As I said recently, moving country does strange things to your movie going. In some cases, that means you feel well behind on some of the films you want to see – for example, Green Zone, only just released here in South Africa. In other cases, it means you do start to see a film through the eyes of different expectations and experiences. Robin Hood gave an example of that. Listening to and reading British opinion on it, the predominant theme was Russell Crowe’s accent – which, it’s true, seems to veer between Irish, North-East England, Yorkshire….and just about everywhere else except the Nottingham area. The UK’s favourite movie podcast (which I’m still addicted to) spent at least 20 minutes on the subject.
Watching it abroad, and your priorities change. Even as a Brit, you notice the accent, but it scarcely matters. No-one around you can tell a Bognor accent from a Belfast one, so it just ceases to be of importance. You start to realise the self-importance of banging on and on and one about one aspect of the film – yes, it could and should have been better, but there’s so much else to admire and enjoy here.
Really, the film should be called Robin Hood Begins. The entertainment industry in general is undergoing an obsession with origins. Maybe it has its roots in DVD extras, but over the past few years we haven’t been able to move for special editions of albums and films tracing the genesis of great (and not so great) works. This spilled over into super-heroes: witness X-Men’s Wolverine movie and Christopher Nolan’s admirable Batman reboot. Add in to that mix James Bond going back to the beginning. Now we have the story of what made Robin Hood. We spend a long time in France – King Richard on his way home from the Crusades, leading an assault on one more castle, is shot through the throat by a French cook (factually correct). Robin and friends get the crown safely to the bereaved Queen and from then on it’s intrigue, back-stabbing and the introduction of Marion (Cate Blanchett – with a spot-on accent). She and Robin are bought together in an identity-swapping sub-plot straight out of Shakespearean comedies that shouldn’t work but does.
Re-tellings of classic stories and myths tell you more about the age they are made in than the historical background itself. So here we have post-imperialist, post-Bush guilt at Middle-Eastern meddling; a cry for fair-trade and rights for workers and commoners and the sort of world-weary cynicism that means the film ends with Robin free but outlawed, with a lying manipulator wielding power over the people. That’s not to say the film isn’t fun or gripping – it’s some of the former, and a great deal of the latter. What it manages to be, most of all, is gloriously immersive. Be it Gladiator, Bladerunner, Alien or just about anything else, what Ridley Scott can do better than anyone is create a world you totally believe, with just enough echoes of your own to give you pause for thought. It ends where most Robin Hoods start – clearly hoping and longing for a cash-friendly sequel. Whether one is granted will tell us how well this has been received – there’s romance and adventure here, but not the easy access, slip-down-easily Kevin Costner version.
So as you might expect, this is Robin Hood for our times. It’s not perfect, and at times the attempts at a lighter touch jar slightly; but in the end it is both fun and gripping. Let yourself be swept up into it. In the end, how much does one man’s accent really matter?