2018 has seen the release of a new Robin Hood movie – the latest in a long line of films about this medieval hero. It stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx and Jamie Dornan. This version of a tale long loved by Hollywood borrows from the look and feel of Game of Thrones and Assassins Creed. It couldn’t be more different from previous Robin Hood movies going back to the silent era.
Who was Robin Hood?
So, who was Robin Hood? Did he even exist? Let’s get the basics sorted out. Robin Hood was allegedly a young, dashing aristocrat who had fallen from grace and become an outlaw. He was a hero to the poor – robbing from the rich to give to those with nothing.
The earliest accounts of Robin Hood are from around 1377 and claim he came from a place called Lockersley. That’s most like the town of Loxley in the English county of Yorkshire. But later accounts have him coming from different places in the north. He has a band of “merry men” and hangs out in Sherwood Forest. His enemy is the Sheriff of Nottingham and in some accounts, King John of England.
Robin dies, in old versions of the tale, at the hands of his own aunt. This wicked woman is the Prioress of Kirklees Priory near Huddersfield and he goes to her to be treated for an illness. Little does Robin know that his aunt has been bribed to bleed him to death. Bleeding was a treatment at that time. With little energy left towards the end, he fires one last arrow and that is where he is buried. All very sad!
Hollywood and TV have long enjoyed the Robin Hood story. But it’s had some very different treatments.
Errol Flynn – the classic Robin Hood
The earliest Robin Hood movie I could find was Robin Hood Outlawed made in 1912 by the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company. There’s also a film short made in 1908 called Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Or how about this silent movie epic version from 1922 starring Douglas Fairbanks.
But the actor who took a grip of the role and made it Hollywood gold was Errol Flynn. The Adventures of Robin Hood takes the usual line that Robin is a Saxon noble forced to rebel against a brutal Norman aristocracy.
He forms his band of Merry Men including Friar Tuck and Little John and takes on the Normans. And what a bunch of evil-doers the Normans are! There’s the Sheriff, of course, but also Sir Guy of Gisbourne – played by Basil Rathbone who more famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes – and bad King John – a part taken by Claude Rains who you might also know as the French police officer in the movie Casablanca.
Kevin Costner as Robin Hood
Over the decades, we had serious and comic portrayals of Robin Hood and a full length cartoon feature from Walt Disney. I suppose the most notable contribution in recent times was Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – a film I find largely unwatchable now apart from the hilariously camp portrayal of the Sheriff by Alan Rickman. There’s also the interesting addition of a Moorish outlaw, depicted by Morgan Freeman. This movie gave rise to the spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights – a depressing two hours of ‘comedy’ that didn’t raise a laugh here.
Russell Crowe creates a darker Robin Hood
More recently, Russell Crowe was directed by Ridley Scott in a version of the tale that captured our modern feelings about war as dirty and bloody. Unusually – and bravely – it took on historical themes never touched previously like the attempted French invasion of England under King John. There’s a tendency to delve into the darker side of fictional characters these days but I’m not sure this experiment worked and the end of the movie felt distinctly anti-climactic.
Robin Hood in 2018
The 2018 Robin Hood movie with Taron Egerton is an all action movie with CGI laden fight scenes. It’s way less concerned with historical accuracy than the Ridley Scott film. Instead we get lots of crash, bang, wallop action – with a video game quality in parts.