Whether played by Errol Flynn, Richard Todd, Kevin Costner or an animated fox, one tends to associate England’s most iconic outlaw with a sense of boisterous, jaunty fun. Ridley Scott doesn’t really do fun, though.
Which probably explains why his spin on the myth has more in common with Richard Lester’s melancholy Robin And Marian than its more playful and spirited siblings.
The irony is that Lester’s film saw Robin – played by a 46-year-old Sean Connery – at the end of his career in freelance banditry and wealth reallocation.
Scott’s, in contrast, sees bowman Robin Longstride – played by a 46-year-old Russell Crowe – at the very beginning, his Sherwood Forest infamy still some way off. Two and a half hours off to be precise, thanks to an extended cut that adds 20 minutes to the film seen in cinemas.
Which means, of course, we have to wait quite a long time to see the Robin we’re accustomed to: the righter of wrongs who robs the rich, gives to the poor and makes merry with Maid Marian in his fugitive downtime.
There’s nothing wrong with a 13th Century origins story. The problem is, Sir Ridley doesn’t seem interested in the character whose origins he’s exploring, Robin being little more than a pawn in a larger conspiracy involving a turncoat English noble (Mark Strong), a sneaky French invasion and a plot to destabilise King John’s reign in the wake of Richard the Lionheart’s death.
As Kingdom Of Heaven and Gladiator showed, Scott has always been partial to a bit of historical intrigue, particularly if it comes with clanging swords, zinging arrows and equestrian combat.
Yet you suspect this is less an exercise in cultural revisionism than an attempt to subvert the audience’s expectations, right down to making Matthew Macfadyen’s weaselly Sheriff a peripheral bit-part and turning Marian (Cate Blanchett) into a medieval Boadicea who, having invited Russ’ returning Crusader into her bedchamber, ends up fighting alongside him in the climactic seaside battle.
Hood could have done with a few more just like it. For the most part, alas, this is a turgid, talky affair, too obsessed with weighty themes and period detail to supply the kind of breezy entertainment that other takes have managed.
The director’s cut restores a cute plot arc that sees Crowe become a father figure to feral lads living rough in the woods, and a welcome mood-lifter it is too.
It’s telling, though, that the majority of scenes left out of either version – introduced here by editor Pietro Scalia – were omitted because they were too incongruously light hearted.