On this day in Film History: Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)

(this is actually several days late, sorry about that!)

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I can’t believe this movie is 25 years old, but it’s true! On this day in film history, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was released to theaters. Starring Kevin Costner, the film sought to re-tell the classic story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, but in a much darker fashion than its predecessors. If you’re looking for the bright spectacle as seen in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), then keep looking because this is not the film for you.

Robin (Kevin Costner) escapes captivity in Jerusalem with a condemned Moor named Azeem (Morgan Freeman). He returns to England, only to find that his father (Brian Blessed) has been murdered, his family castle burned to the ground and his lands claimed by the utterly corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). This telling of the Robin Hood story is unusual in that Prince John (typically the villain of the story) does not appear nor is he mentioned.

Robin becomes reacquainted with Lady Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a childhood friend (and also a cousin to King Richard). After killing some of the Sheriff’s men, Robin, Azeem and the blind servant Duncan are forced to take refuge in Sherwood Forest, where they encounter a sizable band of outlaws, led by John Little and the brash Will Scarlett (Christian Slater), the latter taking an instant dislike to Robin, even after he beats John Little in a fight and renames him “Little John.”

Robin declares war on the Sheriff and proceeds to rob every rich man passing through the forest, organizing the outlaws into a rather prosperous community along the way. Desperate, the Sheriff (goaded on by the witch Mortiana) hires Celtic mercenaries to track Duncan to the outlaws hideout after Marian is kidnapped by the Sheriff’s men (Duncan having been sent to live with Marian due to his failing health). A vicious battle ensues, and Robin is missing, presumed dead. The devastated Marian learns that the Sheriff wishes to marry her (as he seeks the throne for himself and marrying the king’s cousin would give him a semi-legitimate claim) and believing Robin dead, she has no choice but to accept.

But Robin isn’t dead, and while they plan their next move, a captured-then-released Will Scarlett appears and informs everyone that a large number of prisoners  taken during the battle (including Little John’s oldest son) are to be hanged the very next day. Will also drops a veritable bombshell: he is the half-brother to Robin, the son of a woman that their father loved for a time after Robin’s mother died. The woman was sent away because Robin didn’t like her, therefore Will holds Robin responsible for the rough life he has led.

The next day, just as the prisoners are to be hung, Robin and his men appear, and chaos erupts. The prisoners are saved just in time, while the Sheriff drags a screaming Marian away to be married (he intends to claim his “marital rights” as soon as the ceremony is completed). Robin and Azeem give chase and just as the ceremony is finished, Robin literally crashes the wedding by entering through a stained glass window.

A huge sword fight follows between Robin and the Sheriff. The fight is largely equal, until the Sheriff’s sword breaks Robin’s blade into pieces, leaving him pinned against a wall. But just as the Sheriff lunges for the killing blow, Robin reveals his last weapon: a dagger given to him by Marian (who received it from the Sheriff) plunged straight into the villain’s heart! With the Sheriff dead (and Mortiana the witch dying soon afterward), Marian and Robin are reunited and shortly thereafter, married, with the returning King Richard (Sean Connery) in attendance.

I’ve seen this movie get a lot of flak because of Costner’s performance, but personally I enjoyed it very much. It’s a different spin on the Robin Hood story and it’s full of humorous little moments. Alan Rickman in particular slays the role of the Sheriff (he allegedly refused the role three times until the director offered him carte blanche in how he played the character). Another favorite character is Friar Tuck (played by Mike McShane), a hilariously funny character, with a big booming laugh and an obsession with beer!

If you haven’t seen this film, it is definitely worth seeing at least once. It also features a great score by the late Michael Kamen.

*poster image is the property of Warner Bros. Studios

For more “On this day” posts, see here

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5 thoughts on “On this day in Film History: Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)

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