The Peasant Is King In Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Mark Addy
Released: 2010 / Genre: Action-Adventure / Country: USA/UK / IMDB
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Anyone expecting Prince of Thieves should quickly think again. Of course, Ridley Scott isn’t Kevin Reynolds and Russell Crowe sure as hell isn’t Kevin Costner. Scott’s interpretation of the Robin Hood myth has no Everything I Do, I Do It For You slow-mo romanticism, instead using the working class hero as the central figure in a power struggle between the newly appointed King John and double-crossing knight Sir Godfrey. Both men are the villainous rich folk that commoner Robin Longstride must rise up against in the face of impending invasion by an eager French king.

Indeed, the fabled medieval celebrity takes a backseat to King John’s battle with his mother and his population, and Sir Godfrey’s conniving with the French. The Sheriff of Nottingham does turn up but in a tiny role, reserved for a man who is about as threatening as a toddler who has spit out his dummy. Robin, the man who for so long was the pin-up hero of peasants across the English lands for his ‘take from the rich and give to the poor’ adventures, is disillusioned with the monarchy and out for his own gain.

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Russell Crowe is Robin Longstride, an ace archer of King Richard the Lionheart’s army. After the Third Crusade he takes part in the siege against Chalus Castle in France. During a break in the battle, he fights with Little John (Kevin Durand) and is presented to the king to give an honest appraisal of the war. Punished along with Little John and two other archers Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), the quartet escape after Richard is killed in battle and head for England. When they happen across dying knight Robert Loxley, who is transporting the king’s armour back to England, he asks Robin to return his sword to his father in Nottingham.

Assuming the identity of Loxley to gain passage to England, he heads to Nottingham where Loxley’s aged and blind father asks him to continue impersonating his son to prevent the crown taking the family lands away. There he meets Loxley’s widow – Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett) – who he immediately has affection for, recovering grain for her townsfolk from nearby looters. But King John is increasingly alienated from his population, taxing the rich and the poor, and oblivious to Sir Godfrey’s violent scaremongering. He must therefore unite his people when the threat of an invasion by France becomes imminent; and Robin may be the only man who can achieve that.

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is essentially an introduction to the legend. Indeed, the film ends with the title “the legend begins” because it is at this point that he is declared an outlaw and retreats to Sherwood Forest with Marian. What that means is we don’t get a feel for the legend that Kevin Reynolds and Costner exploited in the Prince of Thieves but in steering away from witches and the Sheriff of Nottingham, we get a unique insight into the time period that other Robin Hood films have brushed aside.

Scott is happier showing distrust towards the ruling power in England, King John’s unfair taxes and detachment from the populace, and the ultimate betrayal that Robin feels from the king he has invested his faith in. As an antidote to Stephen Frears awful The Queen Scott’s Robin Hood is a wonderful remedy to thoughts of Buckingham Palace and bloody royal weddings. In this era of crusading kings, the brave men that fought alongside them (or, more to the point, are thrust in front of their leader as human shields) are cast asunder at the mere reconsideration of their role. The bravest of the brave may put their lives on the line, and see their friends butchered for their king’s cause, but question his authority (an all encompassing power that remains unattained) and be put to the sword. It’s medieval, undemocratic, and grossly authoritarian – a concept that should be as old and aged as the Robin Hood myth itself. Then you consider we still have Elizabeth II.

In the film Robin is a common archer, a man of humble stature and no financial wealth. But, despite his tireless work for the country he was born in, he must disguise himself as a wealthy knight in order to get back home. Scott depicts the monarchy as unstable and out of touch, where in-fighting is rife and distrust among its members threatens to unhinge the hierarchy. The peasantry asks for fairer laws and human rights to which the king agrees only because he needs the masses on his side to repel the impending French invasion. When ultimately, it is Robin who unites the populace, King John reverses his decision, pillaging his people and forcing Robin into hiding as an outlaw. The brave, working man is king among men, while the royally appointed leader is a weasel hiding inside his inherited castle.

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But as Scott strives for authenticity in his mixture of historical truth with legend, he does lose the swashbuckling adventurism audiences have come to enjoy with the Robin Hood character. Scott’s world lacks humour, and he paints England in gunmetal skies that cast the country in a bleak light that is echoed by the mood of its people. Robin’s romance with Marion is undernourished, as are some of the characters that make the legend so much fun – Little John, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett.

Yet, just like Gladiator, and to a certain extent Black Hawk Down, Scott has developed a skill at recreating war with awe-inspiring grandeur. He mixes grimy close-ups and bloody carnage with beautifully composed wide shots all stitched together with expertly paced editing that breathlessly keeps you glued to the action. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood might not be the tale everyone knows but it’s still an enjoyable historical war movie with some genuinely good set-pieces and the politics to match.

Written by Dan Stephens

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Rodney Reply

    The most surprising aspect of this entire review was the comment that you didn’t like “The Queen”. Dude. I’m genuinely shocked.

    Oh, and your link to said review isn’t working! Might wanna check that.

    Of course, I enjoyed Robin Hood a fair bit (my own review of it here: http://www.fernbyfilms.com/2010/11/22/movie-review-%E2%80%93-robin-hood-2010/) and can accept some of your criticism directed at it – specifically the lack of humor and underwritten supporting cast.

    Do I detect a hint of anti-monarchy sentiment permeating this review, however?

  2. Jaccstev Reply

    This was a good picture, not great but good. Although the story they told here was different from what most will probably expect, I think they already did a good job.

  3. Castor Reply

    Beautifully written Dan! This was a divisive movie back when it came out, with people either loving it or hating it. Like you, I really liked it. It’s no Gladiator but there is nothing terribly wrong with this well-crafted action/adventure movie.

  4. Dan Reply

    Rodney: “Do I detect a hint of anti-monarchy sentiment permeating this review, however? – I’m glad you said that because I didn’t want to hide that fact. One of the reasons why I warmed to Robin Hood was its attitude to the monarchy.

    Thanks for pointing out the missing link – I put a note in my original text to add the link, then forgot all about it. Here is that review of The Queen I was referring to: https://www.top10films.co.uk/archives/4019

  5. Dan Reply

    Castor: Cheers Castor. I thought I might not like it because it wasn’t the story of Robin Hood we all know so well, but I think the reason I ended up liking it was BECAUSE it wasn’t another re-run of that familiar tale.

    Jaccstev: Yeah, I think that familiarity with the Sherwood Forrest part of the tale might put people off but as a period war movie there’s a lot of great action and it is an original way of looking at the legend.

  6. Rodney Reply

    I think we’re all glad for the way Ridley decided to relent against his original plan to have Robin as the Bad Guy and the Sheriff Of Nottingham as the “Good Guy”.

    THAT would have proved the old adage that “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!”

  7. Dan Reply

    @Rodney: “I think we’re all glad for the way Ridley decided to relent against his original plan to have Robin as the Bad Guy and the Sheriff Of Nottingham as the “Good Guy”.” – That I didn’t know. But you definitely get the sense that Scott’s Robin is more out for his own gain than the Reynold/Costner version. And, The Sheriff of Nottingham comes across as a bumbling idiot in Scott’s eyes, not the tyrannical version embodied by Alan Rickman. That said, Rickman was one of the best things about Prince of Thieves. Scott’s version doesn’t really have a memorable bad guy (they’re all a bit plain).

  8. Rodney Reply

    @Dan – well, it could have been worse…. we could have got this as well: http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2008/12/01/brian-grazer-reveals-nottingham-plot-points-sets-record-straight-on-russell-crowe-confusion/

    Apparently Ridley wanted ol’ Russ to play both Robin and the Sheriff.

  9. Custard Reply

    I loved this film and I am not afraid to admit it!!

    I was hoping for a bit of the theme from the disney cartoon…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzFYb7_ySbU

    But you can’t have everything!!

    Great review Dan, your writing make me want to throw my blog in the bin!

    Tanks for sharing!

  10. Dan Reply

    @Custard: You’re both too kind and too modest, Custard. I love reading your blog. I need to comment on it more – that’s my mid-year resolution.

  11. Custard Reply

    @Dan – I am not. I love reading other peoples writing, but every time I do I just think to myself Gawd why do I bother…LOL

    I am going to be spamming your house up too from now on kind sir!

  12. Custard Reply

    How weird that I used my old email for my last comment…very strange, sorry for the spam 🙁

  13. rtm Reply

    Wonderful review! I like this too, Dan, I believe you’ve read my review of it a while back. I like the fact that it’s an origin story and the gritty look & realistic battle scenes are what I expect from Scott. Yes it’s not overtly whimsical like the Prince of Thieves one, but there’s a bit of humor here and there which I thought was entertaining. I enjoyed Crowe’s and Blanchett’s performance, as well as the supporting cast, in fact as I said in my review I don’t even mind watching the follow up to this if Scott choose to do it (with this cast hopefully).

    “Russell Crowe sure as hell isn’t Kevin Costner” – darn right he isn’t and thank God for it! I gotta admit that I enjoyed Prince of Thieves too, it’s more of a guilty pleasure… and I also have a soft spot for that Bryan Adams song 😀

  14. Richard Reply

    This was a lot better than I expected it to be. There were a few historical liberties, and the ridiculous French landing craft didn’t spoil the great battle scene at the end.

    Good review, Dan. I’m guessing you’re just as sick of hearing about the royal wedding as I am. 😉

  15. Marc Reply

    Have to (again) agree with Castor in praising your review. This was never supposed to be Gladiator part II and while a bit slow and plodding it left the door wide open for all things to come. To me it fared much better the second time around and looks gritty but slick on BD:P

    It set up a LOT and I think the successful part of the film is that it went for a legitimate feel with authenticity as you mentioned (as well as something new to the same old story of Robin) rather than do a flashy romanticized Hollywood version…that said I’ll always be a fan of Costner in Thieves but this is a solid film and true to Scott’s record, he’s never made a bad film just not one everybody loves.

  16. Joel V Reply

    Robin Hood was a pretty good movie. I liked it a lot, but there was so much that was pointless in the movie that there were a lot of parts where I was trying not to fall asleep.But certain parts were very good. Anyways, I just finished Robin Hood on DISH Online, and it was pretty cool. I like being able to choose from different movies and shows whenever I want. With DISH Online, I can do that. Also, because I have an account, I have access to thousands more shows and movies at no additional cost! HBO is something I also subscribe to, so since I have that, I have even more to choose from! The possibilities are endless! I am an employee of DISH as well, so I have had a lot of time to play with the site and it is great! I definitely suggest taking a look at dishonline.com because I know it has something to offer anyone and everyone!

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