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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

January 7, 2016

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Actors: Kevin Costner, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

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Synopsis: Robin of Locksley (Kevin Costner) returns from The Crusades only to find his father dead and his land tainted by the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Robin is made an outlaw (“Robin Hood”) as the Sheriff hunts him down, so Robin befriends marginalised folk in Sherwood Forest.

Review: This film – incredibly a whole 25 years old now – stands as an exemplar of just how bizarre the landscape of Hollywood filmmaking can look with a couple of decades’ perspective. This was a time when the “Two Kevins” (director, Kevin Reynolds, and actor, Kevin Costner) ruled the roost, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was the zenith of their dominance, sandwiched in-between break-out Oscar winner, Dances with Wolves, and flawed epic, Waterworld, which commenced their respective career downturns.

Particularly with hindsight, even accepting it was only intended as a populist, big-budget historical epic, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves can’t help but look hopelessly dated. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, which followed a decade later, forever changed the landscape of this genre. By slightly upping the ante in terms of historical accuracy, a more cerebral music score, and a marginally more mature attitude to its dramatic and romantic themes, Gladiator made fare like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves seem particularly arch and shallow (incidentally, it’s interesting that Scott was to go on and make his own Robin Hood picture with more than a little prompting from the legacy of his Gladiator).

The first jarring feature of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is its cheesy, Disneyfied score by Michael Kamen. Then there’s Kevin Costner looking like he just stepped out of a salon, and there are also huge and incredulous jumps in continuity – such as Robin switching from his Crusades escape to suddenly being in a twee boat arriving under the white cliffs of Dover!

In a way, the film’s shamelessness is probably its best quality. You’ve got to chuckle at Costner not even trying to obscure his Yank accent; the Sheriff of Nottingham’s ‘witch’ is a feature nicked directly from Macbeth; and Alan Rickman plays his villainous Sheriff brilliantly – almost like a proto-Blackadder character, anachronistically commenting on the ridiculous conventions of the heroic story he finds himself in. Rickman’s casualness is the unwitting emblem of this silly, but enjoyable, Hollywood romp from yesteryear. (January 2016)

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