Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

robinhoodPOTIMDB: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Source: owned

Summary: Robin of Locksley (played by Kevin Costner), recently returned from the Crusades with sworn protector Azeem Edin Bashir al Bakir (Morgan Freeman), finds England and his lands in disarray thanks to the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Although his intentions are good, Robin is quickly made an outlaw and forced into hiding in the “haunted” Sherwood Forest, where he meets fellow outlaws and becomes their leader. With their help, he must stop the the Sheriff’s oppression, save King Richard I’s throne, and avenge his father’s murder.

Review: Basically, I love this movie and I have no idea why. Kevin Costner barely tries to hide his American accent (or he doesn’t try at all, and the lines are just that awkward-sounding), Maid Marian starts out as a strong, capable woman and ends up as your typical damsel-in-distress for no apparent reason,  and an explanation for the Sheriff’s creepy basement-dwelling-witch is never given. (Seriously. There’s a scene in which Rickman has to balance on a plank over a swamp in his own castle just so he can talk to this woman named Mortianna who has an entire python just chilling on a rock. I mean, this is medieval England; decent drainage systems haven’t been invented yet. That much water near the base of your castle is seriously compromising to the structure as a whole, and did I mention the giant snake because that’s kind of hard to ignore? To get back to the point, if Mortianna is the reason for all the Sheriff’s evil schemes, that still doesn’t let the writers off the hook—why does she want power over the throne, then? What are her motives? These questions are never addressed.)

Director Kevin Reynolds does a pretty decent job telling Robin’s origin story, but once he’s done with that, his efforts fall apart. He starts out being historically accurate, with Jerusalem in Muslim hands in 1194. He also filmed in the United Kingdom, so much of the landscape looks authentic. Azeem, although not part of the traditional legends, is easily one of the most engaging characters. Guy of Gisborne, Will Scarlet (who has some amazing hair), and the Bishop of Hereford all make appearances and important contributions to the plot. Strangely, Prince John is never mentioned. The Sheriff’s plans seem to be “take the Lionheart’s crown,” but Prince John’s regency is completely overlooked. Apparently the next in line is Marian (I don’t know how that happened), since eventually Nottingham’s plans boil down to, “Marry her and put your son on the throne.” If the audience isn’t busy wondering why he didn’t think of that before Robin showed up and started ruining everything, it is because they are distracted by the logistics he and Mortianna are working with—apparently they believe Marian can conceive, bring to term, and birth a child before our heroes break the chapel doors down.

It’s the second to last scene in a 143-minute movie. I guess if you’re not invested by then, you don’t have much longer to suffer.

But, for all that, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a great adventure. Robin is more thoughtful and mature than in some legends, but the audience is led to believe that this wisdom is a relatively new development, a product of a harsh and eye-opening war with the Saracens in the Holy Land. His ideals are admirable, if a little anachronistic: he seems to think freedom is a virtue of 12th-century England, and manages to teach respect for both women and other cultures to the Merry Men. I’m unclear as to how much a Crusade can change someone so much in terms of social behavior (not to mention how others who had not shared that veteran experience would adopt the same behavior so quickly), but this film was made with 90’s audiences in mind. It would have been difficult to depict authentic, pre-Magna Carta values in a movie with Kevin Costner rocking a mullet.

Maid Marian is just as mixed up as a character. The very first time the audience sees her, she is a warrior-woman who attacks Robin for no reason one scene and explains to him in the next that she still has her lands and titles because she doesn’t give Nottingham an excuse to take them—i.e., she keeps her head down in public and acquiesces to the Sheriff’s demands, no matter how much she dislikes them. It’s difficult to reconcile those two images. However, her confidence is one of her most attractive features, and it makes frequent appearances throughout the movie. For instance, she kisses Robin first (as a farewell at the end of a visit), and he just stands there looking forlorn when she leaves. He doesn’t gather her up in his arms to kiss her back, or try to outdo her, or make the moment more romantic or anything silly like that. Nobody takes that kiss away from her, and that is really refreshing. But then she makes a stupid mistake and the rest of the film she’s kidnapped and forced into a marriage with Nottingham and basically just screams for Robin to help her. But for about 75% of the movie, she does pretty well for herself.

I’ll be honest, there are a lot of problems with this picture. But there are so many good points that it’s not worth missing. There’s action and romance and love and honor and courage—all the things you need in a good Robin Hood retelling. If you love the stories, you shouldn’t let it go unwatched.

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5 thoughts on “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

    • Nora says:

      I like to think its faults combine to create something tragically beautiful. Or beautifully tragic? Either one.


  1. revgeorge says:

    I could never stand this movie. Maybe I’m too invested in Errol Flynn & that fox in the Disney movie to even contemplate Kevin Costner as Robin. For me the only good part of the movie is Alan Rickman. 🙂


    • Nora says:

      I completely understand. Part of me believes I should hate this film, but I can’t do it. Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman are too good. And Michael Kamen did a great job with the music, so I can find something to enjoy in every scene.


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