The story of Robin Hood has been told in films with different plot twists. In Douglas Fairbanks’ version from 1922, Robin Hood is the Earl of Huntington, going off on Crusade with King Richard (played by Wallace Berry). Huntington returns to oppose Prince John, who is threatening to take the throne from his brother.
Errol Flynn’s version has Robin Hood staying in England as a Saxon nobleman opposing Prince John for the same reasons as Douglas Fairbanks’ Huntington. Kevin Costner keeps the Third Crusade in the story but adds a Muslim warrior played by Morgan Freeman. There are many approaches to telling the story of Robin Hood.
Ridley Scott’s version is perhaps the most ambitious. The film begins with Richard the Lion Heart’s siege of the Castle Chaulus Chabral in Normandy. This is where we meet Robin Longstride, a skilled archer, who has followed King Richard into battle for many years. The king looks for an honest man and is confronted with Longstride who has been running a game of chance and is accused (by Little John) of cheating. Robin is not cheating but, ironically, his honest answers to the king land him and his companions shackled. So much for honesty and kings.
The death of King Richard allows Robin and his companions to escape and flee back home. Along the way, they run across a party led by Robert Loxley retuning the crown back to England. Loxley has been attacked by an English nobleman named Godfrey (magnificently played by Mark Strong) who is conspiring with King Philip of France to invade England. Loxley is mortally wounded but Robin and his companions rout Godfrey and his men. The dying Loxley asks Robin to return his sword to his father. Not being a nobleman, Robin impersonates Loxley and returns the crown to the hands to Prince John.
The story develops with Robin and his men going to Nottingham where Robin is, conveniently, asked by Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) to pretend to be his son in order to preserve the household for his daughter-in-law Marion (Cate Blanchett). The story centers on stopping Godfry and the intended invasion of England by King Philip. A sub-plot concerns the rights of Englishmen centered on a documents of rights that Robin’s father (long ago executed) was instrumental in conceiving. The document is the Magna Carta in all but name.
This Robin Hood brings the 12th century to life in all of its grim realities of hard work and, by our standards, hard living. The production design is beautifully conceived, down to the rushes strewn on the floor of the manor house. The performances are magnificent down to supporting roles. It was nice to see Mark Addy (of The Full Monty) as Friar Tuck and Oscar Isaac made an effective quarrelsome King John. John Hurt has a strong role as William Marshall, a courtier of King Richard, and Eileen Atkins made a strong Queen Eleanor. Danny Huston made an exciting Richard the Lion Heart.
The film ends with Robin declared an outlaw for supporting the rights of Englishmen. The film ends where Errol Flynn’s version begins. I have not heard if Ridley Scott intends to take up the story but we are left in anticipation of what is to come. This Robin Hood is well acted and beautifully photographed. The story is refreshingly different from the other Robin Hood’s but it is a story that has differed from film to film and television.