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Hood for good?

Ridley Scott's new version of Robin Hood gives the lie to the idea that modern-day terrorists are in any way comparable to the storied outlaw. -TNP

Sat, May 15, 2010
The New Paper

By Jason Johnson

ANY idiot can set off a bomb, and plenty of them have.

Bombs, the weapon of choice for cowards and crazies, kill anonymously and indiscriminately. Terrorists love bombs because they are horrifying.

It's hard to imagine a gentleman like Robin Hood ever setting off a bomb.

He was an archer.

As far as weapons go, the English longbow is quite wonderful.

Carved from yew or ash, strung with hemp or flax, the longbow of the Middle Ages had a range of around 200m and could shoot arrows at a comfortable rate of about six per minute.

It took strength and skill to use the longbow, so archers trained from young. They won many a war for England until gunpowder spoiled all the fun in the 17th century.

There's a romance to the longbow. It's a handsome weapon - long, thin and gracefully curved; form perfectly married to function.

Director Ridley Scott's new version of Robin Hood, which opens here today, tells the story of the world's most famous bowman, and it gives the lie to the idea that modern-day terrorists are in any way comparable to the storied outlaw.

Admired for the better part of a millennium as a valiant freedom fighter - rob from the rich and give to the poor! - there are those who, in the wake of 9/11, see Robin and his band of merry men not as heroes, but rather as terrorists.

Indeed, in the initial conception of the film, before Scott became involved, the Sheriff of Nottingham was to have been the star of the show, with Robin serving as a villain.


As it turned out, Scott ended up going with a more traditional approach, telling the story of how one Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) transforms into the legendary Robin In The Hood.

But even here there is more than enough ammunition for certain segments of the population to question the character's modus operandi, namely, using violence and the threat of violence to achieve his liberal political ends.


To some, particularly right-wingers, this will sound like the very definition of terrorism. While the Robin bin Laden meme never quite caught on in mainstream media, it's reasonably widespread in the far-right fringes.

Nathan Winkler, a student journalist at the Texas Christian University, compared Osama bin Laden directly to Robin back in 2003, when America was still reeling from the attack on the World Trade Centre.

"I have little doubt that (bin Laden) now sees himself in the same heroic light as Robin Hood, of helping the oppressed Arabic Muslims in the Middle East against the oppressive, self-appointed American hegemony," he wrote.

"So why do we loathe and despise bin Laden, but hold Robin Hood as one of the good guys of his day?"

It seems a reasonable question, but a closer look at the film, at the character of Robin Hood and the times in which he lived reveal that the legendary archer is in fact the furthest thing from a terrorist.

More than just a hero, he is, in fact, a sort of mediaeval superhero.

The first thing to note, perhaps, is that in Robin Hood's world, set in the Middle Ages, terrorism could not exist primarily because people lived in a more-or-less constant state of terror, or something very close to it.

Just take a look at the apocalyptic devastation in the opening scene of Scott's film.

On their way back to England from the Crusades, the crazy King Richard (Danny Huston) and his men have laid siege to a French town in order to get supplies.

As they attempt to blast open the town's gates, arrows and fire and hot oil rain down on them.

The thing that really strikes you is that, for the French as well as the English, it's just another day at the office.

Watch how Robin - a grizzled ex-soldier of King Richard's army - goes about his business in an almost cheerful fashion, shooting men down from their parapets with a smooth, professional precision.

Killing is what he does, but then killing is what everyone does. When the world is in a constant state of war, everyone and no one is a terrorist.

Later, when we are introduced to Robin's eventual love interest, Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett), her estate is being raided by a band of forest-dwelling orphans.

She tries to shoo them away by shooting a flaming arrow in their direction, but the lead boy, scruffy and wearing a crude mask, just stands there defiantly, watching as the arrow arches towards him and then lands with a thunk at his feet.

Violence is implied or apparent in almost every human interaction.

Life was brutish; Robin Hood, relatively speaking, was not.

The thing about the outlaw archer, as opposed to today's average suicide bomber or hijacker or kidnapper, is that he was a class warrior who actually had class.

Let's set aside Middle Eastern jihadists, for a moment, and look at someone like Timothy McVeigh, the security guard who bombed an Oklahoma City federal government building in 1995, killing 168 people, 19 of whom were children.


A white supremacist and gun rights advocate with heavy gambling debts and no girlfriend, this aspiring hard man quit the US military after he was dropped from the Special Forces programme for not meeting the demanding physical requirements.

He was a loser.

That's fine. A lot of us are or have been or will be losers. The trouble is, this loser was a sociopath.

McVeigh, like most modern terrorists, expressed his nihilistic, impotent rage by lashing out not at the true targets of his paranoia - in McVeigh's case, FBI agents and federal judges - but at innocent, defenceless proxies.

Robin Hood, in stark contrast, stands toe to toe against his foes in defence of the innocent and defenceless.

As played by Crowe, Robin Hood is not a hate-filled fiend like McVeigh, but a joyful, expansive, bright, brave, honest, practical and competent man.

When the Church robs Nottingham's hard-working farmers of their precious crop seeds, Robin doesn't slaughter parishioners.

Rather, he and his men waylay the soldiers who are transporting the ill-gotten grains and then spend the night doing the back-breaking work of actually sowing the fields.

When the traitorous chancellor Godfrey (Mark Strong) tries to turn the English against one another, leaving the country open to invasion by the French, Robin Hood doesn't go around beheading random Frenchmen. He raises an army to fight Godfrey and his Gallic pals.

In an interview with the website IGN, Crowe spoke of his fondness for the Robin Hood legend.

"The thing that attracts me, and that has attracted me since I was a five-year-old kid, is that there's some guy out there who will go out and work on behalf of the people who can't do something for themselves," he said.

"There's a guy there who will rob from the rich and give to the poor. The metaphor is fantastic."

So really, how dare one compare Robin Hood to today's desperate, indiscriminate, ineffectual bomb-throwers.

Robin Hood is calm, precise and disciplined. He chooses his targets with care, one at a time.

While terrorists take aim at the whole world and everyone in it, Robin always shoots for the bullseye.




The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Despite being more than 70 years old, Flynn is still the definitive Robin.

Very handsome, the blond goatee, little peaked cap, tunic and, yes, the infamous Technicolor green tights.

Flynn was the very essence of derring-do. Cavalier of attitude and never going five minutes without a hearty hands-on-hips laugh.

This was Robin as an adventure, where robbing from the rich was simply good sport.

Made before any realism about the Middle Ages was needed, Sherwood is as clean and sunny as a croquet lawn.

Still worth watching today, thanks to the sword fight between Robin and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone).


Robin and Marian (1976)

A much older, but none-the-wiser version of Robin.

Returning home from the Crusades, Robin finds a different Nottingham and a very different Marian - now a nun and exasperated at Robin's desire for past adventures.

Connery's Robin, while still out for justice, comes across as immature and in denial about the tolls of age.

Robert Shaw's Sheriff comes across as the smartest guy in the forest and, despite still being the enemy, actually respects Robin.

The ending will have even the hardest heart reaching for the tissues.


Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)

Not a film, but in the history of Hood, the Brit TV show Robin Of Sherwood made a huge impact worldwide. The haunting soundtrack by Clannad probably helped.

It balanced the action with the grit and grime of mediaeval life, but brought in aspects like paganism.

In a daring move, the role of Robin changed hands from dark-haired Praed (pictured) to blond Connery (Sean's kid) and could explore the historical aspects of the true identity of Robin - Praed being the peasant, Connery, the nobleman.

However, the best actor in it was a young and much thinner Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett.


Robin Hoods: Prince of Thieves (1991)

The Californian Robin. There is a lot to dislike about this version. Costner is bland, but he is surrounded by a much more entertaining cast.

Alan Rickman made a name for himself with his boo-hiss take on the villainous "call off Christmas" Sheriff; Morgan Freeman is in a rare action role, and Christian Slater does his best junior Jack Nicholson.

But the action does make for a good popcorn take on Robin Hood.

As Robin Hood romps go, this one's all no-brainer popcorn fun.

- Jonathan Roberts

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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