Robin and Marian (1976)
The film Robin and Marian was released in 1976 to decent fanfare. According to IMDb, the film made $8,720,000 in the U.S. on a $5,000,000 budget. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 76%, indicating that the majority of critics felt it was a competent film. Its good reviews did not translate to any sort of cinematic legacy, as this film is relatively obscure when compared to other films based on the Robin Hood stories. One just has to look at what came before it: the popular animated Disney feature for kids, Robin Hood (1973). Just three years later Robin and Marianwas released, surely to some head scratches from moviegoers. Just whom was this movie made for? This is not a film meant for kids. The main characters are older and somewhat past their prime. Even the distribution company, Columbia Pictures, had it wrong. The film summary incorrectly states that Robin Hood’s main objective in the story is to rekindle his long-lost relationship with the Maid Marian. Even the title of the film was a contentious matter: Richard Lester, the director, wanted the film to be called The Death of Robin Hood.
In order to get the overall idea of the movie, the screenwriter James Goldman combined two historical events and one mythical event. He begins the film with the death of Richard the Lionheart. The second act of the film deals with the conflict between John, King of England, and Pope Innocent III regarding the issue on whose authority the next Archbishop of Canterbury could be chosen. The final act is the death of Robin Hood. The specific source used for the death of Robin Hood is the aptly titled “Robin Hood’s Death,” taken from a book of collected ballads titled The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882) by Francis James Child. Though, these ballads were already collected in the seventeenth-century Percy’s Folio, which contained some of the oldest known ballads of Robin Hood dating to the middle ages, including “Robin Hood’s Death,” a version of which appeared in the fifteenth-century A Geste of Robyn Hode.
The character Marian (Audrey Hepburn) did not appear in the original source material (in fact, Maid Marian did not appear in any Robin Hood stories until after the middle ages), but Goldman wanted to end the film with both Robin and Marian dying together in a way that was romantic. Indeed, the ending is quite jarring. In the original A Geste of Robyn Hode, Robin Hood is killed by the prioress of Kirkley Abby while being bled. Before he dies, he shoots an arrow and tells Little John (Nicol Williamson) to bury him wherever the arrow lands. In the film, however, Marian took on some of the aspects of the prioress character, which made the ending awkward. Marian tricks Robin Hood into drinking poison and then she drinks it herself.
Robin Hood: What did you do!? Little John, come quick I have been poisoned.
Marian: Oh Robin, I love you more than God.
Robin Hood: Oh, in that case I am okay with this. John, bury us where this arrow lands.
Marian’s actions also complicate how to read her character as a woman with agency. In the beginning, when she and Robin are reunited, she is about to be arrested by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Rather than shirk her duties as the prioress of the abbey, she willingly surrenders herself to the Sheriff. She is choosing to get arrested for her religious convictions. Her agency is taken away immediately when Robin Hood slaps her unconscious in order to save her from the Sheriff’s men. This could be negatively construed that women are destructive towards themselves without the oversight of a male figure. In the end, though, Marian has agency when she chooses to kill herself and die with Robin. But she also has power over Robin as she fatally poisons him without him knowing. Is this revenge for his earlier slap?
Despite the awkward ending, the film is still cinematically competent. When making the film, Lester did not only want to make another Robin Hood story that copied The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), but also wanted to make a very real and grounded film about a man past his prime trying to solve his problems. The comedic scenes are funny. The fights scenes are great to watch as they are choregraphed to look sloppy and “geriatric.” In the end, the film tells the story of a man and a woman who realize that what they really wanted was each other. Did I mention she murders him? Also, Sean Connery does not wear pants for 80% of the film. Maybe, he just missed the breeziness of his role in Zardoz.
High Middle Ages (c. 1000-1300)
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