of King Richard. And all presumably live happily ever after.
It would seem that the makers of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves were somehow going for a more authentic telling of fictional events. I say this because of the fact that the famous archery contest is missing, and there is no Prince John. Why they decided to leave this last part out, I could not tell you. It is particularly strange when you consider that it is one of the more historically correct aspects of the Robin Hood legends. Yet, to say anything about this movie is historically accurate would be pushing the realm of believability. However, instead of giving a long(ish) history lesson as I did with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), I will instead focus on something that both deals with the past and is on my Catholic radar. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, like all renderings of these tales, makes the Church out to be in league with the bad guys. Friar Tuck is okay because he is a member of the band of poor people that Robin leads. In other words, Friar Tuck is part of a popular uprising. It is the opulence of the Church that is the enemy. Two scenes symbolize the attitude the film gives to the Church, one of which I feel is not as bad as it is portrayed. When Marian is given the task of writing to Richard, she first consults the Bishop of Hereford (Harold Innocent), who at first agrees to help deliver the letter. This is a lie, though, as he actually informs the Sheriff, leading to her capture. When she confronts the Bishop, he says that he did it for her protection. It looks bad, but remember that part of his duty as a clergyman is to look after the best interests of his flock. Yet, it is presented as being the actions of a person lacking moral fiber. The other condemning scene comes at the end when Friar Tuck finds a hurriedly packing Bishop, loading up on gold coins in order to flee the castle. Friar Tuck accuses the prelate of being responsible for much of the troubles by agreeing to the charges of devil worship lodged against Lord Locksley. Friar Tuck then pushes the Bishop out the window and to his death. More immediately, I have trouble imagining a simple friar committing murder, no matter how much beer he had consumed. Friars are men, at the end of the day, and capable of evil. Still, this did not sit well with me. More generally, understand that the Church enjoyed an exceptionally well thought of position in England at this time. Yes, it had become rich, but not by doing anything underhanded. A friar in England lived as much of a life of poverty and piety as one living Tuscany. The Church was successful there because they looked after the poor, rather than being tied to any petty noble seeking to aggrandize himself.
With all due respect to my eleven-year-old self, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is pretty bad. Still, it is not the worst. Those are yet to come. If there is any reason to watch this film, it is to see Rickman’s performance as the Sheriff. The rest is pretty dumb and you will lose nothing by avoiding it.