In February 2007, it was announced that a 21st century envisioning of the Hood legend was making its way to the big screen.
Bulletproof Monk scribes Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris offered Hollywood execs a peek at a spec script they had put together entitled Nottingham, which put a 180 spin on the original myth.
Repositioning the Sheriff of Nottingham as the misunderstood good guy, and Robin Hood as one of the film’s central villains, it took the characteristics of the 15th century legend and told them from a fresh, perhaps more factually accurate perspective.
The studios loved it, scrapping in a bidding war that saw Universal Pictures emerge victorious over New Line Cinema, Warner Bros and Sony among others, paying the writers seven figures for their spec.
It was something of a record in script selling, The Hollywood Reporter noting that Universal nabbed the rights to the manuscript just 36 hours after it went on sale. “And the writers - whose Sleeper Cell Showtime had cancelled on January 25 - became part of one the biggest deals in some time.”
Eyeing a summer 2008 release, the studio quickly scooped Russell Crowe as the Sheriff of Nottingham, coughing up a reported fee of $20m. Meanwhile, Bryan Singer, Ridley Scott and Sam Raimi were all names dropped into a hat for directing duties.
A month later, Ridley Scott jumped at the chance to re-team with his favourite Australian man-mountain for a fifth time. With Brian Grazer on-board as producer, production on the film looked set to commence in early 2008.
How did Ridley feel about helming his own Hood tale?
“I think there’s been 80 made over the years and it’s the kind of thing I used to enjoy as a kid, but when I revisit them, they’re not very good. I’m trying to think of the last good one. Errol Flynn... God bless him. The one I thought was best, frankly, was Mel Brooks’ Men In Tights!”
Speaking with MTV, Grazer called Nottingham “the Gladiator version of Robin Hood. I think it will have the same propulsion that Gladiator had - the same adrenaline hits.”
Meanwhile, Scott (ever the perfectionist) said he was most excited about attempting a historically accurate portrayal of the circumstances of the time.
“Richard the Lionheart is on his return from the Crusades [when] he took an arrow in his neck and died. His brother, John, [becomes king],” he explained, before going on to insist that King John “was actually pretty smart, but he got a bad rep because he introduced taxation. So he’s the bad guy in this.”
The director adds that “you've got the returning Nottingham who is the right hand man of Richard and witnesses Richard taking the arrow. And so he comes back to England to carry forward Richard's dream about England.”
Where does the newly sympathetic Sheriff fit into all of this? He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, caught in the middle of two wrongs as the King orders him to arrest outlaws, while outlaw Hood threatens to lead the public in anarchy.
Says Scott, he’s wedged between “the minority of haves and the majority of have nots”.
Things, however, were about to hit the skids...