Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

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This'll look good in the trailer...
This’ll look good in the trailer…

Twitter Plot Summary: Early 90s Hollywood does the Robin Hood legend and spawns THAT song by Bryan Adams. On the plus side – Alan Rickman.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Key Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater, Alan Rickman, Brian Blessed.

Five Point Summary:

1. Alan Rickman = awesomeness.
2. So if Robin Hood is supposed to be English, why does he have an American accent?
3. English guy = villain. Always.
4. Did we really need the Celts to show up?
5. All of the gags in Men In Tights now make a lot more sense…

Ahh, glory be to big Hollywood dramatisations of old legends. They can never get it quite right, but still we flock to the cinema like sheep  to see what they’ve done to Nottingham’s finest, Robin Hood. Except for me of course. I watched it for the first time last night (NB: this review was written in 2011) thanks to my Lovefilm subscription. In some ways I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, but in others I’d probably wait until I see it go cheap on DVD and make a purchase. First things first – this film is long. 2.5 hours of story await. Thankfully it doesn’t drag too much, but I found myself reaching the 90 minute mark and hoping the resolution was coming soon, if only because nothing had really happened for a while. Then I realised I had another hour to go and promptly settled in for a long evening. After a quick trip to the toilet.

Before the film had even begun my opinion of it was already tarnished thanks to Mel Brooks. I’ve seen Men In Tights many, many times over the years, with no inclination to watch the “source material”, as it were. I’m now glad I took the time to watch it. From the opening credits you can tell it’s going to be an entertaining movie, as the names “Alan Rickman” and “Brian Blessed” flash up on the screen. Both are undoubtedly legends, and Rickman camps it up mercilessly as the  villain of the piece, having a bit more fun with the role than his earlier appearance in Die Hard allowed. It’s another classic case of making the English guy the villain, but when the English guy is Alan Rickman you forgive the biased view American cinema apparently has of the English. Yes, historically we’ve had our issues, but I wouldn’t think about casting an American as my villain just because the thirteen colonies seceded from the throne. Then again, it might just be because English actors are very good at their job. And Alan Rickman? Fantastic casting choice.

Brian Blessed is not in the film long enough to have an impact, except for a couple of brief moments where he manages to resist shouting his lines. Still, it was nice to see him in any capacity. DIIIIIIVE!!! Sorry… The brief cameo of Sean Connery at the end (ahem, spoiler alert) as King Richard made me geek out a little bit (okay, a lot), and I really don’t know why. He’s on screen for about five seconds and then we’re into the end credits. The point, exactly? It’s very much like Patrick Stewart showing up in Men In Tights (and come to think of it, that appearance makes a bit more sense now).

Guy of Gisbourne’s character is very much a product of the movie’s time. He’s an early 90s surfer dude transferred into a 12th century tale, and made slightly gruffer so he doesn’t stick out like Brian Blessed in a Robin Hood film. Erm…  It may be controversial, but Richard Armitage’s version of the character from the recently deceased (previously moribund) BBC series was a much better take on the character, and has set a high benchmark for future interpretations of Mr of Gisbourne. Maybe it should be as simple as hiring a good actor.

What do you mean, "tone it down a little?"
What do you mean, “tone it down a little?”

Kevin Costner is a vaguely likeable Robin Hood, but the fact we’re in the middle of England in the age of the crusades and none of the speaking cast have a uniform accent, despite all supposedly being from the Nottingham area, grates a little. Little John and his wife are definitely West Country. Kevin Costner, obviously American and Christian Slater is… I’m not really sure. But then as we’ve seen from many other versions of this story, both older and more recent, they’ve never really put much effort into the accents. Yes, even you, Mr Crowe. Costner is a little too laid back for most of the story, but this was back when he was a bankable headline name (whoever thought Waterworld was a good idea anyway?).

Morgan Freeman added a nice touch as the foreigner in a strange land. Cue racist joke here. The script doesn’t overburden the  viewer with excessive comments over his difference to the natives, but there is a nice scene between Freeman and the blind servant who unwittingly puts his foot in it, specifically regarding Moors and foreign folk. From a tonal perspective it’s pretty spot on, not labouring too close to the point but acknowledging that yes, people have been cultural racists for many centuries.

There’s a fair amount of iffy moments in the story. Robin and Morgan Freeman arrive in England, presumably on the south coast. Then, as if by movie magic, they’re in the vicinity of Robin’s home and fighting off a group of Alan Rickman’s men. I wouldn’t mind so much if they had emphasised a passing of time, or given a clear indication of where they had made landfall, but as they did neither of these things I can only assume that the bigwig Hollywood production team decided a basic grasp of geography wasn’t necessary when making the movie.

If having Alan Rickman as your evil villain wasn’t enough, the scriptwriters decided to throw in the Celts to trample through Sherwood Forest and burn down the outlaws’ camp. It’s almost an affront to the power of Rickman to get the job done, and basically confirms that he’s surrounded by ineffectual lackeys who need some big ginger Scots to burst in and do the real dirty work. Much like Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles in that respect, but much less amusing and much less effective.

The film has nice production values, but ultimately I think I’ve watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights far too often to take this particular interpretation of the Hood legend seriously. And, even better, I didn’t have to sit through Bryan Adams’ interminable power ballad at any point. Result.

Favourite scene: The Sheriff of Nottingham cancelling Christmas.

Quote: “Locksley! I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!”

Silly Moment:  Pretty much anything with Alan Rickman, he’s turned up to 11. Specifically – him telling wenches to visit his chambers.

Score: 3.5/5

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