Sunday, November 07, 2010

Robbing the Robin Hood Legend

"There's no story that isn't made better by the retelling," an Irish relative told me recently. This weekend I found a sad exception to the rule. Hollywood's latest take on Robin Hood was incredibly disappointing. Although the acting was quite good and some twists on the story that seemed somewhat plausible (such as Robin acting as an impostor for a dead nobleman) the plot moved at a glacially slow pace. My much bigger complaint is that the movie is grossly historically inaccurate and completely contradicts earlier versions of the legend (from story books, Disney, Kevin Costner and Mel Brooks) that I've heard. My dismay is driven by 3 major falsehoods:
  • King Ricard's death - In all of those stories I remember King Richard returned from the crusades. Wikipedia also says that King Richard returned, so that's a pretty huge and unnecessary liberty taken by the movie in an early scene that sets the movie off course from the start.
  • An open condemnation of the crusades - Russell Crowe's character states that he was about to kill an innocent woman who looked up an pitied rather than feared him. This made my stomach turn. It's an example of our cultural elites famous 'Western self-loathing' on display. I'm quite certain there was no mention of a saintly Muslim martyr in any earlier variations of the Robin Hood legend. I know also little about the crusades, but I'm certain they must be judged in the context of aggressive moorish expansion throughout southern Europe.
  • Reference to the Divine Right of Kings - In this version of the story, Robin Hood supposedly presented the Magna Carta to King John, but John refuses citing the divine right of Kings. There are at least 2 problems here. The first is that King John actually did sign the Magna Carta. The second is that the doctrine of the divine right of kings did not come about until nearly 400 years after the Magna Carta was signed.
The story was a complete disaster. If you haven't seen this movie count yourself lucky.


The_Iceman said...

I enjoyed the film, even if there were historical inaccuracies. Braveheart is still one of my all-time favourite movies, even though Gibson took even more liberties with the storyline than the Robinhood people.

I judge the quality of a film by how much I enjoyed watching it, not by whether or not it is an accurate telling of historical events.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but the problem lies with those viewing these movies. YOU know your history but I'll bet the target audience (younger movie-going demographic) believes that what they're watching is a true version of what really happened. A lot of this age group think The Daily Report is a legitimate news show.

I watch The Tudors every week but I also know enough history to realize that it's very loosely based on fact.

Patrick O'Neil said...

Iceman, Fair enough and I know I should just enjoy a movie, or show, or music for it's entertainment value. It would certainly be more fun.

My problem is that legends survive by their retelling. I'd hate for a classic legend like Robin Hood to get wrecked. I'll probably watch the next version 10 years or so from now when another director tries their hand at the legend. That might be interesting.

Anonymous, You give me too much credit, but thank you. You're right that audiences must remember that movies are just about entertainment, and never to expect that the story is accurate.

At the same time it's very difficult to separate reality from fantasy especially when we're talking about the past, and I do wish directors would resist the temptation to turn facts completely upside down.