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Robin Hood (1991)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“The adventure. The romance. The legend.”

You may not have ever seen a Robin Hood movie. If so, this one would make a good place to start. However, most people have seen some of the Robin Hood story since it has been in movies and on television for as long as movies and television have existed. 1991 brought the release of two separate movie productions of the tale of Robin Hood. I've seen them both. In my opinion this film easily surpasses the other in direction, sets, script and performances. However, the other film had stars with bigger names at the time. In many respects this film ranks as highly as the 1938 classic Technicolor version.

The story of Robin Hood comes from medieval England, set during the rule of Prince/King John (Edward Fox), who makes his appearance late in this film. However, his “presence” in the form of a crushing tax burden overshadows the entire story. The film starts showing a “noble”-led hunting party “driving” deer. Lodwick (Conrad Asquith), one of that party, discovers a downed deer, and another hunter (a commoner, therefore a “poacher”). The party changes from the hunt for deer to pursuing the commoner. The commoner: Much the Miller (Danny Webb) falls at the feet of a Saxon earl: Sir Robert Hode (Patrick Bergin) and his friend Will Scarlett (Owen Teale), who also hunt but with Sir Robert's falcon. The miller pleads with Sir Robert: “Save me.”

Miter (Barry Stanton) and Lodwick grab the miller, identifying him as the “poacher” to Sir Miles Folcanet (Jürgen Prochnow) who apparently leads the hunting party of riders. Sir Miles, a Norman lord, wishes to put out the miller's eyes for his continued “poaching” of the “King's deer.” Scarlett insists that Sir Robert “do something” to protect the miller. Sir Robert intercedes, telling Folcanet to: “Leave him.” Also saying: “I have no objection to this man hunting on my land.” So does this movie begin the story of the conflict between Saxon and Norman, represented respectively by Sir Robert and Sir Miles. Amidst the banter among the huntsmen, Sir Robert notices Maid Marian (Uma Thurman). He asks “And you kind lady? Is it your pleasure that the miller should lose his eyes?” Replying she says: “My pleasures are my secret, Sir Robert.” Thus begins the tale of their relationship in this movie.

When Sir Miles encourages Miter to enforce the law: putting out the miller's eyes, Sir Robert again intercedes, this time telling Much to “Walk away.” Sir Miles thanks Sir Robert for the lesson in Saxon justice and invites him to his host's court Monday at 7 to receive Norman justice. Later, as Sir Robert and his friend Baron Roger Daguerre (Jeroen Krabbé) play a dice and board game (probably Backgammon), the Baron tells Sir Robert that he must order him to be flogged on Monday morning. As they discuss Monday's possible events and both their families' pasts, the conflict between Norman and Saxon heightens. Marian enters the room in less formal clothing than she wore earlier. Sir Robert notices that she calls the Baron her uncle. After she leaves, Robert asks the Baron about her. The Baron became Marian's guardian when his brother died. He tells Robert that she will soon wed Sir Miles. So the conflict between Miles and Robert steps up another notch.

Eventually, Sir Robert will be outlawed and assume the guise of Robin Hood, but how that happens I leave to your watching of the movie. As a Robin Hood story, this movie also contains Little John (David Morrissey) and Friar Tuck (Jeff Nuttall) and the stories of their first meetings with Robin Hood. Archery contests, swordplay and other traditional elements also enter the story line at appropriate places, but this version has a special flair all its own, obtained partly from a talented team of scriptwriters: Sam Resnick and John McGrath, a deft director's hand supplied by John Irvin, and especially the fine performances of the leading actors: Bergin and Thurman.

Often freedom loving people fail to properly understand the significance of the Robin Hood tale. Some say it glorifies the state's role of redistributing wealth. That view does not fit with either this film or the 1938 classic with Errol Flynn as Robin. In both excellent versions of the story the officers of the state fill the role of the true thieves: robbing the productive members of society. The subject of the current review distinguishes itself in several ways. Its mood seems a bit darker than the Technicolor classic, the sets seem more realistic, the actors often smudged with mud and dirt. However, another notable difference concerns the role of Maid Marian. Uma Thurman really shines in a part which seems expanded from the earlier classic version (not meaning to take anything away from the great Olivia de Havilland). All characters have clear motivations. The dialog often rings with great lines for liberty.

Our times provide a fine setting for a revisiting of the Robin Hood tale. The 1991 Bergin/Thurman version gives perhaps the best modern vehicle so far. Many achievements made against the State during the period of King John's rule and the centuries following now supply the last impediments for the rising tyranny in the world. It was King John, the same as in the Robin Hood story, who was forced to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, beginning the limiting of arbitrary royal (state) power in England. Today, habeas corpus may be fatally wounded, taxes run extremely high, and the State takes other private property without consent. The most notable difference between the early reign of King John and today's State consists mainly in present day elections. However, incumbents overwhelmingly dominate those contests. Perhaps we need modern heroes to set things to right again. Those heroes will benefit from watching movies such as Robin Hood.

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