Robin Hood is one of my favorite tales, and so I looked forward to this latest big screen version, Robin Hood (2010), starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott. I was particularly interested in the depiction of Lady Marian as played by Cate Blanchett.

The principals are introduced early in the story set in 1199. Robin is a skilled archer in King Richard The Lion Heart’s army, plundering one last castle on French soil before returning home. Richard, portrayed unsympathetically, is struck by a crossbow bolt fired by a peasant woman atop the castle. The battle of the sexes is joined in the film, and the king is dead.

Meanwhile, back home, Lady Marian is the daughter of Sir Walter of Loxley (Max Van Sydow), trying to hold together the huge estate and take care of her blind father. She demonstrates her martial prowess by stringing a long bow on the run and firing a warning shot at boy brigands raiding the estate’s stock of grain. It is impossible to string a bow of any draw weight in this manner.

In further developments inside the royal family, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), mother to King Richard and his brother John, surprises John in bed with a wench. As he explains, parading naked before her, his wife is barren as a “brick” and he wants an heir.

Still in France, Robin, with companions Alan A’Daile, Will Scarlett and Little John, comes across an ambush of English knights led by villainous Sir Godfrey, in league with the French king, trying to kill Richard. In the battle, Robin promises a dying Sir Robert Loxley that he will return the knight’s sword to his father, an oath Robin keeps upon his return to Nottingham. Robin and him men don the armor of the dead knights and take their identities, and purses, with them by boat to England.

It is thus that Robin and Marin meet. The blind Sir Walter takes a liking to Robin and urges him to keep up his charade as his dead son and therefore take Marian as wife, so that she may inherit his lands when he dies.

In a clever role reversal, Robin asks Marian to help remove his heavy tunic and chain mail armor, revealing the actor’s beefy build. Reluctantly, and with a warning that she sleeps with a dagger, Marian takes her new found husband without ceremony other than a curtsey to her chambers, along with her wolf hounds. She retires behind veils while Robin sleeps with the hounds on the floor.

Robin gains her favor by his soft spoken gentlemanly demeanor and stealing back grain from the Church’s men, with the approval of bee keeper Friar Tuck. In the climactic battle between the English forces led by King John and his barons against French forces landing in the surf, Marian shows up, in armor, and does battle like a man with her sword. She is unhorsed and is being drowned by Sir Godfrey when Robin rides to the rescue. Godfrey escapes and rides off on a horse only to be struck through the neck by Robin’s long range arrow.
I watched the director’s cut, and there is no love scene between Robin and Marian, only warm glances and indications of marital embraces to come.

Well, wot.

In an era of the over-valorization of women as men, super Amazons defeating men, as female cops, soldiers—the atrocious G.I. Jane, for example, a Ridley Scott film—director Scott has struck a balance with this beloved story, mindful of its history and film treatment.

In a party scene in Nottingham, Robin’s men cavort with the local girls, stomping out a jig, the floor wet with copious quantities of mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey. Here, the ageless romp of man and maid is played with naturalistic, pre-modern gusto. The treatment of the principals required more consideration.

As an action figure, the flat-chested Cate Blanchett makes a credible appearance, though one wonders how well thin arms would wield a broad sword. Arnold Schwarznegger noted the difficulty of handling a 10-pound sword in Conan The Barbarian. Gender equality etiquette, of course, required it. As a romantic figure, required by the tale itself, the actress wins a nod, and little more, for her comely smile. You can see she is trying.

For my money, Richard Lester’s 1976 Robin and Marian, starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, is the best romance of the Hoods. The bizarre plot ends when Robin dispatches the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) in the mother of all sword fights, and is mortally wounded himself. Marian, who became a nun when Robin went off to the Crusades, pours a lethal potion presented as medicine for them both, these star-crossed lovers. Robin shoots a final arrow from his death bed that rises into heaven. The best lines go to Marian.

“I love you,” she cries. “More than all you know. I love you more than children. More than fields I’ve planted with my hands. I love you more than morning prayers or peace or food to eat. I love you more than sunlight, more than flesh or joy, or one more day. I love you…more than God.”

For lines an arrow shaft short of Romeo and Juliet, they nonetheless serve the legendary couple well.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.