Dir. Ridley Scott. USA/UK. 2010.

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This is a very good film. A richly satisfying experience with very few flaws and the second time Crowe has delivered a pitch perfect ‘English’ turn (the first being in Master and Commander). He is not alone though in putting in a good performance – the rest of the stellar cast are brilliant. Forget men in tights and previous accounts of England’s favourite mythical creature: Robin Hood gives this tale a new and welcome venture into the land of authenticity. The ‘Robin’ that we have come to know, the forest dwelling outlaw and his band of merry men do not figure here at all. What does is great action, wonderful script, dialogue, costumes, set designs and tremendous battle sequences. This film by no means missed an opportunity to show the Middle England skill of rank and file long-bowmen, though referred to here as ‘common archers.’ Our ‘common archers’ won the battles of Crecy and Agincourt. Exciting, stirring stuff. 

Robin Longstride ‘Robin of the Hood’ is more a fellow caught by serendipity into the world he inherits rather than someone who has purposely sought notoriety and the story does not suffer even slightly for being presented this way – Robin’s back story is the film, the story we never knew. There is the familiar territory: Richard I is away in France – but Robin is with him, not at England defending the ideals of Richard whilst John usurps the throne as is normally depicted. Of course John is a slippery nasty creature – but Richard is not shown here as a paragon of virtue, but as a murderer whom Robin fails to admire.

Crowe is excellent as Longstride – the man who effectively takes on the identity of Robin of Loxley in order for Marion Loxley (Loxley’s widow played by Cate Blanchett) to keep her land. This gives the character of Marion depth and range as opposed to the usual posh totty in Rapunzel wear captured in the castle waiting to be married off to an unseemly Lord. Max Von Sydow is great as her blind father-in-law who takes Robin in as his own.
 Mark Strong and William Hurt are truly marvellous as good vs evil supporting cast: Strong excels as the archetypal villain and he – not the Sherrif of Nottingham is the antagonist. He sports a rather nasty scar for most of the movie – but so do most of the cast: as well as rotting teeth, grubby clothes and a myriad of regional English accents. Not a plum in sight which is refreshing for a depiction of English life. No mockeny cockney, or a trace of Aussie in either Crowe or Cate.  These two are very convincing as slow burning lovers – Cate gently warms to Robin and it is better that these two are middle aged, though this will prove a stumbling block for subsequent sequels. Crowe is 46 now and the derring-do required for the full on Sherwood Forest Robin may prove a shade dexterous for him. As an additional note on the strength of the supporting cast, Eileen Atkins gives a solid turn as Eleanor of Aquitaine (the richest woman to have ever lived), John and Richard’s mother – a role that won Katherine Hepburn an Oscar for A Lion in Winter. It is a chunky piece of work and Eileen does the position justice acting as sensibility and strength to John’s moody, surly petulance.

The subplots of duplicity and intrigue highlight the early intelligence of the Middle Ages which is rarely looked at in the history of espionage: this is normally accredited with the machinations of Francis Wallsingham and the time of the Elizabethan court. However, spies, informants and the use of homing pigeons were about a lot earlier. All this is shown here; the turning point in the plot is knowing for sure that a threat from France is imminent as is the need to unify England under the promise of a ‘charter of liberties’ – The Magna Carta. The build up to this historic document is very well done as is the discord felt at heavy taxation. Having Friar Tuck as a kind of bootlegger is rather wonderful as are the sights of English peasants drunk on mead and the prospect of ‘historic’ sex.
The music is a bit of a downfall, sounding sometimes too much like The Dropkick Murphys or Enya and there are echoes of the mystic female vocals true of Gladiator. Ridley Scott is English and shouldn’t have a problem with separating the various strands of British mysticism. English folk is very different to Scottish or Irish music.

Look though for the gorgeous end credits which combines Olde English font with rich animated illustrations.
A truly smile inducing trip, from beginning to end. Go see it.

Gail Spencer

Dedicated to my friends Down Under – English and Aussie.
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