Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott, and Robin Hood, a combination that was not really calling me to see the latest installation of Robin Hood at the multiplex, but it was, to my surprise, actually good fun.
Contrary to the critics who have bemoaned the film’s digression from the age-old tale of Robin Hood and his merry men in Sherwood Forest, I am convinced Robin Hood’s appeal is in the fact that it tells a different story. Released here in Paris during that dreaded British election week, it was difficult not to see contemporary Britain written all over the monarchy as it was depicted in the film. The hunger for power at any costs, the fear of foreigners – once the French, now the Muslims – the hoarding of wealth by a small percentage who are still getting richer, and the desperate poverty of most in the land. While David Cameron might not be as dumb as Scott’s King John, he is equally zealous in going round the country and taking from the rich to pay his inherited debts, with care for his subjects, a claim without substance.
Those familiar with the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 will also not fail to see the irony of Robin Hood’s fortified Australian leaders in battle with the French. Both Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett as Robin Hood and Maid Marian almost single-handedly win the battle on the beaches of Dover while the clueless English fumble around in the background. I am exaggerating, but as someone raised on a version of history that sees the British drinking tea while the Australian and New Zealand soldiers were slaughtered in the campaign to defeat the Ottomans, the irony of valorous Australians at war on behalf of the British, and risking their lives while the Brits sit back and munch on their false teeth, was not lost on me! That said, there wasn’t another moment when I thought of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett in the same breath. I couldn’t help wondering what Cate Blanchett would see in Russell Crowe. This is not only because she is so ravishingly beautiful and he is not, but also, because as actors they are completely mismatched.
Another attraction of the film was that it reminded me of Shakespeare – how could it not? Even though there is probably a century between the legend and the writing of the English language’s greatest history plays, there are so many commonalities: all those hungry kings and morally upstanding lords and gentlemen landowners, farmers named after the towns they dominate, minstrels and mistaken identities. The film also has the narrative intrigue and twists of a Shakespearean history—another aspect of it that critics have objected to, and I enjoyed. But it is not Shakespeare. It’s not Shakespeare because it is not that profound or sophisticated in its language or its message, and of course, it’s the movies. And a good thing too, because Scott’s camera is sumptuous, as it surveys British countryside from the air and makes it look glorious, watches battle from the stirrups of the horseman as his animal bravely charges the enemy, and is enchanted by the music and dancing. Scott’s panoramic visions and precise visual effects are so delicious that their ability to capture us and keep us involved in the film might be the only thing Brits will want to own as theirs when the credits roll at the end of the film.