Robin Hood in TV and Film – it’s an English thing
As far as Robin Hood goes there are two things that seem to be fairly certain as the years go by. Firstly, somewhere along the line there will be a new representation of him, and secondly, how he is portrayed will cause a stir.
Let’s take the most recent film for example. Ridley Scott asked Russell Crowe to take on the legendary hero. Crowe is one of Scott’s long term acting collaborators and one of the biggest actors of his generation. Did Crowe really realise that there would be widespread national coverage in the UK about his English accent in the movie? No one did the same when he played Maximus.
Crowe and Scott’s take on the legend was the one of the most authentic attempts to date, setting the story line in the context of the Crusades, the monarchy, and the rather brutal medieval period. So why such an outcry about an accent, surely it didn’t let the film down?
In fact, such opinion isn’t new. Strong reaction is reported against the romanticised portrayal by Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves. Costner was also criticised for his American accent in the film, and there are stories of local audiences being deeply offended by the film sets (Nottingham Castle in longshot was actually a fortified city in the South of France and caused a particular stir in one cinema).
Early 20th century portrayals by Messrs Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks didn’t seem to get such an immediate backlash. Their swashbuckling antics were set free on the legend. Robin could rob, drink and laugh all he liked and it would all turn out OK in the end.
The contrast to these fortunes though is Sean Connery’s portrayal with Audrey Hepburn in Robin and Marian. Robin is older and the movie has a tragic ending of mistaken poisoning for our hero and his leading lady.
Yet it was Mel Brooks, whose comic pastiche of Robin Hood films (particularly Prince of Thieves) with his Men in Tights, that seems to have been the watershed. Whilst it wasn’t Brooks most commercially successful film, it did hit a nerve in highlighting that Robin really deserved better.
After Brooks, interpretations have changed. The BBC’s rather youthful portrayal of Robin, by Jonas Armstrong, was very well received and many fans were sad to hear that after 3 series it would not continue.
In fact, I think our reactions give an insight into the legend. We seem to have become rather attached to Robin Hood and what he symbolises in our current identity and as a representation of our history and heritage.
Robin Hood seems to be quintessentially English and reflects how we’d like to see ourselves – defenders of fair play, social justice and freedom. Let’s hope the next intriguing presentation isn’t far away, it probably won’t be.