Robin Hood (2009) review (spoilers) by Sarah Woodbury

Posted by on Jul 14, 2014 in Historical Tidbits, Medieval Great Britain | 4 comments

Since I’m a sap for anything medieval, I knew I would probably enjoy Ridley Scott’s, Robin Hood, even if his movies are generally too violent for my taste.  I have to say that I liked the movie more than I thought I would.  He refrained from his usual slo-mo blood spray as the hero kills another man (or dies himself), for which I was grateful.

In summary, the movie follows Robin from France, where he was in King Richard’s army on the way home from the Holy Land, to England, where he falls into an impersonation of the dead heir to the Locksley lands.   To be fair, Robin did impersonate the poor dead Sir Locksley initially, but he approached the dead man’s family on the up-and-up.  Meanwhile, John, now King John as Richard died in a final siege in France on his way home from the Crusades, has put his trust in the wrong man.  This Englishman, Godfrey, was a nursling with John, and thus is trusted by him above all others.  King John strips William Marshal of his station and gives it to Godfrey.  Unfortunately, Godfrey is secretly in league with the King of France and decides he must hunt Robin down since Robin knows of this alliance.  Naturally, Robin evades him and proceeds to rally the unhappy northern English lords against John, who has put his Godfrey in charge of collecting taxes.  Unbeknownst to John, Godfrey is killing English people and besieging towns, all to foment unrest and open the way for the King of France to attack a divided England.  Clever, actually.

Ultimately, the barons force King John to promise to sign the Magna Carta (15 years early) and the King of France is defeated at the sea, along with the Godfrey, whom Robin kills.  Robin is one of the leaders in the battle (having earned Willliam Marshal’s respect, natch).  But somehow (and this is never explained) King John discovers that Robin is a fraud and in a fit of anger not only refuses to sign the Magna Carta but outlaws Robin.  No idea how that happened.

Although the plot is full of holes and historical inaccuracies, I liked the character development, I liked Russell Crowe in this role, and I thought Cate Blanchette made an interesting 40-something Marian.  Nitpicking, the color of her hair was odd and she wore it down all the time, but she was appropriately sharp-witted.  Virtually all the characters and situations, barring King John himself and William Marshall, one of the greatest knights of his age, are fabrications, including the evil Godfrey.  Louis, the Prince of France, not the King of France, did plan to invade England at one point–was invited in, in fact, by the rebel barons–but not until 1215.

From Wikipedia:  “At first, in November 1215, Louis simply sent the barons a contingent of knights to protect London. However, even at that stage he also agreed to an open invasion, despite discouragement from his father the King of France and from the Pope.  This came in May 1216 – , watchmen on the coast of Thanet detected sails on the horizon, and on the next day, the King of England and his armies saw Louis’s troops disembark on the coast of Kent. John decided to escape to the Saxon capital of Winchester, and so Louis had little resistance on his march to London. He entered London, also with little resistance, and was openly received by the rebel barons and citizens of London and proclaimed (though not crowned) king at the cathedral. Many nobles, including Alexander II of Scotland for his English possessions, gathered to give homage to him.

Many of John’s supporters, sensing a tide of change, moved to support the barons. Gerald of Wales remarked: ‘The madness of slavery is over, the time of liberty has been granted, English necks are free from the yoke.’ On 14 June Louis captured Winchester (John had already left) and soon conquered over half of the English kingdom.”

John died in October of 1216, however, and the barons immediately decided they’d rather be ruled by his son, Henry III (then only 9) with William Marshal as regent.  By September of 1217, all of Louis’ English barons had defected back to Henry and he sailed back to France.  None of this is in the movie, of course.

I had hoped that certain aspects of the plot would make more sense when watched a second time. To a certain degree they did, because I watched the Director’s Cut (I always recommend Ridley Scott’s Director’s cuts–he puts way to much into his movies, and then cuts them, leaving key plot points on the floor).

I enjoyed this movie.

p.s. I don’t think my eyes deceived me when the opening text said something about the unrest in England ‘at the turn of the twelfth century’. To my eyes, that should read ‘turn of the thirteenth century’ since it is set in the 1200s. A quick Google search shows me, however, that for the British, the phrase means either 1100 or 1200 so Scott’s usage is correct. Still looks wrong to me.

Sarah Woodbury, July 14, 2014

For those of you interested in either the 1100s or the 1200s, do check out Sarah Woodbury’s  time travel series, After Cilmeri, set in 1200s Wales or her Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mystery series, set in 1100s Wales.




  1. Thanks for the movie review, Sarah. Errol Flynn and Sean Connery come to mind as actors who did a good job with the role of Robin Hood. But Russell Crowe has to be an improvement over Kevin Costner, right? I suspect that we’ll see another Robin Hood remake in 15 years or so because we cannot get enough of the honorable outlaw. (And I have a wannabe 18th-century Robin Hood in my book A Hostage to Heritage.)

    I traveled through what is left of Nottingham Forest in 1982. The old oaks look imposing and not at all like American oaks. We imagined without difficulty how travelers might have been robbed by bandits there.

  2. Very thorough review of what has now become my favorite screen version of Robin Hood’s story (until this movie, Errol Flynn was the ultimate Robin Hood for me).

    If you saw the Director’s Cut and have access to the bonus features, Scott and Crowe explain why they altered the timeline. There is also a wonderful History Channel special that was filmed around that time (and I believe available online) that helps to add to the mystique of the character.

    After all, Robin Hood is a literary legend as is King Arthur–handed down via oral tales but with little actual historical evidence to this point. That’s one reason why both characters keep being revisited by generation after generation.

    Other interesting versions of Robin Hood are available. Have you seen the movie version starring Patrick Bergin or the BBC series starring Jonas Armstrong? There’s even a Disney version of the tale featuring Keira Knightley as the daughter of Robin and Marian that’s a fun version if you watch for entertainment only 🙂

  3. The history of this version of Robin Hood is interesting. The original script was called NOTTINGHAM, and it was going to be like a CSI: Sherwood Forest, depicting the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero trying to catch the bandit Robin Hood using medieval investigative techniques like tracking and arrow trajectory.

    The story of how it changed from that movie to this more standard Robin Hood story is fascinating. There’s a great blog post on it here (and this blog is fantasic if you are interested in Hollywood from a screenwriter’s perspective):

  4. Talking about Robin Hood, I recently bought season one of the new BBC Robin Hood series as seen on BBC America. Season One runs 578 minutes. Before I start with this Robin Hood, I want to finish Acorn’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 2 that is set between WWI and WWII in Australia.