Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Kevin Costner, Alan Rickman, Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Christian Slater
Watch Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves online in the UK: Netflix UK
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
“This is English courage.” Yeah, not with that accent, it isn’t, mate.
With a largely American cast and a none-more-90s sensibility, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves somehow manages to be an anachronism in both directions. It is at once a very contemporary take on the legend and a throwback to all the earnest adventure films that came before. All the better for contradicting itself in this way, it’s probably the ideal film for our 90s On Netflix column.
In Kevin Reynolds’ hysterical historical epic, Kevin Costner plays Robin of Locksley, a spoiled young lord turned honourable soldier who’s on his way back from years fighting in the Crusades. After escaping captivity in the Holy Land along with Azeem (Morgan Freeman), Robin finds his father dead, his name in ruins, and Nottingham under the thumb of the tyrannical Sheriff (Alan Rickman).
Inevitably, Robin takes to Sherwood Forest to fight back. He robs from the rich, gives to the poor, wins the heart of his childhood friend Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and all that other fun stuff. And then there are witches, and Celts, and secret brothers, and all sorts of other fun wrinkles that make Prince of Thieves such a delight. This movie has been parodied endlessly, not least in Mel Brooks’ 1993 comedy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights (also streaming at the time of writing), in which Cary Elwes counts an actual English accent among his virtues as a hero, but it holds up nonetheless.
In the main, that’s due to the late, great Alan Rickman’s iconic performance as the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham. From his very first appearance, taunting Brian Blessed’s good Lord Locksley before setting his men upon him, he’s a thoroughly hissable villain. Playing it right in the middle of the cross-section between Kenneth Williams and Edmund Blackadder, Rickman seems to know what the film needs before it knows itself.
The movie’s outlandish Hollywood take on England amuses throughout, but where some criticise Prince of Thieves for taking itself seriously, it’s never as po-faced as those critics suggest. Instead, it is absolutely sincere and the reputation of films like this is a big reason why sincerity seems to have fallen out of fashion in Hollywood films. It means absolutely everything it does, which is why Rickman’s commitment to the camp, moustache-twirling, Christmas-cancelling villainy of it all is so terrific to behold.
Freeman, Mastrantonio, and the assorted supporting actors are all on fine form too, which leaves Costner as something of a weak link. He’s such a modern actor that he never rings true in a historical setting. Even next to Christian Slater’s Cock-er-ney Will Scarlet, he never really fits this role. Still, the wooden quality of Costner’s performance is redeemed by the fact that, like the film, he still means it.
Still, it’s somewhere between Robin’s conviction that Marian is worth dying for and the overall cheese factor that we get Bryan Adams’ chart-busting theme song, Everything I Do, I Do It For You. In that same region of romance, the film is more progressive than you would expect in its use of female characters. The representation is still nothing to write home about, but at least Marian gets to pitch in a bit, even when she’s positioned as the damsel in distress.
Streaming in its 12-certificate cut (thanks in part to a precision F-bomb that’s lobbed by Slater during the final battle), this really holds up as a nostalgic classic of our youth. It’s long enough that by the time the riotous, castle-storming third act rolls around, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a film in control of its earnest pantomime tone or not. But when it finally gets there, you’re having too much fun to quibble about such things. As Rickman said, while accepting a BAFTA for his role in this, ”subtlety isn’t everything”.
Next time on The 90s On Netflix…
“No kingdom should be built on the backs of slaves.”
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.