I never met a Robin Hood I didn't like.
And what's not to like--or even love--about Fox's new 2 1/2-hour "Robin Hood"? It airs at 7:30 tonight on Channel 11 and 8 p.m. on Channel 6, breaking the tape barely ahead of "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," the widely anticipated Warner Bros. release scheduled to open theatrically June 14.
Although Fox's "Robin Hood" was made for a third of the reported $45 million spent on "Prince of Thieves," with Kevin Costner, the latter will have to go some to beat tonight's version. It features princely Patrick Bergin as the legendary outlaw and Uma Thurman as the absolute best and nastiest of all Maid Marians.
Beautifully filmed in England, Fox's "Robin Hood" is a fusion of grand fun and meticulous production, with director John Irvin using low lighting and muted colors to accentuate the feudal bleakness and hard living that was typical of the 12th-Century countryside.
Scriptwriters Mark Allen Smith and John McGrath put their own brand on this classic story. Robin and his Merry Men are not the flat-out altruists we've come to expect: They belatedly decide to give to the poor what they've taken from the rich only to sway the impoverished peasants from turning them in for the reward money. Meanwhile, no other Maid Marian has ever looked into Robin's eyes and said: "You're so handsome when you're angry."
Mostly, though, this is basic "Robin Hood": The victimized Saxons versus the ruthless Normans; nobleman Robert Hode forced to forfeit his lands and becoming the outlaw leader Robin Hood; the reluctant Marian coerced to wed the brutal Giles Folcanet (Jurgen Prochnow); the local Baron Daguerre (Jeroen Krabbe) taxing destitute peasants into oblivion.
The writers slice in the humor, never more so than with the arrival of greedy Prince John (a juicy cameo by Edward Fox), who haughtily orders the baron to personally make good on the tax booty stolen from the baron's soldiers by Robin and his men. And brandishing a sense of irony, he counsels the baron against being nice to his peasants: "They'll just rob you."
When the baron seems to be going soft, the burden of villainy falls on Giles, who is given authority by Prince John to disembowel victims "as they breathe." Despite this honor, it's apparent that Giles will be a loser here; lying ahead for him, during a well-executed castle-storming scene, is one of the most magnificent deaths in film history.
There's some Errol Flynn in Bergin, a witty, dashing, athletic, swashbuckling Robin who nevertheless encounters more than his match in Thurman's fiery Marian. This is the feminist version: no helpless, passive ingenue, but an independent, resourceful woman and aggressive risk taker who at times is as adventurous as Robin. Plus, she's a bit of a snot.
To appreciate this "Robin Hood," you have to buy the sultry Marian escaping from the baron and somehow joining Robin and the Merry Men without them knowing she is female, merely by dressing as a boy and lowering her voice. True, they've been in the forest a long time, but still you'd think they'd notice that she walks a little funny.
When Marian does finally let her hair down for Robin, so to speak, he's, never, well, merrier.
Fox's "Robin Hood" dims some of the brightness, but not the magic.