Ridley Scott’s dark and majestic prequel to the Robin Hood story is about as far away from Kevin Costner, “Men In Tights” and Errol Flynn as you could imagine being. Yet it still keeps the essential spirit of the outlaw hero. As always, Scott’s trademark big fires, yellow and red colours keep the feelings and reactions big and thrilling. The grand landscapes make you swoon. You feel you are there.
Until the end credits, you aren’t sure you’re in Pembrokeshire. Yet that sense of open countryside sure isn’t Nottingham. Who needs Sherwood Forest? At the beginning, you’re in France, with Richard Lionheart (Danny Huston) and his lowly soldier Robin, pillaging one last French castle before heading back to England. Russell Crowe is becoming a modern James Dean, mastering the role of brooding outsider and owning the screen from the moment he first appears.
This is a grittier “Robin Hood” than we are used to. It isn’t perfect. There are annoying traces of “Braveheart”, “Gladiator” and “Lord of the Rings” not to mention a worrying amount of fashionable speech about feminism and equality. Do we want that from Robin? I think not.
Once you are back in England, the set pieces all build up to epic battles and the triumph of good over evil – sort of. I really don’t want to spoil it for you, but the twists are very much in keeping with all our classic ideas of the legend of Robin Hood. You need to see this. Really, you do.
The story of the Magna Carta is one of the truly great tales of British history. For me, dragging that into the “Robin Hood” story just doesn’t work. But – cod history aside – there is much to celebrate here. Cate Blanchett is wonderful as a refreshing Marion. I don’t think she and Russell Crowe have much chemistry between them, but they manage to make us not worry about that at all.
Mark Strong as Godfrey (who isn’t in the Robin Hood stories, ever) is becoming a movie bad guy of truly majestic proportions. It was all I could do to not hiss when he appeared. What I shall do if he plays a romantic lead, and I hiss in the cinema, I cannot imagine.
The script is good fun and there are plenty of laughs and great lines. Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Eileen Atkins and Douglas Hodge are all fantastic as the established elders of Scott’s version of the story. Mark Addy, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle and Kevin Durand are great merry men, with a lot of humour and zealous character acting in the mix.
Don’t think this is good history. It isn’t. Much of the recounting of the crusades is nonsense and the French invasion of England and the British politics make about as much sense as the plot of a much sillier film than this. I got over it. You can too.
There is a fantastic turn by young French actress Lea Seydoux as the mistress of Prince John. Oscar Isaac is a little too “Blackadder” in this role, but still perfectly enjoyable. Matthew Macfadyen won’t win any awards for his take on the Sheriff of Nottingham, but he is perfectly serviceable.
The music is a lttle too Newport Folk Festival for my liking, but I can forgive that. The opening and closing credits are glorious and the graphics have a truly anime sense to them that rounds off the film nicely. All in all, it’s a real achievement. See it on the biggest screen possible and see it more than once, if you can. I will be buying the DVD.
For all its flaws, I didn’t look at my watch once in 140 minutes. It’s a visual treat that moves along nicely and keeps you hooked from the opening moments to the very end.