Monday, May 17, 2010
Robin Hood Movie Review
As medievalists this year we have been treated to several films that build on a medieval theme, like How to Train your Dragon. Of course when we heard that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe were teaming up to do a Robin Hood movie we all waited with baited breath. Even the more cynical amongst us admitted we would probably watch it, even if we were determined not to like it.
Having seen it, I will freely admit that I loved it. Most who know me are not surprised by that statement. Even as a Public Historian, I loved it because if there is one thing you can say about the film is that it was committed to conveying a sense of history. The characters were likable, the plot I found to be engaging, and I came away entirely satisfied.
This does not mean that the film was without its problems. In fact most critics have panned it. If we look at it from the point of view of a medievalist there are several things that it does quite well, and there are several things that I am not sure added to the plot.
In terms of inaccuracies, I am sure others picked up on more than I did. The hardest thing I found to digest was the pyre funeral for Walter of Locksley. With Churchmen standing by. Part of the belief in the Middle Ages was that your body would be resurrected along with your soul, so it was not within church practices to burn bodies. This is not to say that it would have been uniform everywhere, or that this couldn't have happened, but it seemed to me to be unlikely, and not to add to the plot which elsewhere was being so careful with details.
The other part that I found myself somewhat incredulous about was Marian joining the charge. Not that I think it would be inaccurate for some women to be involved in the assault on the beach, but I hadn't really understood this to be part of the character they created for Marian, and so it felt a bit forced. I was entirely with them when she picked up a sword to defend her village, but I think a lot of people were taken out of the film by this addition. Again, not because it was necessarily inaccurate but seemed a bit of a stretch based on the rest of the film.
One of my favourite parts of the history that was in the film was the portrayal of King Richard and King John. Here they were truer to the history than to the conventions of the Robin Hood story, and I really liked that. Richard was brutal and John was pretty nasty, though his real fault was not having the same carriage or demeanour as his brother. As well, he was not pure evil, which I liked.
Perhaps the biggest fault of the movie was that the message was not elegantly placed within the plot, but instead the audience was hit over the head with it. Robin is part of the movement that would lead to the signing of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is certainly a big deal, and I could be corrected, but the Magna Carta at the time was mostly for the nobles who objected to John coming back and trying to take back some of the local power that Richard had lost because of his absenteeism. It was certainly about taxes, but part of that was John was a better administrator on the home front than his brother, and was dealing with the tremendous debt left by Richard. The movement was not really about the rights of the people, at least not all the people, though later politicians would understand it that way. What they were saying in the film seemed to be phrased, not so that it would be historically inaccurate, but so that audiences would recognize the ideals they were espousing as democracy, even though that's not really really what it was. In some ways Robin's espousal of these ideals seems forced, and it means that we lack some of the bravado and cockiness which was an appeal for earlier incarnations of Robin Hood.
But what it does do is place the whole story in a wider historical context, and it really does explain in many ways the momentum of the Magna Carta movement, though they never actually say the words 'Magna Carta.'
This Robin Hood, like Robin Hoods before it, tried to be relevant to today by exploiting elements of the history to show ongoing trends of injustice and resistance. As I say, I loved the film, but in its devotion to its message it lacked a bit of the fun that is to be found in other incarnations. And while Russell Crowe is excellent, his Robin Hood lacks the personality of others, and so he is by no means my favourite Robin.
In some ways, the final scenes of the films, with the camp and the greenwood, you come away with the sense that you would really liked to have seen more of that, that classic Robin Hood aesthetic. Though, in the end that is what we have seen before. It is just that I never tire of it.
Final note: Because I am a fan of Great Big Sea I enjoyed Alan Doyle as Alan-a-Dale. It didn't take me out of the movie too much, and as not that many are big fans like myself, I think it was an excellent choice.