Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

When it’s on: Monday, 3 September (9.00 pm)
Channel: 5*
IMDb Link

Let’s get it out of the way then – that song, that bloody song. Readers of a younger persuasion may not recall the summer of 1991, when Bryan Adams squatted atop the hit parade for months with the insipid Everything I Do. I was at University at the time, which meant long breaks from June until September and an entire calendar season to wonder at how this bland splat of MOR was number one for so long. Who was still buying the thing?

It wasn’t even as though the film from which it spun, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was amazing, either on an artistic or technically blistering level. Essentially a vehicle for Kevin Costner, who for a delirious few years in the early 1990s was the heartthrob of choice, the latest Hood yarn was a piece straight from committee-driven Hollywood, a fairly naked attempt to churn out something as crowd pleasing and generic as possible. It’s not that it’s a bad film really, more it just kind of happens, one performance aside about as unadventurous as these things get in the effort to maximise all potential profits. The Prince of Thieves made lots of money. Everyone walked away happy, having taken from the poor. But in the canon of work about the good-hearted outlaw, it pales when set alongside Michael Curtiz’s 1938 effort The Adventures of Robin Hood. Robin and Marian carries off the character’s heart. I would argue that the HTV TV series from the eighties, Robin of Sherwood, contained all the charm and mysticism this film routinely avoids.

The story is strictly by the numbers. Costner is Robin, an English noble who goes from the Crusades back to Blighty, only to learn his father, Lord Locksley (Brian Blessed) has been murdered by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) and his lands and titles deferred to the authorities. Alongside his Moorish hetero life partner, Azeem (Morgan Freeman), Rob vows revenge and begins assembling a forest-based gang of outlaws from the disaffected to cleanse the land. And that’s about it. Costner makes for a decent, bland lead, and is surrounded by the usual English supporting cast, spending unfeasibly large amounts of time setting up their Sherwood hideout. Christian Slater turns up as Will Scarlett, undoing much of his previous good work in teen movies by channelling Will as an angry young American in eleventh century England. Marian is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and she’s forgettable.

Weirdly for a Robin Hood film, the Americans use their own accents – hardly a crime, but still odd. Less forgiveable is the lack of any sense of scale of Britain’s size. Robin and Azeem step off the boat by, obviously, the White Cliffs, and in the next reel are approaching Hadrian’s Wall. The underlying sentiment seems to be to shoehorn in as many tourist landmarks as possible. It sucks.

The one bit of truly creative casting is in handing the Sheriff’s role to Rickman. Possibly best known Stateside at the time for his oily Gruber in Die Hard, Rickman plays the film’s baddie as a pantomime villain, hamming to within an inch of his life, all wild hair and flouncing around in too-big shirts. He’s great fun and he looks as though he’s having it also, though the question over whether he makes the show worthwhile is there and, otherwise, there’s a prevailing air of going through the motions.

The rest is stunt casting. Mike McShane, better known in Britain at the time for his frequent appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway? shows up as a boisterous, life-loving Friar Tuck, and even Sean Connery gets in on the act, earning his usual small fortune to play King Richard at the very end and marry Robin to Marian. It’s a knowing wink of a scene, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with it you’re left asking if this is really the best they could come up with.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: **