Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Robin Hood Week: In search of the real Robin Hood by Stephen Moss

One of the best articles about Robin Hood in general, as well as the new film, I've seen so far was published today by the Mail & Guardian, In search of the real Robin Hood by Stephen Moss. There will be a glut of these and I will share the ones I deem the most imformative and the best over the next few days.

Ridley Scott claims his new version of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, is the most historically accurate portrayal. But, after eight centuries of myth and legend, what do we actually know about him?


I would be less harsh on the new movie were it not for the exaggerated claims made on its behalf by director and star. Scott has said the only Robin Hood film he really liked was Mel Brooks's spoof, Men in Tights. The rest he dismissed, saying: "We're at another level." Crowe has made similar claims: "When the first script came to me, I said I'd do Robin Hood, but I wanted to do a fresh version where we revitalise every part of the story ... If you're going to revitalise Robin Hood, it can be done on the basis that whatever you thought you knew about Robin Hood, it was a previously understandable mistake."

Brave words, but not matched by deeds. Ironically, the first scripts for the film, back in 2007, provided the sort of radically different take on the Robin Hood story Crowe was looking for: Robin Hood as dodgy outlaw and a more sympathetic sheriff of Nottingham (a reversal brilliantly managed in the 1976 film Robin and Marian, starring Sean Connery as an ageing, trouble-making Robin). The 2007 treatment, by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, sounds promising, its boldness underlined by the fact that the working title was not Robin Hood but Nottingham. It could have been glorious, but Scott hated it.


"I'm a traitor to my own place," Crook tells me. "Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman. If you believe in an original, which I do, then he was a Yorkshireman. I can make the strongest case anybody can, given how limited the evidence is, for a person called Robert Hod ('an outlaw and evildoer of our land') in 1225, who I think may be the same person as a bloke called Robert of Wetherby, who was chased by a posse of sheriff's men -- specially hired men, which was very unusual -- in 1225 and captured. There is a payment for a chain, to hang his body in chains, in the Yorkshire accounts for that year. We even know how much was spent on the expedition to catch him."

I find Crook's hypothesis seductive. Robert Hod/Robert of Wetherby is a real figure, active in the 1220s, captured and killed by the sheriff of Nottingham (briefly holding the post of sheriff of York) in 1225, spawning a Billy the Kid-type legend that spreads all over England, becoming the generic outlaw and producing ballads and songs that are common all over England 150 years later.
As always, the article is much, much longer and these were just some of my favorite bits, so click through to read it all. There are several theories about Robin Hood offered after the author's insights into the new movie, so keep paging down if you're more interested in history than Hollywood.

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