Sunday, 16 January 2011

Wider Reading | Why Ridley Scott's 'Robin Hood' Is A Bit Rubbish

I have a bone to pick with you, Ridley Scott. I just sat through your movie of last year, Robin Hood, and I only cried out ‘Huzzah’ twice.

Just twice. Compare that to the ‘Huzzah’ levels as measured in the classic Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland film The Adventures of Robin Hood – roughly one ‘Huzzah’ every two-and-a-half minutes. I mean, it’s obviously still more ‘Huzzahs’ than in that Americanised pantomime abomination, Prince of Thieves, or the dreary, Dalton-era-Bond-esque Sword of Sherwood Forest. In fact, you’re basically level with the Disney Robin Hood (that’s one ‘Huzzah’ when Clucky US Footballs her way through a horde of identical, evil rhinos, and one when we discover Robin survived drowning by breathing air through an upturned straw).

But still, it’s not good enough. And I’ve got some reasons for you.

The first reason? Lightness of touch.

Observe Flynn in the classic scene early on in Adventures when he crashes Prince John’s Nottingham party. He does so by beating up the guards with the antlers of a stag he’s got slung over his shoulders. Then he waltzes in, tosses the stag onto the table, puts his feet up on the table in front of the Prince, exchanges barbed quips with him, flirts with Marian, survives an assassination attempt, gets into a fight with the entire hall, and escapes via a window. This is, of course, quite awesome. But just as important is how he fights. He slips through the chainmail-wearing guards, scrambles over the tables, shins up a tapestry, and he’s away. Robin is a rogue; a swaggering fellow who uses wits and quickness instead of brawn. As John Fowles pointed out in Daniel Martin, he’s a folk hero who hides rather than confronts, who escapes rather than wins, and who tricks rather than conquers. He’s our Brer Rabbit. And that lightness has to apply to the whole film. Moviegoers know that it’s silly that Prince John spends his whole time up at Nottingham and that Richard the Lionheart didn’t really come back and make everything okay again for the rest of time (and where the hell is Ivanhoe, anyway?). But that mustn’t matter. Robin Hood has to shrug his shoulders, forget about ‘history’ and get back to swinging on chandeliers. The worst example of this was the BBC’s awful TV version, which had a serious Robin in a storyline which simply could not be taken seriously.

Wascally wabbit.

Whereas your Robin Hood, Ridley, gets so weighed down by the millstones of history and folk-tale that you end up having to perform cartwheels to get the narrative to the point where you can have some ridiculous nonsense about Robin’s dad having invented the Magna Carta, with whole armies riding from Nottingham to London and back in the time it takes a French fleet to cross the Channel. It also gets weighed down by, well, your Robin Hood, who you have doing his full Maximus earnest-and-dour thing when he’d have been much better off channelling Ben Wade from 3:10 to Yuma.

Grumpy bear.

It also doesn’t help that you clearly don’t care about archers. Robin Hood is an archer. He’s the deadliest shot in England – no, you’d rather have the entire plot be about a sword? Well, that makes sense, seeing as how you’ve changed him from being a nobleman who’d use a sword to a peasant who most likely wouldn’t. Oh, right, you’re going to have him ride about the place on a horse as allies constantly toss up melee weapons for him to catch impressively? Great. Oh, and…right, so he’ll pick up a random bow and fire one climactic shot with it at the end of the film. Well, that’s all right, then.

And while we’re on the subject, I get your Maid Marian dilemma. De Havilland’s part was essentially to swoon about the place until she got captured. So it is totally groovy to make your Marian tough and resourceful and not a damsel in distress. But then you decide to have her (her character being, let me remind you, a rural-village problem-solver) riding up on a warhorse in full armour waving a sword at the very end, without explanation. This is unacceptable, particularly if you’re only doing it so that she can get into trouble fighting the baddie and need to be rescued.

There was some stuff I liked, sure. It’s always a pleasure to see William Hurt. And the French king Phillip totally looks like Silkworms Ink poetry editor Phil Brown.

Phil's expression upon reading this article.

But, frankly, we’ve been to Nottingham once too often. Now that this is over, hopefully there’ll be no need for us to go again.

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