Robin Hood has been called the original British superhero, though King Arthur may also have a fairly strong claim to that title. We’ve had so many different incarnations of him over the years, from Sean Connery’s turn in Robin and Marian to Kevin Costner’s gloriously cheesy 90s romp Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and even Ridley Scott’s more grime-coated Robin Hood from 2010.
Here we are in 2018 and now writer/director Nicholas Winter (Caged/Undercover Hooligan) brings us his take on the Robin Hood myth with Robin Hood – The Rebellion and, well… it’s not great.
Robin Hood (Ben Freeman) and his outlaws are, as per tradition, running around in Sherwood Forest making things unpleasant for the Sheriff of Nottingham (James Oliver Wheatley). There is a curious obsession with referring to Robin and his allies as “savages”. Not outlaws, or rebels, or bandits, always savages, as if they are somehow more refined in their mouldering castles and wattle-walled huts. “People in mud houses,” and all that.
There’s also less emphasis on King Richard than is traditional; he’s barely mentioned with only a passing comment on excessive taxation. We simply know the Sheriff is evil because Robin says he is and because he goes around beating up peasants in a couple of scenes. We all know we are supposed to hate the Sheriff, because that’s how the story always goes, but a little more specific reasons here would have been good.
Lady Marian (Marie Everett) is arrested; and Robin, Will Scarlett (James G. Nunn) and Little John (Jamie Kenna) must infiltrate the castle and try to free he. This makes up the bulk of the running time. The problem is that by the end, the audience will be left wondering why someone would follow this Robin Hood to lunch, let alone into battle. He shows little aptitude as a fighter and archer, and even less skill as a leader or motivator of men. The quasi-Shakespearean dialogue and the way the story plays out gives him little opportunity to come across as particularly heroic. There is no robbing from the rich to give to the poor, just a succession of terribly choreographed sword fights, which are mostly shot in slow-motion to try and hide the lack of any real artistry in the fighting. The sword fighting on display here is less Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black fighting atop the Cliffs of Insanity and more school children flailing at each other with sticks.
The best the film has to offer is the swaggering, sadistic Guy of Gisborne (James Groom) who manages to breathe life into every scene he is in. Even when humiliated and stripped down to his birthday suit he still manages to come across as a man you would never cross or laugh at. This film also sports appearances by Kristian Nairn, best known for playing Hodor in Game of Thrones, and Brian Blessed, famous for far too many things to mention. The characters are both completely wasted in this. Thomas (Kristian Nairn) is on screen for about a minute, his ultimate fate left in the air thanks to some particularly clunky editing. Brian Blessed plays Friar Tuck and only appears in the closing minutes of the film and has almost exactly four minutes of screen time, which is a near criminal waste of such an amazing actor and personality.
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For the most part it is well shot. There are some heavy uses of shadow later on that add little to the ambience and merely leave the audience screwing their eyes up at the screen to try and make out what is going on. The editing in places seems to lurch from place to place and moment to moment; there is a near egregious use, as mentioned before, of slow-mo in almost every fight scene.
This is a slow, ponderous story that adds nothing to the Robin Hood mythos and tells us nothing new about him. The rebellion of the title seems to only consist of about five people, the “merry men” are portrayed as a feuding, angry bunch, Robin is a forgettable cipher who only occasionally shoots a bow and arrow, Friar Tuck is barely relevant to the story, and the Sheriff is not much more than a cardboard cut-out of a villain. If you only see one Robin Hood movie this year, this should not be it.
Robin Hood: The Rebellion releases on Digital HD and DVD today, Monday 5 November, courtesy of Signature Films.