The Highest Form of Flattery - Looking Ahead to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood
Next month's release of Lionsgate's Robin Hood from director Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror) has been generating a buzz since its announcement; up-and-comer Taron Egerton, fresh off the success of the Kingsman franchise and, as Robin; Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx as Little John; acclaimed Australian actors Ben Mendelsohn and Tim Minchin as the Sheriff and Friar Tuck, respectively. The trailers have received praise or criticism in equal measure; the action looks slick and exciting, but Robin has a machine-stitched hoodie; the sets are beautiful and stylish, though they look nothing like 12th-century Britain, let alone Nottingham. These stylistic choices, I think, are exciting and fresh - we've seen a million versions of the hose, the feathered caps, the suede, the castles and the countryside. The fact that the style of the film is so dramatically different to what's come before, I think, is to its strength. The film is set for wide release on the 21st of November, and until then, no judgement can be made - but jeez am I keen!
For a nice easy Friday post, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at the some of the inspirations and similarities to past incarnations of the legend the film already exhibits in its promotional material. From costumes, to characters, to aesthetic, there's more than a few nods to the past.
As a Crusader (presumably the Third Crusade, as tradition, but to be honest, who knows!), Robin uses a longbow while in battle in the Holy Land. Once he returns to England and begins his training as a thief, under John's mentorship, Robin uses a recurved horsebow - presumably belonging to John. The English longbow, traditionally made of soft, springy yew, is almost synonymous with Robin Hood. While its importance in events such as the War of the Roses cannot be understated, and as famed as the bows of the wreck of the Mary Rose are, the longbow immediately conjures images of Lincoln green and the forest. This silhouette is instantly recognisable, so it's quite the departure to swap out Robin's iconic weapon.
This has already been done, however, in the BBC's 2006-09 series Robin Hood (can't they call these things something different every time?). In the series, Robin returns from fighting in the Crusades with a, 'Saracen bow,' collected on his travels, telling Luke Scarlett its short stature makes it more powerful. In the most recent domestic trailer for the 2018
instalment, John seems to mimic these sentiments, telling Robin, "You need a street weapon." There's no shortage of leaps and tricks with this bow, so it seems Robin's taking advantage of his compact new toy!
Richard Carpenter's classic series Robin of Sherwood (a different title!) ran from 1984 to '86, and introduced a swathe of new elements into the Robin Hood legend, including magic, pre-Norman
religion and, most importantly, an Islamic member of the Merry Men. The silent and stoic Nasir (Mark Ryan) was an assassin for the evil sorcerer Baron Simon de Belleme, duelling with Robin after the outlaw [apparently] kills his master - Nasir wins, but lets Robin go and joins his band. Nasir was a popular character, a fierce fighter but also loved amongst the Merries themselves. Fast forward to 1990, during production of Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (a subtitle will do!), where a member of production, who had worked on Robin of Sherwood, whispers in the producer's ear that Morgan Freeman shouldn't play a character named 'Nasir' - it's been done. It's fair to say that Prince of Thieves nicked more than a few ideas off Robin of Sherwood - the aesthetic, the tone, the element of magic and cultism (in the form of Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan)), the over-the-top and camp Sheriff (Alan Rickman) - all these began with Richard Carpenter. Morgan Freeman's [renamed] character, Azeem, is a prisoner in Acre, and
when Robin escapes from the same prison, he saves Azeem's life; the Moor then pledges a life-debt, following Robin to England as his companion. The notion of an Islamic member of the Merry Men has been a staple ever since, such a character appearing in such adaptations as The New Adventures of Robin Hood (1997-98) and Maid Marian and her Merry Men (1989-94). Most recently, Anjali Jay played the fierce Djaq, a Saracen slave freed by the Merries, opposite Jonas Armstrong from 2006-07. Jamie Foxx's Little John fills the role of the Islamic character in the new film. It's a fun new spin on the character, having never really had a solid origin story, bar the [modern] tradition of being an abused serf and/or hailing from Hathersage in Derbyshire. The character's true
name hasn't been officially released, and I won't insult the language by attempting to spell it out phonetically, but it's spoken in the above linked trailer, with the 'Moorish commander' telling Robin, "In your language, it's John." This John seems to be taking direct inspiration from Freeman's character with his cultural facial scarification, though keeping the tradition of arming John with a staff - though shorter than his usual quarterstaff, due to this John having lost a hand. In the film, John appears to be a warrior himself, presumably being the man in the trailer who shoots Robin, sending him into his illness and eventual return to England. It appears Robin and John arrive back in England at the same time, a still showing the two in a port, John with the above-mentioned horsebow slung over his back. It's a clever new twist on the story, making John 1) different to what's come before, and 2) working the semi-traditional Islamic character into the plot in a completely different fashion. Very excited to see how this plays out!
The clue is in the title, but the form it takes differs depending on the role. Russell Crowe wore a very authentic suede cowl, as did Michael Praed and Jason Connery. Errol Flynn sported, though didn't necessarily utilise, a authentically medieval liripipe hood. Jonas Armstrong, in a break of tradition, wore his hood as part of his tunic, newspapers around the time of the premiere in 2006 pinching themselves at the chance to write the headline 'Robin Hoodie.' Taron Egerton, too, sports the hoodie, though a bit of a variation. Originally, the hoodie is part of a coat, presumably stolen during his passage from the Holy Land back to England. John is seen in the trailers cutting the coat into a close-fitting jacket (better for jumping through windows, I guess!). The unfortunate detail of the machine-stitched hood has already been picked up on, but as for the design itself, I love it; blue and black is a very different colour scheme for Robin Hood, but for an urban warrior, as this new Robin is, it's ideal. I admit, a lot of the reason I like it is almost entirely because it reminds me of the Jonas Armstrong silhouette, though I'm a sucker for anything blue and hooded, so sue me. The costume design in the film so far is beautiful. There are a few nay-sayers tearing it apart based on the modern spin on the costumes, rather than period realness, and to be fair, the BBC's series copped the same flak 12 years ago (Christ I'm old). All I can say as a lifelong fan is I'm relieved we're seeing something new. If I wanted to see classic Robin Hood, I'd watch Doug Fairbanks or read Pyle; if they're doing a new Robin Hood for a new generation, it has to be worth the time and effort, and a big part of that is the look. That's exactly the approach the team took in 2006 and it worked. It's what they've done now, and it looks great. While nowhere near period-accurate, or even character-accurate, if you're going to pick on tradition and stereotyping, it's new, and that's what keeps stories like this alive. I'm sure there was at least one miserable bastard in 1600 sending out flyers about the unrealistic new Robin Hood being a lord and an earl. Look where we are now.
Viva Las Notts
This isn't particularly a connection from ancient tradition, but it's something I picked up straight away! In the new film, there seems to be a big emphasis on modern design, being both slick but also used almost as a joke, or as an illustrative tool (like Baz Luhrmann's use of hip-hop in 2013's The Great Gatsby). The 2018 Robin Hood film seems to have a scene set at a casino-like establishment, with the toffs of Nottingham gambling their excess money in the presence of clergy and government figures alike.
My mind was immediately thrown to 2007, the second season of the BBC's most recent take; in episode two, the gang make a deal with a visiting German aristocrat, invited to Nottingham by the Sheriff due to his known frivolous gambling habits, intending to take advantage of this to fill up the war chest. The count agrees to lose deliberately, giving Robin and the gang enough time to hoard the lost money of all the guests and steal it. While certainly not a direct connection to traditional stories or past iterations, and not confirmed to be deliberate, it's hard to look past the similarities!
The Greatest Treasure In All The Land
In 1993's Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Robin is given a token by his manservant Blinkin - the key to 'the greatest treasure in all the land.' Marian wears a chastity belt, complete with a sturdy Everlast padlock. No-brainer there. During filming last year for the new film, Robin is seen giving Marian a key. And... that's it. Key. Callback. That unfounded link is a good place to end an article, right? I think so!
What would you like to have discussed? A big movie, an obscure show, a weird knick-knack from a forgotten decade? Let me know in the comments or send a message!
Robin Hood (2018) screenshots and stills courtesy of Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment.
Robin Hood (2018) filming photography care of Just Jared.
Robin Hood (2007) screenshots courtesy of Tiger Aspect and the BBC.
Robin Hood (2006) stills courtesy of Far Far Away Site at farfarawaysite.com.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) stills courtesy of Morgan Creek.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) prop care of Global Effects Inc. at globaleffects.com.
Robin of Sherwood stills courtesy of Network.