The ever-changing face of the cinematic icon Robin Hood

Our favourite outlaw is back on the big screen – so we look back over the genesis & history of the character

Freshly Popped

There’s no green tights and no feather in the cap, but while the appearance of Robin Hood may have significantly changed, in the forthcoming action adventure flick by Otto Bathurst, the core values and principles of the everlasting character remain the same. As the legendary, heroic outlaw is set to grace our screens once more, well over a century after his very first appearance.

Jamie Foxx and Taron Egerton bringing putting the class in classic

There’s something about this man that gives him such a timeless appeal, an it’s because while the world around us changes, some things never do, like the disparity between the rich and the poor. There will always be self-serving people, there will always be corruption, and the rich will always get richer while the poor will always get poorer – and it’s why a character of this nature will never not be relevant.

Douglas Fairbanks played Robin Hood almost a century ago

In his latest guise, brought to life with conviction by Taron Egerton, it’s easy to see why this is a character we’ve revisited once again, and it feels pertinent to explore, to allow audiences a hero to invest in and root for, in a society that is giving us very few leaders of this nature. But then hasn’t that always been the case? At any point in the history of Robin Hood you could call him a relevant cinematic hero. Now is no different.

Errol Flynn brought the character into cinema with sound in this timeless classic

This latest offering is different in that it’s far more action orientated. Robin Hood is far from the charming, glint in the eye hero we’ve seen before, he’s gritty, he’s domineering and he’s an absolute master of the bow and arrow. With this comes huge action set pieces, brutal exchanges that give this film a darker, bleaker aesthetic. At one point a Disney character, this is far from the vibrant, playful tone of what has come before, and instead approaching the material and this specific universe in a way that is more ferocious. In one famous version back in the 1930s, the grass was painted green so as to emphasise the colour. In this, the grass has been replaced by mud.

Costner with a bow and arrow

It’s a testament to the character though that he has been able to be portrayed in such a variety of ways, and had such success on screen. He has been a silent movie star, with countless portrayals such as Robert Frazer’s in 1912, William Russell in 1913 or the famous Douglas Fairbanks in 1922. One of the most famous incarnations then came in 1938, in a hugely political climate, when Errol Flynn took over in The Adventures of Robin Hood, which was, at this point, Warner Bros most expensive movie. A light and somewhat whimsy take, featuring at actor who was, in his day, like the equivalent of Tom Cruise, a bonafide movie star. But blockbusters were essential at this time in providing escapism to the viewer, the same decade that saw King Kong and Dracula, we sought to step out of the real world and invest instead in the supernatural. Robin Hood, though steeped in humanity, has always been taken on these terms.

Crowe with a bow and arrow

We’ve often seen American, Hollywoodised takes on this inherently British tale, of course all set in the northern city of Nottingham. We’ve had a Mel Brooks spoof, a Disney retelling, we’ve seen the role embodied by Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, and of course, Keith Chegwin. It transcends genres, and it’s because it’s the archetypal story of an antihero, an underdog. With this comes some legacy, as one we romanticise over, as an iconic cinematic figure that will always have a place on the silver screen.

The Robin Hood we mostly grew up on – when he became a fox, courtesy of Disney

So this new version is different, yes, and at times almost unrecognisable, but at its core it’s the same story we’re familiar with, and the same story we’ve always loved. There will be many who question the need for this new adaptation to even exist, but where we’re sitting, give a man a bow and arrow, and let him steal from the rich and share the wealth – we’re not complaining. Though that said, at least one pair of green tights wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Robin Hood is released on November 21st

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