Disney’s Second Attempt at the Robin Hood Legend, or, That Time Disney Tried to Re-Write English History

Princess of Thieves

Produced by the Wonderful World of Disney, it tells the tale of the daughter of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Stuart Wilson (who is Don Rafael Montero, the antagonist of The Mask of Zorro) is Robin Hood and Kiera Knightley is Gwyn (ironically, she will play Guinevere in 2004’s King Arthur). This is the movie that really got me thinking of a kickass heroine who fights like a man, the starting point for my fantasy series [it will get written, someday] This is also the movie that really got me into the legend of Robin Hood.

Opening narration claims that history has forgotten the tale of Robin Hood’s child. It places the story in 1184, which is oddly before a lot of other Robin Hood tales take place. And historically, before King Richard even took the throne. (But, we don’t tend to count on Disney for historical accuracy). Cardaggian, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s man, reports to his master that Robin Hood has had a child, should they put a price on the infant’s head. Equal to the one on his father’s, the Sheriff declares. “Robin Hood will not have a son.” The Sheriff misunderstood Cardaggian, the baby is a girl. They laugh and apparently do not put a price on the infant’s head. We never see Marian, but we hear her ask Robin to protect their daughter. I am assuming this is a polite way to show that Marian died as a result of childbirth. We do see a cute transition of Gwyn growing up; she appears to have lived at an abbey with Friar Tuck. Her best friend is a young student, Froderick (and reminds me a bit of Ever After, which came out three years prior to this film); she later tells Friar Tuck she does not view Froderick as husband material, though it is evident that Froderick has developed feelings for Gwyn. Gwyn has grown to hate how often and how long her father is gone and wishes he was not so loyal to the king. She can count his visits on one hand, now she’ll need two for he and Will Scarlett are on their way home.

However, their world is about to be thrown into chaos; Richard is dying. And the king has apparently stated he wants his illegitimate son, Phillip to take the throne over John. John disguises himself as a messenger and rides to Nottingham to deliver the news to the Sheriff. Phillip is due to land in England soon and the natural assumption is that Robin, as supremely trusted by Richard, will greet the boy and secure his passage through England. John wants Phillip dead. The Sheriff charges Cardaggian with the task. They will know the young man by his signet ring.

Gwyn happily greets her father, who is surprised to see how much his daughter has grown. But he quickly passes her over and cheerfully greet his friends. Robin gets the notice to help Phillip and so must leave again. Gwyn begs her father to let her accompany him; he refuses and even makes comments that she will have other chances to meet the prince. She doesn’t want to go to meet the “absent son of an absent king;” she wants to help her father; she’s as good as a son. She’s willing to fight, and possibly die, for his cause. He orders her to stay at the abbey, where she belongs. Later, to Frodrick, she complains that father and daughter shouldn’t be fighting each other, they should be fighting side by side against Prince John. She’d rather be the master of her own destiny, than a slave to her fears. So, she cuts her hair that evening and sneaks into Frodrick’s room to borrow his clothes; she can pass herself as a boy (that only works if you do not have a lot of curves).

Gwyn princess of thieves

In France, Phillip is journeying to the coast to make his way to England. He’s in the company of a French countess and his valet, Conrad; the two men share a strong physical resemblance to each other. Phillip has no desire to wear the crown; as king, he would be expected to do something about war and plague and uprisings. When they stop for the evening, Conrad overhears their escort discussing Phillip’s murder. He sneaks his friend out and they make the crossing on their own. Phillip lends Conrad his jacket when the other man gets cold.

In the neighboring shire where Phillip is to arrive, Gwyn mimic’s her father’s heroics and stands up for a hungry child to a nobleman. She leads the guards on a merry chase, which ultimately acts as a perfect distraction for Will and Robin to sneak in. Frodrick followed her and they meet up in the forest, where the Sheriff’s men are searching for Phillip. They have to separate and Gwyn is soon outnumbered. Two men jump to her rescue; Will and Robin. Robin is displeased at his daughter’s disobedience. They agree to find Frodrick. The young man was captured, but Nottingham has him released and followed, figuring he’ll lead him to something. Robin meets Frodrick in the chapel that evening, which turns out to be a trap. Frodrick and Gwyn escape, but Will and Robin are captured and taken to the Tower of London for questioning. Gwyn sends Frodrick back to the abbey for help, she will follow her father.

Phillip and Conrad have landed in England and go to meet “Robin Hood.” Cardaiggan stands in, giving the secret phrase. Phillip had let Conrad lead the visit and they’re about to switch back, passing off the signet ring, when Conrad is shot in the back. Phillip escapes. Gwyn eventually comes across his horse. They scuffle for a bit, but Phillip quickly realizes that Gwyn is a woman, not a man as she appears. He’s willing to give her the horse; a lady should not have to walk, he states. Do women not have legs and feet, Gwyn argues. Very well, they will share the horse.

In London, John and the French countess examine the body of “Phillip.” The countess realizes that it is Conrad they had killed; Phillip is still alive. John is furious. He tortures Robin for Phillip’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Gwyn and Phillip end up in an argument over Robin Hood. Phillip believes that he killed his friend; he’s continuing the charade that he is the valet, Conrad. Gwyn states that it’s not possible and reveals that she is Robin Hood’s daughter. This carries on into a discussion on John and England. “Conrad” (aka Phillip) feels that John may be the better king, since he knows England and Phillip doesn’t want the crown. Gwyn tells her companion about the hardships the English people face under John. A prince has an obligation to his people. They hear about an archery tournament in Nottingham, where they assume Robin was taken. The winner will be able to get into the castle. In true Robin Hood style, Gwyn ultimately wins by splitting the Sheriff’s arrow. The Sheriff notes the similarity in style. At the feast that evening, Phillip recognizes Caradiggan and they have to leave before he’s spotted. They run into the friars. Phillip ends up in a discussion with Frodrick and thinks that the two are brother and sister. Frodrick claims they’re betrothed; he sees the way Gwyn looks at Phillip.

The friars have managed to capture the Sheriff, who is out looking for Phillip. Frodrick is tasked with guarding the Sheriff overnight. The older man wiggles his way out of the ropes and knocks out Frodrick. (Um, he didn’t get hit that hard, I don’t know why he didn’t just get back up and was out until morning). Gwyn is angry at Frodrick. “Conrad” keeps his promise to rescue Robin and still heads out for London. “Conrad” and Gwyn step away for a few quite moments; Gwyn sets the record straight that she is not betrothed. Conrad is pleased and kisses her. However, when they get back to the main camp, word has spread amongst the people that Phillip is still alive. Conrad reveals himself to be Phillip, the proof is his signet ring. He had hoped to get back to France quietly and live out his life. But they have shown him that he needs to take the crown and help them. Prince John’s army attacks. In the fray, Gwyn notices that the Sheriff takes aim at Phillip. She calls out a warning, but Frodrick is closer and takes the arrow for the prince (the lad lives, ’tis a shoulder wound).

Phillip and Gwyn continue to the Tower to rescue Robin while John proceeds with his coronation. They find Gwyn’s father, and he orders them on to stop the coronation. He’ll find Will. In the castle yard, the friars take on the guards and Robin battles the Sheriff. Caradggian catches Robin and suggests the Sheriff shoot him with an arrow, how poetic. But the arrow is caught by another, by Gwyn. The Sheriff is now the one outnumbered. Phillip breaks into the coronation and demands the crown, as Richard’s chosen successor. John is correct that he is king by law (and historically, Richard never had Phillip crowned king; there has never been a King Phillip of England [queens have married a Phillip, Mary I did, as has Elizabeth II]). He then shouts for everyone to kill Phillip. They won’t listen to him anymore; they have another prince to back, one who won’t tax them into poverty.

The film ends with Phillip about to be crowned. Gwyn has her hair done prettily and is wearing a fancy dress. Phillip has give Frodrick a job on his council, but Gwyn will not marry Phillip, claiming she is a commoner (a bit of a break from traditional lore, since Robin is typically viewed as a noble and Maid Marian is almost always viewed as nobility and a relation of some sort to Richard). Phillip wishes they could be Conrad and Gwyn again, if only for a minute. Gwyn vows to serve Phillip the same way Robin served Richard. Phillip accepts, and Robin and Gwyn will both serve their new king. Closing narration states that history will forget Phillip (um, yeah, cause he was never king) and he never married, instead, he pledged his heart to a common woman, of uncommon valor.

The movie is good as a Wonderful World of Disney production. The fight sequences are nothing spectacular. Costumes are closer to period accurate than some. Gwyn and Phillip were well developed; it’s a Disney production, so of course, there had to be a bit of romance. Honestly, the film would have been completely fine without that little niggle. Gwyn is aware of her shortcomings and apologizes when she does wrong. Robin learns to accept the child he has; even though he wanted a better life, his daughter grew up to be just like him; he cannot protect her forever. I like Gwyn’s spunk and as I already stated, it was an inspiration to characters I write. An enjoyable watch, but not a favorite.

Up Next: 2010’s Robin Hood

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