Monthly Archives: October 2010

My Review of Robin Hood [2010]

When England was not very Merrie

By stephen symons from christchurch NZ on 10/1/2010
 
4out of 5

Pros: Castles, Battles royal, Great Cinematography

Best Uses: At Home

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

Bravo! All hail Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe! They have done it again. Gladiator Redux is upon us and Robin Hood rides again through the lush greenwood of Merrie Olde – or, in this case, not so very Merrie Olde. This is a great movie. It is great entertainment. It is great Hollywood.

History it is not. Legend it is not.

It is, in every sense of the word, a fantasy, a Hollywood-devised fiction that has been draped over a pseudo-historical superstructure to give it verisimilitude, and verisimilitude it has by the cartload. The scenery is excellent, the accoutrements, weaponry, clothing and instrumenta domestica are all first rate reproductions of those of England circa 1200 CE, which is the date, give or take, of this saga. History it is not. Nor does it have much more than a third cousin twice removed relationship with the legend of Robin Hood. It is an epic fantasy on the same model as the previous Scott/Crowe vehicle Gladiator, or the masterful Jerry Bruckheimer production King Arthur. So what exactly is happening here?

The story opens with King Richard attacking a castle in France, purportedly to sack it for money to pay the troops. He is killed in action and the crown is given to Sir Robert of Loxley to take back to Prince John in London. On the way back Loxley and his men are ambushed by agents of the French King Phillip and the crown is in danger of capture. A group of deserters from Richard’s army, led by one Robin Longstride [Russell Crowe], attacks the ambushers and recovers the crown as well as much loot. Robin decides to adopt the identy of Loxley to allow him and his men, who include Little John [Kevin Durand], Will Scarlet [Scott Grimes], and Allan A’Dale [Alan Doyle], to return to England in safety and comfort, which they do.

The crown is presented to John, who becomes King, but he has suspicions about Robin and orders his man Godfrey [Mark Strong] to kill him. Robin and his men elude Godfrey and arrive at Loxley near Nottingham, where Robin returns Loxley’s sword, as promised, to Loxley’s father [Max Von Sydow], and meets Lady Marion [Kate Blanchett], Loxley’s widow. They conspire to continue Robin’s impersonation as Loxley senior is now old and infirm and, were he to die without a living heir, the Loxley lands would be confiscated and Lady Marion would be impoverished. Robin and Marion become better acquainted and affection grows between them.

Meanwhile Godfrey is ravaging the land with a company of French knights [he is secretly in league with King Phillip] to raise funds for Johns wars and along the way discovers Robin’s whereabouts. He is not yet prepared to attack Robin, but word of a forthcoming French invasion gives him an idea; Robin, acting as Loxley’s agent, shall be summoned to a mustering of arms to raise an army to combat the French.

Godfrey, meanwhile, will take his men to Loxley and strip it of all assets, burning what is left. Robin dutifully takes his men to the mustering, where he exhorts the King to give civil rights to the free people of England. John agrees to sign this noble sentiment into law as soon as the danger of invasion is over.

Godfrey begins to ravage the Loxley estates, burning, looting and killing, but Robin and his men get news of Godfrey’s plans and charge to the rescue. There is a fierce encounter in which Godfrey’s men are routed and many captured, but Godfrey himself escapes. Marion is rescued and the people are saved from the burning houses, but the invasion is still on its way so Robin and his men head off to help the King.

They arrive on the coast just in time to meet Phillip’s forces, who are about to make a landing on the south coast under the guidence of Godfrey. The King’s men charge and there is a battle royal on the beach. Lady Marion, riding at the head of a company of vagabonds – orphan boys from Loxley who have gone feral in the Greenwoods – joins the battle where she engages in hand to hand combat with Godfrey. Godfrey throws her down, but Robin rushes to the rescue. Godfrey is slain by an arrow from Robin’s unerring bow, Phillip, watching from offshore, turns and heads back to France, and the invaders surrender to the victorious huzzahs of the doughty defenders.

Everything looks well, but when back in London and secure again John reneges on his promise to incorporate the promised freedoms into law, and declares Robin Longstride and all who associate with him to be outlaw and the rightful prey of all law-abiding Englishmen. Robin and Marion retire to the Greenwood with their men, and thus begins the legend.

All the elements of the story are correct in some respect, but they are all mixed up. Richard was campaigning in Normandy to be sure, but he was not ravaging. In his absence on the Crusades and in custody for ransom his brother John had made compact with Phillip of France to usurp the throne. Richard was fighting to regain his own. The Magna Carta, which John talks of signing at the muster, is still fifteen years in the future, and was brought about by pressure from the Barons, not by any sort of grass-roots sentiments of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which would come many centuries later. This sort of nonsense is injected to make the story digestible by Americans who have no idea what this conflict really was all about.

John did not send armies of foreigners into the countryside to loot and ravage. John was an unpleasant person, of that there is no doubt, but he was not stupid.

There was no invasion of the type depicted in the film. In the [much later] War of the Barons French soldiers did indeed arrive and did take part in heavy fighting, but they had been invited over by the enemies of John. The French Prince Louis had been invited by the rebels to take the throne, and would have become King Louis the First of England had not William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, [played in the movie by John Hurt] led the armies of the loyal Barons to victory over the rebels.

The Magna Carta was indeed signed at Runnymede by John, but not willingly. He immediately afterwards repudiated it, saying that as he was under duress it was invalid, and he called upon the Pope to confirm him in his treachery. The Pope did so, but only after John had pledged fealty to the Holy See and agreed to pay an annual tribute, thus making England a fief of the Pope. The Barons were incensed and, gathering French and Scots allies, began to civil war that shortly afterwards saw John dead of dysentery, the crown jewels lost forever in the Wash, and the child Henry proclaimed King.

The movie has nothing of the classic tales of Robin Hood apart from the characters. The Sheriff of Nottingham is present, but only in passing. He does not figure in the narrative at all.

This is a great movie, and deserves all the praise heaped on it. The only drawback, to my mind, is that many viewers will obtain a completely inaccurate view of history, believing, as many will, that it accurately reflects what actually happened. But the same could be said of many other movies, including those which are ‘based on fact’.

Close the history book, sit back, and enjoy a great ride.

(legalese)

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