I think this is probably the best Robin Hood movie ever produced (which is no faint praise, because I'm *in* Ridley Scott's more recent one somewhere) and, because it was made in the same year as Prince of Thieves, has been entirely buried. The only place I've found to buy this English story, made in England with a British cast (not meaning to seem nationalistic or anything) is Italy - fortunately the DVD has an 'in Inglese' option. Seriously - Kostner Schmostner - this is by far the better movie.
Filmed in Cheshire in and around the Victorian Peckforton Castle in December 1990, this is very much a Robin Hood from the 1980s, and all the better for that; England is divided between the clean cut, rich Normans and the hairy, grubby, poor Saxons. The text is laced with reference to the social injustice of rich overlords living on the labour of the poor, and the point that the Normans, being the grandsons of Viking pirates, have no moral authority whatsoever, is tellingly made more than once, as is the one about robbing the rich only being acceptable if the loot is re-distributed to the poor. The script is unashamedly Left Wing, and in places powerfully angry, little wonder when you consider that it was written by Socialists after a decade of Thatcherism.
But to balk at this is to miss (or avoid) the point; the tale of Robin Hood is, at bottom, a fundamental questioning of the ruler's right to rule. Certain versions may show Robin as the true subject of the 'rightful' king Richard Lionheart, only rebelling against King John who, as AA Milne pointed out was 'not a good man, he had his little ways', and even underline the point by bringing the 'true' king on at the end (preferably played by a Scotsman) just to make sure Monarchy is still topsides, and that the English hero is still a good Conservative and Royalist to his boots. You don't need to be Karl Marx, or to know that Richard I was an atrocious king, who didn't speak English and hardly visited England, preferring to spend his time stealing stuff off non-Christians in the Middle East, to see that such a twisting of the story is moronic. No 'true subject' can act against the crown or its officers, which Robin always does (all the witchcraft nonsense in Prince of Thieves is a woeful attempt to sidestep this).
To avoid such a fundamental narrative point is to centrally weaken the story; this film accepts lese majestie without a qualm; Prince John is in no way fit to be running a country, still less to be taxing one, therefore he must be opposed by every honest Englishman.
Or in this case, honest Irishman and Welshman; Patrick Bergin and Owen Teale perform an ironic double act as Sir Robert Hode and his best buddy Will. Englishness come in the form of a young and hirsute David Morrisey as John Little (I didn't know he was that tall). Theirs is not a particularly merrie band of outlaws living 'neath the greenwood tree, rather an embittered gang of the dispossessed hiding up in a cave, featuring a wonderfully sceptical Danny Webb and a poisonously hostile Alex Norton (McAngus from Blackadder), who betrays Marion and ends up hanging dead in the gibbet with his eyes poked out - and it says something for Mr Norton's performance that I don't feel particularly sorry for him.
Uma Thurman's Marion has been praised as 'her best work', which is probably a bit of a stretch, but she's by far and away the best Marion I've seen; strong, proud, gutsy, sexy (actually surprisingly kinky) - and Feminist. Another strength of the script is that this anachronism doesn't seem out of place in the C12. She's also highly convincing as a boy, an illusion that's played with admirable honesty, and she can still do sexy even from under the 5lb of s*** she's covered herself with.
My girlfriend, who understands such things, scoffs at the idea of any C12 rural dyer brewing up purple, but otherwise the level of authenticity is impressive, if clearly in the Monty Python tradition that anyone outside the royal family has s*** all over them; life, for most people, is one long, hard slog - England is emphatically not Merrie.
Among the villains, the sheriff (Miter, played by Barry Stanton) stands very much in third place behind Baron Roger de Guerre (Jeroen Krabbe) and his guest Sir Miles Folcanet (Jurgen Prochnow) - neither of them Frenchmen, underlining the point that the Normans weren't either - and it's these two that really fulfil the Sherrif and Gisbourne roles. Conrad Asquith is suitably grizzled as Lodowick (captain of the guard, I think), though my favourite is Phelim McDermot as the jester - a performance of wonderful manic madness.
The climactic battle to stop the wedding - on All Fools' Day - has more than an echo of the various hippy festivals and the Peace Convoy, hated and trashed by the Tories. The final fight between Robin and Sir Miles is well-staged with the dying villain falling out of a window, under which Tuck waits with open arms; 'Welcome to Hell'.
The end of the film argues, very persuasively, for greater social cohesion; 'Let's stop fighting over whose country it is, and just try to get along together'; it's a necessarily upbeat conclusion to a grim scenario, and it's uncomfortably fitting that the Saxons only accommodated the Normans by allowing them to take everything (and they still have it) and 23 years after the films release the rich are even richer, the poor even poorer, and Britain is in greater need of Robin Hood than ever.