I watched Robin Hood with Kevin Costner. Well, that’s a bit misleading, he never showed up so I watched alone. But Costner was in the movie. I initially saw it when it came out. I recognized that the movie was a bit sunny in its outlook the first time thru. I would now say that it presents a debauched sunniness.
Robin Hood, the character, endures. Costner's mid-Western niceness seemed a stretch in the role but Costner was really Costner at the time. You could shoehorn him into anything. And he had a larger than life aura, even if of an ordinary variety. Not exactly a preening Errol Flynn but Costner could carry the movie.
The tale begins with The Crusades. You know, Good versus Evil on the geo-political plane. Costner is imprisoned by the heathens but manages to escape. In the process he aids Moorish Heathen Morgan Freeman to escape, as well. Freeman thus pledges his life to Costner. This gets another A-Lister into the production, fannies in the seats. Hood returns to England with his Moor.
Robin's father is killed by you know who and Robin loses his inheritance. Robin gets on the wrong side of the law, we know the story. He meets Little John and they fight in a ford rather than on a log bridge. This shows Robin as a regular guy. He laconically takes leadership of the people of the forest, who didn’t seem to need the leadership. All this is prologue to the action.
The Sheriff of Nottingham is played by Alan Rickman. I believe this role put him on the map. His Sheriff is flamboyant, histrionic, and hilarious. Only thing is, he's a monster. The Sheriff's cousin reports to the Sheriff that Robin and his band have stolen the treasure the cousin was supposed to protect. The Sheriff casually, almost jokingly, stabs him to death. At another point, in a rant, the Sheriff declares that there will be no more humane beheadings. Again the jocular manner sounds heinous next to the idea of an inhumane beheading. Folks back then knew how to play inhumane.
The folks of Sherwood Forest already had a village in the trees, one such as Tarzan might have devised. This village had nothing to do with Robin, yet the credit draws towards him. They already enjoyed communal bliss but Robin gave them leadership.
Lady Marian, cousin to King Richard, quickly shows she has salt of the earth in her veins. Also a spark for Robin. She attempts to send word to Richard concerning dirty business by the Sheriff. False priest ruins that and puts her at risk, plus the good folk of Sherwood.
The movie gets out of hand when the Sheriff sends a force against the no longer secret enclave. First a wild crew of Highlanders attack the good folk. It resembles a battle scene in Braveheart. They cause much slaughter but eventually run away. The Sheriff then unleashes archers with flaming arrows and catapults of burning matter. It looks like devastation, and mostly is. All available red shirts go to their reward except the small cadre of main characters and a few surviving red shirts who can be killed later, as needed. Looks kinda hopeless.
By rights the whole forest should have been burned down but at least the Sheriff had all known survivors to hang publicly. The unknown survivors, all six or so, worked out a plan. It is a convoluted plan dependent on perfect timing and luck. Of course it worked, but not before the scimitar-wielding Moor gives a rousing speech about freedom to the crowd that assembled to watch the hangings. He has spent his few moments onscreen showing the virtues of Arab culture (spyglasses, gun powder). He convinces the crowd to join Robin’s insurrection.
But wait! The Sheriff has to rape Lady Marian so that his blood mixes with royal, and thereby... Rickman plays this scene almost for laughs, which is very an off note. But Robin battles with the Sheriff. Here Rickman shows some physical grace. I mean not on the level of Flynn vs Rathbone but he moves really well. Costner does not so the filmmakers must accept a lucky win for Robin. And Friar Tuck gets to push the evil priest out a window with due righteousness. Freeman scores a late round victory over the outre crone who influenced the Sheriff, and we’re about done.
The final scene offers the marriage of Robin and Marian as the King and Queen of May, which is consistent with some of the ballads in the cycle. To this festivity arrives Sean Connery as King Richard. History says he returned by way of ransom money, he having been captured during his merrie jaunt to Jerusalem, but okay. Connery maintains a consistent smile, knowing he just made easy cash for dressing up like a Crusader and looking like Sean Connery.
So how does all this socialism of Sherwood Forest not get booed? Everyone should pull themselves up by the bootstraps. The big Red Cross on the backs of the king and his men proclaims a righteousness and victory, tho of course further Crusades piled up in the history books. Let’s pretend they all meant something good. We are left to wonder where all this communal unity and virtue went in years to come. Um, Brexit...