Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  Warner Bros. 1991.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Warner Bros. 1991.

Before watching the movie:

Kevin Costner is on the poster, but I’m not going to talk about him right now. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say after the fact.

I’m not sure if I heard the news late at night or in the morning. Last Thursday, and on into the weekend, the internet was filled with euologies for Alan Rickman. It was too late to cover last week.

But more than ever before, I had a sense that people weren’t mourning an actor, they were mourning his roles. Nobody was eulogizing Alan Rickman, they were eulogizing Severus Snape, Hans Gruber, Metatron, and Alex Dane/Dr. Lazarus. And I simply felt that nobody had a sense of what Rickman was really like, since nobody would accuse him of actually being like an abusive professor, terrorist, aut al. I sure didn’t know what he was like, but I try to believe the best about people, and that’s been borne out by some statements from people who knew him personally.

And so, here I am reviewing one of his more popular movies, where he plays another villain. Well, I can’t review him narrating a viral video for charity. This was a movie that came up a lot in a way that didn’t seem to focus too much on the character, and of the two that came up that I hadn’t seen, this one seemed a better choice. It’s also the version most directly spoofed by Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

After watching the movie:

Robin of Locksley returns from four years as a prisoner of war in the Crusades to find that his father was executed as a devil worshipper and his family property has been seized by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Along with him is Azeem, a Moor Robin saved from death sworn to return the favor. Without his family’s wealth and marked as an outlaw for saving a boy pursued by the Sheriff’s men for hunting deer on the Sheriff’s land, Robin decides he must lead the outlaws of the forest in a campaign against the Sheriff, returning cruelties inflicted upon the people of Nottingham tenfold and stealing taxes back to feed the poor. As Robin rallies the peasants, Nottingham plots to steal King Richard’s throne.

Kevin Costner’s accent. It can’t be ignored. Unlike some Robin Hoods out there, he can’t affect an English one. I understand it had to do with too much trouble to keep up on set and not enough time to dub in post. Most of the time, it doesn’t really bother me. In some scenes, he does seem to be using an accent, and I’d rather the movie be consistent than accurate. However, there were occasions where his natural American accent was jarring. I think the scenes it stood out the most were when he was doing a gravelly action hero voice, which is certainly the last thing you’d expect to hear coming out of Robin Hood’s mouth. I admit I’m biased, since my Robin Hood is Carey Elwes (though I ought to give mention to Brian Bedford from the Disney version, who also died this month. It’s been a rough few weeks.)

This seems to be going to great pains to ground the legend in something like reality. It’s not gritty realism, but it seems to be more concerned with appearing to be historically accurate than providing the golden-toned legend. As far as I know, it introduces at least two major characters to the story: Azeem is definitely original to this version, and I’m pretty sure Mortianna, the witch manipulating the Sheriff is also new. Perhaps to make room, the story dispenses with John, brother of King Richard, and instead has Nottingham himself scheming to usurp the throne. They go far further into making the man despicable than they necessarily need to in order to make him the heavy, but Alan Rickman throws himself into the role. He clearly relishes playing nasty people, despite being decidedly un-nasty himself.

I felt that the theme of Robin needing to grow up and do noble things rather than nobleman things fell a bit short. It was clearly being built up at first, but once he talked the men of Sherwood into his plan, it didn’t seem like much more thought was given to the idea that he was doing it for the glory until everything gets torn down and he blames it all on himself playing at being the hero without having the right heart in it. It didn’t feel like that actually created any tension. People thought he was a rash young man with a lust for glory and revenge, he told them he had the peasants’ interests at heart, and everything went as planned until he became too big of a problem for the Sheriff to ignore. It would’ve gone the same way without that theme.

Alan Rickman is not the Sheriff of Nottingham, but the Sheriff is immortal thanks to the tale, and so is the bit of Alan that he gave in this telling. Our favorite characters haven’t died, they’re how our favorite actors live forever.

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