They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. When searching for cinematic entries in the saga of the famous Sherwood Forest outlaw, two titles can be found dating from 1991. The most famous of these is the Kevin Costner led Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Somewhere in those heady late 1980s/early 1990s days, filmmakers in the United Kingdom must have gotten word that those silly Americans were going to make yet another attempt at telling one of their own time-honored legends. If I was English and had seen either the Errol Flynn or Disney versions, I would have been a little peeved, too. So, instead of simply being flattered by all this American attention on an English folktale, they decided to tell their own version. The result is the strangely acted, dully paced, and physics defying debacle that is Robin Hood (1991).
Like its 1938 predecessor, Robin Hood once more is back to this strange fixation on the supposed divide between the over a century present Norman and the still present Saxons. Our hero, going by Sir Robert Hode (Patrick Bergin) in this one, is out wandering the woods with his falcon and his best friend Will Scarlett (Owen Teale). By the way, Will Scarlett is a man, not a falcon named Will Scarlett. Anyway, there they are when who should happen upon them, as with most iterations of the story, but the deer poaching Much the Miller (Danny Webb). Close on Much’s heels is the retinue of Sir Miles Folcanet (Jürgen Prochnow), who demands instant justice for the killed deer. Robert manages to shoo them away, claiming they are on his land, and later that night brings the matter up with his friend Baron Roger Daguerre (Jeroen Krabbé). Miles and Roger are both Norman, and Robert is Saxon, so here we go. The next day at a public hearing regarding the matter, Roger attempts to let Robert off the hook with a demand for an apology and one public lashing. This enrages Robert and he flees into the woods, winking at Roger’s niece Maid Marian (Uma Thurman) as he leaves. You can guess where he goes from here, and when he arrives his first test is against the staff wielding Little John (David Morrissey). Once he has won him over, the rest of the refugees from the high taxes leveled against common folk at this time fall in line behind Robert, now going by Robin Hood (for some reason). One change to this story versus the others is the archery contest. Instead of being used to lure Robin into a trap with Marian as the bait, it is used to cement the trust of the Sherwood Forest men. From there begins the tedium of watching Robin Hood and his followers do their thing of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. And I do mean “tedium” as there does not seem to be any motivation, outside of one side wanting to be bad and the other wanting to be good, for any of this to be happening. Somewhere along the line, though, it would seem that somebody behind the camera woke up and said, “Oh, wait, what about Maid Marian?” She is betrothed to Miles, but she resents him. Seeing a potential ally in Robert, she absconds from the castle, disguises herself as a man, and joins up with the Hood. Despite the supposed precautions she took, it quickly becomes apparent to everyone that she is actually Marian. Because the script says so, her and Robert must be in love, so they sneak around with each other. What ruins this ceaseless, boring cycle is one of Robin’s disgruntled men, Harry (Alex Norton). From the start, he did not trust Robin’s leadership, and disagreed with the tactic of giving away their stolen riches to the poor. Hence, when he discovers Marian’s true identity, he takes this news to Miles and Roger. They then contrive to get Marian back. On top of that, word reaches Robert that Miles is forcing Marian to go through with a wedding. Robert is not about to have that, so on April Fool’s Day (I guess), they dress in all manner of outlandish costumes because, citing some vague English tradition, such people are automatically allowed into castles on this day. In the struggle, Robin has a duel with Miles that results in the death of the Norman nobleman. This also paves the way for Robert to take Miles place at the altar, a move to which a now pacified and willing Roger assents. Additionally, Robert is given a promotion and more lands, so bonus!
I wonder if competing films crews ran into each other while filming Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood? Probably not, given how strange is Robin Hood. You would think that had they seen what was going on in the other set, they might have done things a little differently. There were many moments while watching it that I was baffled by what I was seeing. I knew I was in trouble when the opening credits were clearly in Papyrus font. From the caves in which Robin and his men hid (what happened to Sherwood?), to the bits of slapstick humor, there is much that is perplexing about this movie. The physics defying comes when Robert swings from the rafters, flies down to the floor, picks up Marian, and somehow momentum carries them both back up the ceiling on the other side of the room. I had to rewind that part just to see it closer. Further, Robin Hood is a bit of a jerk. He treats his followers, particularly Harry, like dirt, and talks to Marian in a most ungentlemanly way. Then again, she seems to have no qualms about defiantly announcing to Miles before they are to be married that she is no longer a virgin. Perhaps that is why they love each other, because they are both horrible people? To be clear, it is not Marian’s promiscuity that makes me say this, but her decidedly non-twelfth century behavior. In general, also, she behaves like a spoiled brat, whining about clothes and the state of her hair. It all made for a movie watching experience where I was all too glad to see its end.
There is not much more to say about this version of Robin Hood. Yet again, we have the Church as a body supposedly in league with the evil Norman ruling class. There is also Friar Tuck (Jeff Nuttall) killing a man with his bare hands. Still, since the sixteenth century England has not been the place for positive portrayals of Catholicism, so it is about on par with what should be expected from a British production. As I make my way through these Robin Hood movies, it is increasingly clear that the best example of this story is the cartoon one!