It has a cast and a half! Russell Crowe is Robin Longstride, Cate Blanchett is Marion, Max von Sydow (who has a filmography going back to the 50s) is Sir Walter Loxley, William Hurt (currently General Ross in the MCU) is William Marshal, Mark Strong (villainous Lord Henry Blackwood in the first Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film) is villainous again as Godfrey, great British actress Eileen Atkins is Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mark Addy (Roland in Knight’s Tale and he appears in Game of Thrones) is Friar Tuck, and Matthew Macfadyen (Mr. Darcy in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice) is the Sheriff of Nottingham. This 2010 film was directed by Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and Kingdom of Heaven and provides an origin story for the hero. My family and I prefer this version as it attempts to show the history of the time period better (Hollywood still gets some facts wrong, but that surprises nobody). I watched the Director’s Cut for this viewing.
The film, set in 1192 opens with script stating “In times of tyranny and injustice when law oppresses the people, the outlaw takes his place in history. England at the turn of the 12th century was such a time.” We’re next in a forest where masked children sneak into Nottingham in the middle of the night to steal their grain. A woman, Marion, wakes the household to see about the ruckus. Back to the lettering: “King Richard the Lion Heart, bankrupt of wealth and glory is plundering his way back to England after ten years on his Crusade.” [Question from a historian: Since Richard prefered Normandy, a vassal state of France, why would he be plundering France?] Continuing: “In his army is an archer named Robin Longstride. This is the story of his return home where, for defending the weak against the strong, he will be condemned to live outside the law.”
We’re introduced to Robin and his men and their work as archers. Richard walks about camp that evening with his friend Robert of Loxley to find an honest Englishman. He finds Robin fighting Little John and asks Robin will God be pleased with his sacrifice? No. They are godless men after the massacre at Acre. Richard appreciates his honesty, but still puts him in the stocks. During battle the next day, Richard is killed by a lucky shot to the neck (that is historically accurate to a point). Robin and his crew break out of their stocks, before the rest of the army figures out what’s happening, giving them a head start to get passage back to England. They don’t owe god or man service, they make their own fates now.
Meanwhile, in England, Eleanor needs to have a discussion with her son, John. He has put aside his English bride and intends to marry Isabella of Angoulême, the niece of King Phillip of France. Oh yes, she has this conversation after she walks in on them naked in bed. Eleanor of Aquitaine was awesome like that. John needs to put aside the French pastry (as Eleanor refers to Isabella), take up his lawful wife and save England. Phillip is looking for any reason to invade England. John argues with his mother that his first wife, Isabel of Gloucester is barren; he will seek an annulment from the Pope [historically, he did and it was granted. He did marry Isabella, but kidnapped her and war was declared against Phillip, but in 1202]. Eleanor had gifted her husband Henry II with eight sons, but only two remain; Richard and John, the runt of the litter. Richard is now forty and has no legitimate children. Isabella, John argues, is a queen in the making, his own Eleanor. [Eleanor of Aquitaine brought a lot of land as her dowry to her marriage to Henry II. Hence how they had control of land in France.]
But while the royal family is bickering, King Phillip of France is making a deal with Godfrey, John’s oldest friend, to make England ripe for invasion. Kill King Richard and turn the country against John; there will be no better time to invade. Phillip will richly reward Godfrey. (Hollywood is playing a little loose with history) Godfrey and his men ambush the knights escorting Richard’s crown back to England, including Robert of Loxley; one part of the French plan is already accomplished. The knights are slaughtered, Godfrey killing Robert. The horse carrying Richard’s crown bolts and comes upon Robin and his men. They find the ambush site and chase off Godfrey and his men. Robin catches Godfrey on the side of his face with an arrow. Afterwards, Robin goes to Robert. Robert asks him to return his sword to his father, Sir Walter of Loxely; he had taken it in anger and without permission. Robin promises then gets an idea. The crown still needs delivered and it could be their ticket home to England; all the trappings they need to pass as knights are about them. They arrive in England as wealthy men; Fate has smiled upon them at last.
Things are not well in Loxley’s Nottingham. The children had stolen the grain needed for planting and the church will not part with its share; it’s bound for York. The Sheriff of Nottingham visits Marion, inquiring about taxes to the crown. She has the ability to change her status; marry the Sheriff and she’ll have protection. Sir Walter has no heirs beyond Robert, who has been gone ten years to the Crusades and may already be dead and he and Marion have no children. Nottingham will pass to the crown and Marion will be destitute. Marion, a spirited woman, refuses.
At the boat bound for England, Robin takes Robert of Loxley’s name. His lads pass a merry night drinking and singing Row Me Bully Boys. Robin unwraps the hilt of Robert’s sword, revealing the phrase “Rise and Rise Again, Until Lambs Become Lions.” He has a flashback to his past; he had told Robert that his father abandoned him at the age of six. When they dock in London (not Robin’s original plan; he did not want to have to face the dowager queen), Robin, as Robert Loxley, presents the crown to Eleanor. She then crowns John as the new king of England. John goes to reward Robin, but recalls that Nottingham owes taxes to the crown. The reward will go towards that. Advisor to the king, William Marshal approaches Robin after the impromptu coronation; he is friends with Sir Walter. He may have need of the man soon and will visit. Godfrey is in the background, watching. John cheerfully greets him and Godfrey orders his man, Belvedere to get rid of Robin (he knows him as the man who ambushed his ambush).
A few extended scenes for the Director’s Cut show more of the boys of Sherwood forest. Marion recognizes them from her village, and the boys also sneak up on Robin and his men, intent on stealing their gold. That wakes Robin in time to hear Belvedere’s approach.
John argues with William Marshal on taxing the northern barons. He feels that the barons are hoarding their wealth. Marshal and Eleanor argue that the country is under enough strain from funding the Crusades. John’s retort is those were his brother’s problems; he is the new king, those problems are over (not really). John dismisses Marshal, gives his station to Godfrey and allows Godfrey to go north and harass the barons. Pay, or die (that was Godfrey’s idea).
Robin and his men arrive in Nottingham; Robin keeps trying to get his men to leave, it’s not their duty and they would be safer split up. The men stay with Friar Tuck, who offers them mead from his bees, while Robin rides up to the manor. He first meets Marion helping the servants with a horse. She agrees to take him to Walter where both Loxleys learn that Robert is dead. Walter invites Robin to dinner, but first he needs a bath. Marion ends up helping him out of his chainmail (that is why knights had squires). Over dinner, Walter has a proposal for Robin; the man gives the old blind man his time, and in return, Walter will give Robin the sword. But, he must also agree to pass himself off as Walter’s son, and thus, Marion’s husband. Walter knows something about Robin’s past; he recognized the name ‘Longstride;’ called it a common, but noble Saxon name.
The men really enjoyed Tuck’s mead and celebrate in a local pub [I like the music being played]. Marion is not pleased to have to pretend that Robin is her husband. She has him lie in front of the fire, on the floor, and warns him she sleeps with a dagger. In the morning, she is to reacquaint her ‘husband’ with the village. His men are formally introduced; Little John, Welsh Will Scarlett (though he sounds Irish, further, the actor, Scott Grimes, is American), and Allan A’Dayle (played by Alan Doyle, lead singer for the Canadian group Great Big Sea [they play some Irish drinking songs]). Robin fills them in that he is currently Marion’s husband and continues to use Robert Loxley’s identity. Robin also discusses the grain situation with Friar Tuck, threatening to tell the higher-ups in the church about Tuck’s bees, so they too can partake in its bounty. Tuck knows the grain should stay in Nottingham, quietly putting the question to Robin, “what if the grain didn’t make it to York?” That evening, Robin wakes his men; they had their chance to leave, they’re still here, they have work to do. They ambush the men taking the grain. When demanded who they are, Robin replies “we are men of the hood, merry now at your expense.” [There’s cheery music played in the background.] Friar Tuck suggests they plant the grain under the moonlight. That way, when it sprouts, he can claim it was a miracle; the church will not argue with a miracle. Marion is shocked to find out that the fields have been planted. That’s all Robin says.
But more trouble is coming; the French have landed in England. A spy for Marshal gets word to him. The French force attacks Godfrey’s English escort, taking their places. They attack the northern estates; Godfrey declaring to the barons, “pay, or burn.” The barons argue they have paid enough, for Richard and his war, they have nothing left to give. These taxes are for King John, Godfrey states. John is not their king, is the reply. The men attack the church in York (that’s when you know you’re dealing with ruthless murderers). A map burns in the background, spreading through the northern lands. Belvedere rides ahead to their next stop, Nottingham, to speak with the Sheriff. The Sheriff is Godfrey’s man, but warns that there will be trouble from Loxley; the Crusader son, Robert has returned. Belvedere knows that Robert is dead. He spots Robin and reports back to Godfrey. Nottingham is to burn. Godfrey sends word to Phillip that the time has come for the invasion.
William Marshal meets with Eleanor; the crown is in peril. Godfrey is plotting with Phillip. The northern barons will declare war on the crown due to Godfrey’s actions, and that will leave England open for invasion. But Eleanor cannot speak to John; he will not listen. She goes to Isabella, she is the only one John will listen to. If she wishes to be queen, she must save John and England. Isabella tells John of Godfrey’s betrayal; John is understandably upset. He declares it must be lies, but Isabella holds a dagger to her chest, swearing it is true. John next rides to Marshal, but whines that Marshal abandoned him. He also doesn’t listen to reason when Marshal counsels that the barons need to unite for the defense of England. John would rather meet them on the field of battle for daring to rise up against him.
Robin and Marion grow closer. He spots her in the forest (in an extended scene) tending to the Sherwood boys. He offers to teach them, how to fight, how to make proper bows and weapons. He is not the enemy. The evening after the planting, the village gathers for a celebration; they have hope again. Marshal arrives to see Walter (another extended scene), asking for help persuading the barons to stand with John against the French. Meanwhile, Walter informs Marshal that Robin’s surname is Longstride. Marshal speaks to Robin and says he knew Robin as a boy. When he and Walter returned from the Holy Land, they went to retrieve Robin, but he was gone. Later that night, Walter tells Robin his history. Robin’s father was a stone mason, and a visionary. He had the idea that a king needs his subjects, as much as subjects need a king. It was Robin’s father who brought about the phrase “Rise and Rise Again, Until Lambs Become Lions.” The grand idea was to give rights to all ranks; he drew thousands to his cause. A charter was created, and signed by many of the barons, including William Marshal and Walter Loxley. Robin’s father refused to give up the charter and names to the king’s guards; he was executed. And Robin was there. At Walter’s coaxing, older Robin remembers the events.
– This is why I don’t quite fully understand the added scene a few minutes before, of Marshal telling Robin they had come to fetch him home. It appears to be Loxley and Marshal who carry young Robin away from his father’s death. Does the added scene mean that afterwards, they had gone on an earlier Crusade and when they had returned, Robin had already run off?
The next morning, Walter shows Robin his copy of the original charter, but they’re interrupted with news that the barons have amassed an army in Barnsdale to kill John. Marshal requires Walter’s help. Walter sends Robin, like a father would send a son. Robin and his men ride to Barnsdale and we see the same Celtic cross that was in Robin’s memory. He removes a stone to reveal his father’s phrase, and his small handprint alongside his father’s. Barnsdale was where he was born. Marshal and the barons are arguing, Marshal still insisting that the barons unite with John to repel the French. John arrives and the argument continues. The barons insist they will be subject only to the laws they have a hand in making. John’s argument is that a king does not bargain for the loyalty he is owed by every man. Without loyalty, there is no kingdom. Robin chimes in, stating he speaks for Walter Loxley. The laws of this land enslave the people to their king. A king who demands their loyalty and offers nothing in return. But, if the king were to empower every man, the king would gain strength. Robin calls again for justice, for a charter of liberties; liberty by law. This will earn John the loyalty, and love, of his people. Marshal urges his king that this is his chance to unify his subjects. John gives his word that a charter will be written. [This argument is really the basis of the Magna Carta, which wasn’t written until 1215.]
They receive word that Godfrey has attacked Nottingham. Marshal and the king go to the French landing; Robin and a few other barons will catch up once they’ve settled matters in Nottingham. Godfrey’s men slaughter the people of Nottingham and demand taxes. Belvedere locks Marion away, fully intending to rape her. She uses her dagger to stab him. The boys of Sherwood come to the rescue of the village, helping Marion unlock the barn the French had shoved the villagers into, intent on burning it to the ground with everyone inside. The French even burn the Sheriff’s home, despite him being Godfrey’s man. Walter comes out and fights Godfrey, incensed when the man admits he killed Robert. Robin and a portion of the army ride in to settle everything. Robin wrangles the location of Phillip’s landing out of an officer. Then finds out that Walter is dead. After the funeral, Robin must ride with the army. He parts with Marion, who has already said goodbye to one man riding to war, saying he loves her, and kisses her.
The French landing craft look an awful lot like the landing craft used by the Allies during World War II at the Normandy landing. Robin and Marshal help the king direct the archers to the cliff, the cavalry to the beach. John is eager for his first battle. He refuses to stay behind the army; it was never close enough for Richard. Well, look what happened to Richard, Marshal points out, but John still rides ahead. Marion, dressed as a knight, arrives with the boys of Sherwood. Robin’s not pleased that she’s come, but directs her to join the rest of the cavalry. After several volleys of arrows, the cavalry charge. Phillip notes that this does not look like a country at war with itself. Marion goes after Godfrey for Walter’s death, but she’s no match. Robin takes up the fight (while Marion was knocked into the water and the unfamiliar weight of the chainmail keeps her from rising and in danger of drowning). When Robin ends up between two boats, Godfrey takes off on his horse. Robin emerges from the water, grabs his bow, and nails Godfrey in the throat. The French yield, to Robin Longstride (how and when they found out his name, I’m not sure), not to John.
The day John is due to sign the charter, he changes his mind. “I did not make myself king, God did. King by divine right.” [Historically, yes, this was a common notion, but it didn’t really become a major political theory until the seventeenth-century]. This document before him seeks “to limit the authority given to me by God.” He burns the charter amidst the barons protests. He then charges Robin Longstride of theft and incitement to cause unrest. The man pretended to be a knight, a crime punishable by death. John declares Robin and “Outlaw!” (he gets really angry on that word). In Nottingham, the Sheriff reads the decree and an arrow is shot to hold the paper when he asks for a nail. Robin of the Hood now dwells in Sherwood alongside Marion, his men, and the boys. The film closes with the script, “and so the legend begins.”
So, the story of this film manages to explain why Robin Hood was both gifted at archery and a noble [nobles were typically more skilled at sword fighting, since they had the money for a steel weapon, than archery, a poor man’s weapon]. It shows how Robin ended up in Sherwood forest and had so many followers. It works in his conflict with the Sheriff and John. John was definitely more accurate and played a bigger role in this film; which I can appreciate as a historian. He lived in his brother’s shadow for years. He’s not a buffoon; neither he nor the Sheriff are evil for the sake of being evil, they have a reason. Godfrey, as some fans have pointed out, ended up incredibly powerful on his own in England, why did he need to ally with France? My guess, maybe he just didn’t like John and finally figured out how to get rid of him without having the blame cast on him. Didn’t work out so well.
Marion is not related to royalty in this story, which actually makes more sense; that was always one of those dangling plot points in typical Robin Hood legends. Like, why was she a royal ward, or how was she related to King Richard? It gave a more believable relationship growth between Marion and Robin, rather than she falls in love with him in like a day (looking at you, Errol Flynn, Prince of Thieves, and Men in Tights). It’s a grittier story, like a lot of Ridley Scott films, most certainly not a happy romp through the forest. We didn’t get a lot of back story on Alan A’Dayle, Will Scarlett, or Little John; but they weren’t the focus. I appreciated the inclusion of Eleanor of Aquitaine and other historical supporting members. I’m not as keen on the whole subplot of the charter of rights, since that didn’t happen until later, but again, Hollywood is not known for its historical accuracy. It gives Robin something else to fight for, yes, and a reason for Prince John personally to be set against him (because typically, why would the ruler of the entire country be worried about one thief in a forest?)
The action is great, the costumes are wonderfully accurate, I like parts of the soundtrack. Overall, this is my favorite Robin Hood movie.
Who is your favorite Robin or other character? Do you like a happy tale or a gritty tale?
Up Next: To France for Alexander Dumas’ tale The Three Musketeers
(No, I’m not doing the most recent rendition. Two reasons: one, not on DVD yet for me to be able to pause or anything, and I haven’t seen it. Two: it’s like the most recent King Arthur movie, which is just a way to get people piqued enough to watch an action movie. Just make the action movie and leave historical characters out of it. They were not all secret assassins or whatever you’re trying to do.)