One of England’s oldest and most well-known figures, Robin Hood is the stuff of legend and has become iconic of swathes of rural England from Nottinghamshire to Yorkshire. But legends and myths can be difficult to translate into a story, and Robin Hood is evidence of this.
Since 1908 Robin Hood has been appearing on the big screen yet in over 100 years only a handful of his appearances has been remembered, even fewer have been considered good. In 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood gave Errol Flynn his most acclaimed role and became the set format for Robin Hood’s “raison d’etat” in the future.
The basic plot was simple: loveable rogue Knight fights Prince John’s abuse of power whilst his heroic brother, Richard the Lionheart, is fighting in the crusades. An impressive, exciting plot in 1938 but several decades later this was a dried vein. A few ‘brave’ efforts to rehash the story came such as Robin Hood’s daughter’s adventures, a 1930s Frank Sinatra gangster Robin and ‘Rocket Robin’ from 1967.
It wasn’t until 1973 that Robin Hood was given some new life with the widely adored Walt Disney’s Robin Hood. One of the most loved Disney animated classics played on the tired clichés of the legend and made them fresh; it seemed Robin Hood was saved and could be finally laid to rest.
But as with many things in the 80s, Robin Hood was given a grittier edge and had to engage new audiences. Robin of Sherwood shifted the story from tights and merry men to the harsh realities of the period. And it was this influence that created 1991’s Prince of Thieves, the worst Kevin Costner film of all time.
This film was outshone by its main song, Everything I Do by Bryan Adams which remains one of the most successful songs of all time. You know that the film must be bad when the majority of its profits came from its soundtrack and not the film itself.
What became apparent here was that in fact, Robin Hood is just a dull guy. History did not record a great tale about him. He is more myth than legend and even then his myth is a collage of those of others. But more importantly, Robin Hood is outshone by the stories of his period and his supposed villains.
Amidst a formative period in English history when the war in The Holy Lands and the formation of the Magna Carta were at the forefront, a simple archer (the bow is also not a terribly exciting weapon) is not a very important person. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood from 2011 is evidence of this.
In trying to link Robin to the battle for England against the French and tying the story of Prince John to his shooting of arrows made the film confused, drawn out and dull. A great climactic battle on the shores of England should be exciting; Robin instead is just a bit pathetic and too philosophical for a simple rebel. At least with William Wallace, he was present at major Scottish historical events so an exciting story could be adapted from the whispers.
But with Robin Hood, he should have been left in 1973 as a fun, tight wearing fox that captured people’s imaginations. Instead, two lackluster blockbusters have gone to prove that the facts are infinitely more interesting, engaging and worthy of a film than a guy with a bow in a forest.
By Arran Byers