Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
A 90s action take on the Robin Hood legend, it was a favorite in my house until the Russell Crowe version came out. It features an all-star cast, headed up by Kevin Costner (decorated for Dances with Wolves – have not seen) as Robin, Alan Rickman is his equal as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Morgan Freeman as Azeem, Christian Slater is Will Scarlett, Brian Blessed as Lord Locksley, Michael Wincott (he’ll later show up as Rochefort in Three Musketeers) as Guy of Gisborne, and Michael McShane (I recognize him as funny Professor Keenbean from the Richie Rich movies) as Friar Tuck. The theme from the film is now used by Disney promotions on their DVDs (no, this is not a Disney film).
The background to the opening credits is the Bayeux tapestry, an embroidered cloth that depicts the Norman conquest. This rendition is set in 1194 and starts in a prison in Jerusalem. English war prisoners are tortured and the guard turns to another man, claiming he stole something, of which the punishment is to lose a hand. Another prisoner speaks up to spare the man, but they’re both unchained. He does not flinch from the sword, displaying “English courage.” At the last minute, he pulls back, causing the guard to lose his hand. He fights his way out, aided by a Moorish prisoner. The three make it out, but the leader’s friend is killed topside. With his dying breath Peter requests his ring be taken back to his sister and the man is to promise to protect her. The two men left introduce themselves as Azeem, the Moor, and Robin of Locksley. Since Robin saved his life, Azeem will follow him until the debt is repaid.
Back in England, Lord Locksley is writing a letter to find out what has befallen his son in the Holy Land. He’s interrupted by his servant Duncan and another man who says that his family is in danger. The Lord rides out, to find a crew of men in white cloaks (who look disturbingly like the KKK) waiting for him. They’re headed by the Sheriff who gives Locksley the choice, join us, or die. Locksley declares “never” and rides to meet them.
Four months later, Robin and Azeem land on English shores at the White Cliffs of Dover. Robin is so pleased to be home, he kisses to ground. He keeps trying to send Azeem home, but the Moor is determined to fulfill his oath. Azeem is an educated and wise man; he stays a few steps behind Robin, stating it is safer to appear his slave in this land than his equal. He maintains his prayers, even when Robin is fighting the Sheriff’s men, led by Guy of Gisborne. Robin does defeat the men and sends Gisborne back to the Sheriff with the message to stay off his land. Unfortunately, Robin arrives home to find the castle burned and his father decaying in a hanging cell. Old Duncan, now blinded, reports that Locksley was accused of devil worship and supposedly confessed to the crime. Robin now will not rest until he has avenged his father, swearing it in blood.
Gisborne reports to his cousin, the Sheriff at Nottingham castle. An eye is watching through the wall and we shortly meet its owner, Mortiana, a creepy, creepy witch. I do not watch how she scries for the future, nope. But she foresees that the Lionheart (Richard) is proceeded home by the son of a dead man (Robin). The Sherriff asks if that will affect their plans. She’s seen their deaths, at the hand of a painted man, who they determine is the Moor traveling with Robin [um, did Gisborne even see the guy? How do they know this?].
Robin next visits Peter’s home to deliver the news to his sister. He’s brought in to see “Maid Marion,” who has changed since they were kids. A masked guard attacks and when Robin holds their hand over a fire to relieve them of their sword, a feminine scream emits. This is the real Marion, who is a cousin to King Richard. She remains at her ancestral land to take care of the people and only sees Robin as the spoiled son of a lord who used to bully her and burn her hair. She insists that she does not need Robin’s protection. Their conversation is interrupted when Gisborne and his men approach. Marion urges Robin to leave and forces him to by claiming he stole her horse. Robin, Azeem, and Duncan escape into Sherwood forest, which is supposed to be haunted. ‘Tis not haunted, ’tis overrun by bandits. Robin must fight Little John to cross the river; he ends up dunked a few times, but they laugh and become comrades.
After we witness the Sheriff’s true devotion to the Old Ways; he was raised by the witch at his parents’ dying wish, he attempts to charm Marion (she knows not to trust him). Meanwhile, Robin visits the church to gather information. The bishop stands by the story that his father was a devil worshipper. Robin does not believe it (nor does Marion or anyone who truly knew the man). On his way out, Robin runs into the Sheriff and cuts his cheek. The Sheriff’s yells “I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!” Later, Gisborne inquires “why a spoon?” “Because it’s dull and will hurt more, you twit!” (Such a memorable line!)
Robin now plans to lead the outlaws of Sherwood forest. Will Scarlett doesn’t trust him and some of his fears are founded when the Sheriff begins terrorizing the people, looking for Robin. The Sheriff is puzzled why the people love Robin when their love causes the Sheriff to hurt them and tax them. Robin steals from the Sheriff and redistributes to the poor. The Sheriff is so put out, among canceling kitchen scraps and merciful beheadings, he “calls off Christmas.” Robin and the outlaws of Sherwood continue to attack wagon trains of the Sheriff, including one containing Friar Tuck. He is, at first, wary of the outlaws and tries to make a run for it, but soon settles in and preaches beer. Guy of Gisborne has no luck catching Robin and eventually cries to his cousin. His cousin soothes him, then stabs him, remarking, “at least it wasn’t a spoon.”
Marion and her servant Sarah are out riding one day through the forest when two of Robin’s dimmer men attempt to attack them. The two women fend for themselves, but Marion insists on seeing Robin. She catches him bathing, but once he dresses he shows her around the village. He has collected blood money that the Sheriff intended to use to buy the barons and unite them against Richard. His father taught him that nobility is not a birthright, it’s action. Robin is trying to live up to his father’s example after parting with him before the Crusade in anger. Robin also shares the tale of his father seeking comfort with a peasant woman after Robin’s mother’s death. Robin was an angry and hurt twelve-year-old boy and his father gave up the woman to please Robin. As Robin sends Sarah and Marion on their way, he asks Marion to first, look after Duncan. And second, get word to Richard about the events in England. She agrees, for Robin’s sake.
The Sheriff continues his plans, Mortiana advising him to use the Celts to take care of Robin. The barons are not willing to blindly follow the Sheriff, since he can’t produce the promised payment. To secure his throne, he must wed royal blood. He intends to marry Marion. Mortiana had suggested the same idea, after revealing that she is actually the Sheriff’s mother (the Sheriff had discovered her spying on him and demanded answers). She had killed the babe of the real Sheriff (and probably killed the parents later as well). If her son lies with the royal line and a child is produced, her blood will eventually end up on the throne.
Marion drafts the note to Richard and insists that Sarah accompany the messenger. The messenger later knocks Sarah out and the note ends up in the Sheriff’s hand and also revealing that the bishop works for the Sheriff. The Sheriff has Marion abducted from her home and holds her captive at his castle. Duncan runs to get Robin, not knowing he’s been followed. The blind man inadvertently leads the Celts and the army to the camp, where the army lights the camp on fire. Several men, and a boy, are captured and Robin is presumed dead after he falls from a burning rope.
The Sheriff offers Marion to spare the captive children’s lives, as a wedding gift. He shows her Robin’s cross as proof that the man is dead. He then tortures the rest of his prisoners to find out if the hero really is dead. Will Scarlett has no love lost for Robin and offers to be a double agent; he can get close to Robin and if Robin doesn’t trust him, then the Sheriff needn’t worry. The Sheriff still has him lashed, to make it believable.
Robin is not dead. And he correctly suspects Will when he returns to camp. When asked why he hates Robin so much, Will reveals that he is the son of the peasant woman Robin’s father had spent time with. He is Robin’s half-brother. Robin is so pleased to have kin, he embraces his brother and swears that he will finish the fight he started. He comes up with a plan. Azeem knows how to make black powder (historically inaccurate for that time period; yeah, BBC’s Robin Hood also got that wrong), so he and the Friar set barrels of it around the scaffolding. Other men sneak in weapons and get into position. Will is recognized and captured at the public hanging and gets tied to one barrel. The Sheriff orders the executions to begin, starting with Little John’s son. The first plan is now out the window, but Robin has to act. He shoots the rope strangling the boy, revealing himself to the guards. But Azeem is ready to light the powder kegs. Many awesome explosions and arrows flying, the theme plays in the background. Little John crashes into the scaffolding. Robin shoots a flaming arrow (the scene that’s in every promo) to save Will. Marion screams for Robin and he’s off to rescue his lady. Azeem rallies the English to fight back against the Sheriff’s troops, then joins Robin inside the castle.
Mortiana insists that the Sheriff wed and bed Marion immediately; the time is ripe. The bishop hurriedly performs the ceremony, while Azeem and Robin pound on the door. – There’s so many things wrong with that scene, mainly ‘let’s show a woman married against her will and what follows.’ [I know somewhere there is a medieval law that forbade women being married unwillingly.] Mortiana goes to stop the men and encounters Azeem. She stabs him, but he impales her in return. Robin takes an alternate route, swinging in through the window. The bishop rushes out, only to run into Friar Tuck who assists in packing his gold, then pushing him out a window. Robin and the Sheriff face off, the Sheriff gleefully using Robin’s father’s sword against him. Marion helps distract the Sheriff a little, but mainly stays out of the way. John eventually has Robin pinned; when he rears back for the fatal blow, Robin pulls out a dagger and stabs the Sheriff. It’s a slow death, the Sheriff even pulling out the dagger. When we think it’s all through, Mortiana pops back up (where did she come from, wasn’t she dead?). But Azeem to the rescue again, finally breaking in the door and throwing his sword. He has fulfilled his vow to save Robin’s life.
Robin and Marion kiss and we next see their wedding. When Friar Tuck gets to the “speak now” part, a man commands them to hold. Everyone turns; it’s Richard! (Cameo by Sir Sean Connery!) His only objection is that he gives away the bride. He thanks Robin, Lord Locksley, for without him, Richard wouldn’t have a throne. Very well, Friar Tuck announces them man and wife. The couple may kiss.
My take: the action is good, I mean, explosions make everything more exciting (when used in moderation). The Sheriff’s and Robin’s duel is not my favorite sword fight, but still decent. Alan Rickman plays an excellent villain; he’s just smarmy (a bit like Snape, though the Sheriff ranges between quiet and deadly and loud and demanding). Mortiana is creepy and can we get a decent portrayal of a complex witch? Are they all supposed to be creepy and pure evil, or simply funny? [I do have a fantasy series in very early development stages that will involve women using magic, so it’s topic that I take interest in]. Azeem is a well developed character, a bit ahead of the English characters in his thinking. Marion and Robin are a bit flat, and I wish they had delved more into the connection between Will and Robin.
There are funny bits, some superb one liners (mainly Alan Rickman’s). There are creepy bits. I don’t believe the Celts were well represented, but that was a standby enemy for storytellers to use for that time period; oh, the murderous Celts, wild animals they are. The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall for a reason. Sean Connery playing King Richard was cool. Though it was odd that Prince John was never mentioned; I guess they wanted to make the story more insular, keep it as trouble within Nottingham. Watching it now, as an adult, having come to age with growing special effects, I say “it’s okay.”
Next Time: Some humor with Men in Tights