Robin Hood (2018)
Peasants, Townspeople, and Social Life
“The legend you know. The story you don’t.” Robin Hood (2018) is not a retelling of the traditional legend but rather a origin story for the man beneath the hood. In the film, Lord Robin of Loxley must leave his lover Marian to fight in the Third Crusade against the Saracens, where he meets Yahya (John), a Muslim warrior who teams up with Robin to avenge his son’s death. Sent home by Commander Gisbourne, Robin returns to Nottingham to find his land had been seized to support the war effort by the Sheriff, and that Marian has moved on with Will Scarlet after thinking Robin dead. Fueled with anger, Robin and John manipulate the Sheriff to steal from the Church to end its support of the war. The film ends in a climactic confrontation between the Sheriff and Robin’s revolutionaries, the oppressed people of the mines. In the final scenes, Robin defeats the Sheriff, wins back Marian, and retreats with his fellow outlaws to Sherwood Forest, as the newly appointed Sheriff Will Scarlet puts a bounty on Robin Hood’s head.
Unlike some modern Robin Hood screen adaptations, it did not perform well at the box office, losing well over $15 million worldwide. Released just before Thanksgiving, Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers wrote that “Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx go down the gullet of this toxic Thanksgiving turkey.” There was overall disapproval of the over-the-top, modernized combat scenes at the beginning of the film, as well as its predictable plotline.
This film attempted to strike a balance between modern day politics and staying true to the original story. Living in a futuristic and dystopian but also still “medieval” Nottingham, Robin sports an armored leather jacket throughout the film. The scenery and costuming are just two of many modernized elements, all to make it seem like a more modern, American action film. With a sprinkle of romance, adventure, and suspense, Robin Hood is mainly dark and violent, and aimed to parallel the brutality of modern warfare. In fact, when speaking of filming the Crusade combat scene, Egerton spoke of the influence of The Hurt Locker(2009) and footage of the Iraq War. With all the subtlety of hand grenades, bullet-proof shields, and semi-automatic crossbows, the elements of modern warfare speak volumes to Robin Hoodas an action film for our post-9/11 world.
Friar Tuck narrates the film, which attempts to avoid chronology. The film begins with Tuck saying: “So I would tell you what year it was, but I can’t actually remember. I could bore you with the history, but you wouldn’t listen.” This is director Otto Bathurst’s disclaimer that this version of Robin Hoodis not a “historically-driven” adaptation. And the film is almost successful in its attempt to remain timeless, except for the “minor” detail that the film takes place during the Third Crusade (and ostensibly during the reign of King Richard I). As many scholars have argued, there is no historical evidence to support the placement of the Robin Hood legend as early as the reigns of Richard I or John. Rather, this popular film adaptation stems from John Major’s Historia Majoris Brittaniae (1521). As the film is an origin story, the Robin of this film is not based on the Robin Hood ballads and plays. The characters of Marian and Friar Tuck can be traced back to their appearance in the May Games, in which the two are “nearly always mentioned” together. It suggests that they “joined the outlaw band at about the same time and under the same circumstances,” which is reflected in the film.
The key to understanding this film is to understand that history is not its biggest influence, but rather previous screen adaptations, especially Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). While Will Scarlet has an origin story, courtesy of the Child Ballad “Robin Hood and the Newly Revived,” the director Bathurst disregards Robin and Will’s relationship, reducing it to fighting for Marian’s love—a slight nod to their adverserial relationship in Prince of Thieves. As an origin story, the 2018 film focuses on how Robin becomes Robin Hood, straying far from the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood. With separate plots in a separate setting, these films could not be more different in their interpretation of the legend and their characterizations of many major characters. Once again borrowed from Prince of Thieves, as wells as TV seriesRobin of Sherwood, (Little) John is a Muslim crusader who escapes to England to inspire Robin to join his rebellion. The Sheriff, while still Robin’s archenemy, does not serve the King, but secretly uses the war tax to support the Saracens. The only recurring characterization between the classic retelling and this modern adaptation is the use of Friar Tuck as comical relief, as he bumbles over words and serves to alleviate the otherwise heavy plot.
Unique to this film is the characterization of Marian. Building off the “young but mature matriarch” depicted in Prince of Thieves, the Marian we see is a modern woman living in medieval times. She is not a reflection of the noble born Lady Marian of The Adventures of Robin Hood. She is a thief, a revolutionary, and a leader to her people. She provides a voice to the oppressed and works independently of Robin Hood to overthrow the Sheriff of Nottingham. In many ways, she embodies more of the traditional Robin Hood qualities than Robin himself and is a perfect example of how film uses history to comment on the present. Eve Hewson’s portrayal of Marian successfully uses the legend of Robin Hood to reflect the fight for equality today.
Appian Way Productions
Thunder Road Films
High Middle Ages (c. 1000-1300)