Robin Hood: Thief of History

Posted by Lou. The time is 11.30am here in London, UK.

If you were planning on seeing - and enjoying - Robin Hood perhaps don't read this as it contains major spoilers from start to finish... or maybe do, as it will alert you up front about the absurdities contained within.

A lot of the press surrounding Robin Hood has been around the Director Ridley Scott's claims that it is the most historically accurate yet. So you can imagine my reaction to the later part of the film suddenly turning into a laughably ridiculous plot twist in which we discover that Robin's mason father had drafted and led the movement towards creating and actioning the Magna Carta.

The Magna-fucken-Carta!

What arrogance! What audacity! What the fuck! It was also so out-of-left-field as to also entirely confuse the story arc, on top of being perhaps one of the most preposterous re-imaginings of history possible.

Okay now that that's out of my system...

One thing I will say is that the film is that it does have some great art elements - the absolute best being a sequence in which a boat sails into the Tower of London, giving us a beautiful imagining of my local hood might have looked like back in 1199.

The costumes and sets do feel quite dutifully done, and even little things like how they fire arrows feel more authentic than generally portrayed in films from the era. However I found the cinematography quite jarring with the sunlight quite overtly entering several scenes to create clunky "effect" (I don't know the word for it - those visible blurs of light as the sun comes through the trees at the angle to jar on camera), and in other scenes seeming far too stark. To me the way the film was shot did not make the most of the art direction.

Robin and his Men - who feature very little, FYI.
Bet they're sweating waiting to see if a sequel is greenlit...

So the story: overall I felt its biggest failing was a lack of heart. In its obvious comparison film Gladiator we get a strong personal story to anchor the film - Maximus' quest for revenge against Commodus. In this there is no such heart, which is quite a major fault when you are expecting people to sit through 2 hours and 20 minutes of self-important posturing.

For a start I thought they were going to make Maid Marion a strong character that we could get behind - however that was just the inherent authority of Cate Blanchett misleading me, and they have given her a disappointing role with Marion under-utilised and then ridiculously appearing in the final battle sequence (with a bunch of kids on ponies!).

All I could think during this was "Courage Merry, courage for our friends" - a quote of course from Return of the King, where Aowyn is one of the great female soldiers, and is given a hell of a part to play ("I am no man!") - in this Marion joins the battlefield merely to give Robin a glory moment, which seemed to me far from glorious and actually rather patronising with the limp way in which she carries herself. (And also undercut the supposed ending where the soldiers hail him as the victor of the battle ahead of the King - wtf? He just paused during the midst of battle to go save Marion, how does that make him the victor?)

And Robin and Marion together - fuck! It's awful! In the midst of an all-too-serious-and-self-important film we are meant to go along with ridiculous almost Shakespearean-comedy moments between the two that are actually just rather nauseous more than anything. When Robin says "I love you Marion" I wanted to hurl.

As to that self-importance: you're probably thinking I mean ol' Russey - known worldwide for his public persona of bloated self-importance that seems to rub everybody the wrong way. But of course it is actually Scott's bloated self-importance that is the hallmark of this film (he did make Kingdom of Heaven after all).

Put it this way: I like Gladiator. A lot of people think it is bloated and self-important [I do think it's bloated, btw]. Well, I thought this was bloated and self-important, so imagine how much everyone else will think it's bloated and self-important. And I just think it's really ill-advised to make your film in that tone when your leading man is known for embodying those traits himself.

As for Russell - I like him as a movie star when he does big films. I love when Maximus does his big "father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife" speech, and I love Master & Commander, and though I think this is a bit of wtf casting I was curious to see how he would pull it off. I don't think he's bad (he's certainly not laughable), but I think the lack of a strong core motivation for his character takes away the opportunity to do what he does best, which is make grand, over-the-top declarations backed-up by a whole film's worth of build.

In this film it take more than 90 minutes for a battle in which he might have any emotional investment (and it is very quickly passed over), and the "big speech" moment is utterly ridiculous as it related to the whole weird Magna Carta thing that comes out of nowhere.

Okay so I've already rambled enough, but I guess something needs to be said about the villain and the story I keep alluding to the deficiencies of: this isn't a story about Robin stealing from the poor and giving to the rich (it seems to be a set-up for a possible sequel for that). Which is of course the silly thing about the "historical accuracy" claims - Robin Hood's (mythical) role in folklore is as stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. That is it.

Anyway, so this story has Robin heading back with Richard Lionheart's army when shit happens and he ends up with Robert of Loxley's sword and has a moment of conscience in returning it to Sir Loxley, who asks him to pretend to be his son so as to keep their land in Marion (Robert of Loxley's wife)'s hands. Meanwhile John has become King, but his closest advisor Godfrey is a double-crosser, plotting with the King of France to divide John's people so that France can invade England and take it with ease. (Remember that from History books? Yeah, me neither. They were still fighting over Normandy at this stage, I do believe.)

But Godfrey thinks Robin knows too much so goes after him (Robin doesn't know anything and it's rather precarious of a story thread to try and have us think that Godfrey would bother going after him). It's actually really weak and contains not much to believe in or care about (except that those dirty French are so evil! Gasp! ... Oh wait, it's 2010, people have grown up a bit since the England vs France days). But Mark Strong is quite good as a villain. Shame he didn't have a stronger personal connection to Robin in order to build some tension.

Yeah so Robin Hood sucks, really.

3 thoughts on “Robin Hood: Thief of History”

  1. er, sorry, er, I didn't mind it. I went to escape life/world/study/universe and I did! But yeah, it sucks. For me it was kind of sucky in an enjoyable way though.

    Oh yeah! Kingdom of Heaven, snigger, snort. I'd forgotten that piece of shite. Orlando bloody Bloom BARF!

  2. Oh dear me. Oh deary, deary me.

    Yay Mark Strong though. That guy is villian-for-hire at the moment. I just watched Kick Ass again yesterday - he is so good in that!
    But I do feel a bit sad he may never get a Hugh Grant type role, heh heh...

  3. I realised over the weekend that what annoyed me most about it - and I think what lost it its focus - was that it was as if Scott was researching the period from which the Robin Hood legend is, realised it was sort of roughly maybe within the time of the Magna Carta and went "oooh Magna Carta!" and became totally distracted by wanting to incorporate it which completely lost focus of the plot and story and meant that both elements sort of negated each other. I mean, either make a film about Robin Hood, or make a film about the Magna Carta. Trying to do both just left it feel impotent.