Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hrs. 35 mins
Studio: Warner Bros. Screenwriter: Pen Densham, John Watson
Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater, Mary Elizabeth
Mastrantonio, Nick Brimble, Michael McShane
Does every generation deserve a version of Robin Hood? Considering how many have turned out, no. So what’s the allure? Robin Hood is from an English folk story. It’s been retold or made more than the legend of King Arthur or Beowulf. This allure is probably rooted in the fact that Robin Hood sticks up for the little guy, the downtrodden, against an oppressive ruling body. That theme exists in every society today.
For those unfamiliar with the character, he’s against the local sheriff of Nottingham overtaxing, imprisoning, and killing the people and destroying their homes. Robin steals back the money and returns it to the people. He tries to also protect the kingdom until King Richard can return home. Why? He feels honor-bound to do so, not because someone tasked him with the job. Some people don’t like bullies… I can appreciate that.
While Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Robin of Locksley (Costner) does end up leading a group of outlaws, he’s little like the original material. Costner’s Robin is not light-hearted, and that departure is at the expense of having him been a crusader. Battling for years can change anyone, but it removes a critical component of the legends persona in this version. To say nothing of Costner’s “English” accent or the rest of the cast.
The film begins with a dark, violent dungeon scene where body parts are chopped off. Historically this is what happened in certain places of the world as punishment. So it has little to do with an American director being overly violent.
This introduction sequence is where Robin meets Azeem (Freeman). His character is not from the original tale but is a welcome addition that is utilized well. Morgan Freeman’s natural presence and tenor made him a perfect casting choice for this character. Azeem also balances out Costner’s lackluster performance to Alan Rickman’s sheriff’s outlandish demeanor and quips. No one on this project cared much for historical tone or accuracy to help drive the story.
While historically, loves was not a factor in match-making, the tale of Robin Hood is centered around his deep love for the Maid Marion (Mastrantonio). In this film, love has nothing to do with it. Costner and Mastrantonio come across more like squabbling siblings who were ordered to get in the mood. There is no buildup of chemistry; they just sort of jump to that at some point to move the film along. This makes the immensely popular Brian Adams song “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” seem wrong. As for the rest of the music in this film, it’s strong and has a memorable intro score.
Robin’s band of merry men are mainly nameless, except for a guy named Bull, who references his penis size. Little John (Brimble), whose role is diminished due to Azeem’s addition, Will Scarlet (Slater), and a drunk Friar Tuck (McShane).
Thinking back thirty years from when I first saw this as a nine-year-old kid, specific memories come to mind. The witch of Nottingham was a creepy-crone (that’s still true), wanting to rewatch this movie just to see Will Scarlet and my moms’ comment about Kevin Costner’s “nice butt.” We all have bizarre things that stick in our minds…
In terms of viewability, there are far worse Robin Hood tales to watch. As a child of the 80s, my first introduction to the character was via Disney’s 1973 animated film, Robin Hood. A fun retelling of Robin and company in animal form. The next was the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn. It’s the version everything else has failed to emulate for over eight decades.
This was the early 90s, so the best action sequences still came from explosions and stunt work. The utilization of nature and the trees of the forest help to move the story forward is creative, compelling, and believable. The bow shooting, swordplay, and other action scenes are a nice change of pace from what’s usually showing in theaters. Or streaming nowadays.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves misses the mark of Robin Hood, the legend. While Alan Rickman was a phenomenal actor, someone should have given him some scope of his character; rather than free rein. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had nothing to truly work with, except to avoid being raped…while a creepy witch watches. That entire scene is weird, uncomfortable, and anti-climatic. Kevin Costner was too stoic for the role.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is watchable. It’s not bad enough to avoid it altogether. A touch of nostalgia made me again. But, any film I can go longer than a few years, or decades, without watching shouldn’t be on anyone’s watchlist.
—a pen lady