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Robin Hood: The Truth Behind Hollywood’s Most Filmed Legend (DVD Review)

27 Mar, 2010 By: John Latchem

Prebook 3/31/10; Street 4/27/10
ADA/Reality Films
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.

An earnest exploration of the origins of the Robin Hood legend, this documentary offers some enlightening insights that most viewers probably weren’t familiar with beyond portrayals in Hollywood movies.

Most modern interpretations of the famed outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor are derived from 16th century plays by English dramatist Anthony Munday, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. But the earliest ballads of the character link Robin Hood to a king named Edward, not King Richard the Lionheart and Prince John as the legend now tells.

One of the earliest accounts, from a poem written around 1500 called A Lyttell Geste of Robyn Hode, tells of a soldier named Robert Hode who joined in a tax revolt led by Thomas the Earl of Lancaster as part of a dispute with Edward II in 1322. When the Earl was defeated, his followers fled into Sherwood Forest and continued to fight under Hode’s leadership, and were pursued by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Hode marries a woman named Maltida, but he is ultimately killed by a nun acting under mysterious motives.

Other records suggest that in the mid 13th century the son of the Earl of Huntington was declared an outlaw and disappeared into Sherwood Forest, where he was pursued by a sheriff at the behest of King Henry III and his son Prince Edward.

At the time, the English would have valued heroes who fought the repression of the Normans, when being known as an outlaw was a badge of honor.

Aside from trying to identify the man, the documentary also looks at folklore in general and traces how such stories spread with trade, arguing that the archetypes of the Robin Hood legend had roots in civilizations dating back thousands of years. For example, India tells stories of Rama, a Hindu crown prince banished to the woods with his wife, who would be abducted by a king. There are also parallels to Jesus Christ, with Little John as John the Baptist and the Merry Men as disciples.

Robin Hood imagery also is linked to Pagan ritualism and harkens back to a connection to nature lost by the trappings of civilization.

The presentation is dominated by flashy graphics and cosplay re-enactments of Robin Hood’s battles and exploits, with information conveyed through a single narrator, though a few scholarly interviews may have provided some more credibility.

The examination is well-timed for the new Ridley Scott Robin Hood due May 14, with Russell Crowe in the title role.

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