Blame ‘Game of Thrones’ for the useless new Robin Hood movie

There are up to nine projects on the boil about the outlaw nobody cares about any more

The official trailer for Robin Hood, starring Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx. Video: Lionsgate Films

 

You could argue that a lot is riding on the latest version of Robin Hood. That’s the sort of thing they say in Hollywood: “A lot is riding on this.”

Starring Taron Egerton as a more compact version of the altruistic thief, Otto Bathurst’s useless film has the temerity to include a late suggestion that the story is not yet over. We’ll be the judge of that, mate. I wouldn’t be renting any more space in Croatia – the film was shot there and looks it – for a putative sequel just yet.

Representatives from Robin Hood PLC will be casting eyes nervously towards the weekend’s box office. By one calculation, there are as many as nine more Hoody projects on the bubble. The rivals will want the film to do tolerably well (thus proving the brand still has some leverage), but not so brilliantly as to make any competing project seem irrelevant.

So what do we have? Margot Robbie is pencilled in as the kick-ass protagonist of the self-explanatory Marian.

Both Sony and Disney have discussed the possibility of things called “Hood”. The Hollywood Reporter described the Sony project thus: “The plan is to make a series of movies focusing on the outlaw archer and his band of Merry Men: Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett. One could say they were the superhero team of England’s Middle Ages.” Eugh!

In 2016, Warners announced that it was considering a Robin Hood project. There’s a TV show that might be called Nottingham. There’s another that might be called The Outlaw Chronicles. And that’s just a few of them.

Remember when the Patrick Bergin Robin Hood was released in the same year as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? (Okay, you probably don’t, but never mind). That’s nothing, baby. If all these come to pass there’ll be more Robin Hood that nitrogen in the atmosphere.

Grab a youth. Grab any youth. Ask him or her to name a favourite hero from the olden days. If that person says “Robin Hood” then get them stuffed and mounted.

The Hood currency is not so buoyant as Hollywood seems to believe. The BBC series from a decade ago didn’t do too badly, but, despite a hilariously camp Sherriff of Nottingham from Keith Allen, it lasted only three seasons.

The over-serious Ridley Scott movie with Russell Crowe from 2010 just about recouped its massive budget.

You have to go back to 1991 to find a proper Hood smash in the movies. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves saw off the Bergin film to make nearly $400 million (when $400 million was a lot of money). Only Terminator 2: Judgement Day made more that year.

Even during the high period for moving-picture Robin Hood – let’s go with the 1920s to the late 1950s – the hit versions were generously spaced. Douglas Fairbanks graced an enormously popular version in 1922.

Michael Curtiz’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn and the still upright Olivia De Havilland, set the bar impossibly high in 1938. A similarly titled TV series, starring Richard Greene and Birr’s own Bernadette O’Farrell, ran from 1955 to 1959 and was still being repeated on ITV when this writer was a child.

Looking back at those three versions, we are reminded how comfortingly stable the Robin Hood universe once seemed. Even the Disney animation from 1973, though populated by foxes, bears and roosters, had a lively Robin, a fat Friar Tuck, a melodious Alan-a-Dale and a large (ho ho!) Little John. A few of these characters date back to 15th and 16thcentury accounts. Some more were added in as the years progressed. Almost none have any basis in history.

The myth of an outlaw stealing from the rich to give to the poor has always had political resonances. Indeed, in 1953, the Indiana Textbook Commission called for a ban on Robin Hood as he seemed just a little like a communist.

It was, however, the comforting familiarity that allowed Robin Hood such longevity. The huddle in the forest was as much a family as were The Waltons or the Jetsons. Nothing much changed in that environment across the film and television versions.

From the 1960s onwards, however, we have become more at home to innovation, reinvention and subversion. Robin of Sherwood, the fascinating ITV series from the 1980s, brought in flavours of ancient pagan myth to its retelling of the story. Clannad’s music heightened the sense of pre-Christian unease.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves played it relatively straight, but, with the introduction of Morgan Freeman’s Azeem, it did allow in a person of colour. Most succeeding adaptations have done the same. In the current Robin Hood, Jamie Foxx plays an amalgam of the Freeman character and Little John.

Now, we look to be coming down with variations. Nobody asked for this. Few young people speak of Robin or his Hood. The story is no more vital than the western (a genre that flourished at the same time as movie Robin). So why on earth is this happening?

Everybody is currently pondering the recently deceased William Goldman’s maxim “nobody knows anything”. Allow us to drag it out one more time. It’s worth remembering the context.

In his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, that writer described how studios assumed that, just because a film in one genre scored, then others in the same genre would do the same. Some did. Some didn’t. Nobody knows anything.

After Jaws, we got films about killer bees, killer bears and killer piranhas. Decades later, when Gladiator re-invigorated the sword and the sandal, Hollywood set to work on successors such as Troy and Alexander.

The current craze for Robin Hood has nothing to do with any perceived resurgence in affection for that medieval bandit. Blame Game of Thrones. The massive successive of that irresistible medieval pastiche – modelled partly on the Wars of the Roses – has sent every commissioning force in search of something involving goblets, rough wooden thrones and arrows through the temple. All these Robin Hoods are Game of Thrones by other means.

A few may work. Many will not. Most will never actually make it onto screen. By then we’ll have moved onto another obsession.

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