It doesn’t have doesn’t have Bryan Adams rasping “Everything I do” and it doesn’t have Kevin Costner, or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio with big hair. Nor does it have Alan Rickman sneering away as the Sheriff of Nothingham. It doesn’t have a the Sheriff of N. at all, actually (nor any other plot points and characters directly lifted from TV’s Robin of Sherwood). This Robin Hood film did also come out in 1991, and as a result withered in the shadow of the mega-hit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
You may encounter this one on one of the streaming channels, and think it some sort of Asylum-like mockbuster. I mean, who is Patrick Bergin? But then you look at the supporting cast: Uma Thurman, Jürgen Pronchow, Edward Fox, Jeroen Krabbé – none are top billers (in Thurman’s case, not yet at least), but all far from C-listers. Something else is going on: that thing where two movies about the same topic arrive at the same time, and one just has that edge.
And yet, though RH:PoT had Costner, hot off Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood has what it lacked: atmosphere and charisma. In this regard it reminds us more than anything of Robin of Sherwood – PoT may have taken its superficial trappings, like the Saracen merry man (not part of the Robin Hood story until Richard Carpenter wrote him in) and a passing resemblance between Mastrantonio’s Maid Marian and Judi Trott’s, but the other Robin Hood film has its heart.
It is similarly drenched in atmosphere, with the camera lingering lovingly on foggy winter forest scapes, and some absolutely cracking locations. The story really works too: it’s very focused on the conflict between Saxon and Norman, peasant and landowner. The conflict is described as peasants, ruled by a corrupt and thieving upperclass – topical. The film discards Gisbourne, and the Sheriff of Nothingham, and instead gives us Sir Miles Folcanet (Pronchow) and Baron Roger Daguerre (Krabbé), giving it a slightly more historical edge.
Uma Thurman too is a departure from the ethereal image of Maid Marian we got from PoT and RoS, but she’s got what this Robin needs: guts and keen insight. Hers are some of the better lines, like when she’s forced into marriage with Baron Roger, who declares her the most beautiful bride England has ever seen: “I am the most pitiful bride England has ever seen.” Or at her eventual marriage to Robin (surely not a spoiler!): “I will not marry to symbolise a peace, or to ratify a treaty. But… this man I will have… because he makes the May tree blossom and the bees buzz in my breast. I will take this man because he brings springtime to my heart.”
The big difference between this take and Robin of Sherwood is the 1991 film’s lack of supernatural elements. Yet, it does have pagan festivities, mummers, and someone dressed as a Green Man present at Robin and Marian’s wedding! Patrick Bergin’s native Irish accent sometimes slips through a bit, but this hardly hurts his Robin Hood, while Costner’s was just so – American!
A literate script, spirited performances, a camera that makes Sherwood Forest into something much more than a collection of trees; all that with a hint of folklore and a pagan past living side by side with Christ. If you’ve loved Robin of Sherwood (by the way, see our blog post on how it blended social justice, folklore and supernatural elements to create some very resonant storytelling) and are in the mood for more: do seek this one out! You can find it on Disney+, pay to stream it on Prime, or buy the DVD.