Robin Hood (R. Scott), a "historical" film?

The latest film from the director of "Gladiator" and "Kingdom of Heaven" gives a new version of the legend of what is mistakenly called in France " Robin Hood ", Going back to the source and trying to integrate it into a historical" reality ". So let's have fun studying his way of approaching the issues and characters of that time ...

The film

First, let's go back to the film itself. We see Robin Longstride, archer in the army of Richard the Lionheart, flee with friends the siege in which the English king is mortally wounded. By a rather surprising coincidence, he finds himself in possession of the royal crown and, usurping the identity of a certain Robert Loxley, he manages to return to England. There, welcomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine in person, he announces the sad news of the king's death, and attends the coronation of John. Wanting to keep his promise to the dying Loxley to bring his sword back to his father, he left for Nottingham; there he meets the deceased's wife, the very haughty Marianne, and his father Walter, who takes him in love (he knows his past better than he does ...) and offers him to stay. At the same time, a felon by the name of Godfrey plots with King Philippe of France to weaken the kingdom from within (we do not know his motivations)… The film actually wants to retrace what happened before the legend, how this one was born; it ends with a vision of Robin and his friends much better known to all, that of the outlaw hidden in the forest with the people.

Here we have a film in the purest style of Ridley Scott from "Gladiator" and "Kingdom of Heaven": spectacular, epic, with splendid settings and fierce fighting. We prefer the siege from the beginning to the disembarkation of the end ...

Themes also come up, such as the fight for freedom, free will, courage, the spirit of sacrifice, loyalty to principles, honor, etc. The main couple Russel Crowe / Cate Blanchett works wonderfully as the two actors are as charismatic as they want and their characters are interesting. Some supporting roles are also successful, in particular that of Walter Loxley, played by the great Max Von Sydow. On the other hand, we will not say as much of Jean, played by an Oscar Isaac that we had already noticed (in a bad sense of the word) in the film "Agora"; its king John is caricature and the acting unbearable and almost laughable. We can also note here the recurrence of some tics of Scott, which can interfere: sometimes caricatural characters (his Jean looks like the Mistletoe of Lusignan from "Kingdom of Heaven"), his Manichaeism, fights which for many make a not often seen (but how can we do otherwise?), his obsession with banners, the great speeches of his characters on freedom and honor (that of Crowe falls a little flat, like that of Bloom in Jerusalem), ...

However, this does not detract from the pleasure the film gives, thanks to the main characters and the visual beauty; we are not bored, we laugh and we can also be moved. Speaking of which, is the late pony cavalry a joke on Scott's part? We don't know what to say ...

So, “historical”?

The film in itself being pleasant, is it for all that historical? Scott does not seem to have wanted to assert that Robin existed, but he wanted to put him in a context that was supposed to be him real. What is it really ?

Let's start first with the historical figures seen by the film and what we know about them:

- Richard the Lionheart: the film presents him as a bon vivant, a little rough, but courageous in combat (limit unconscious), appreciated by his men (but not adored). It is also said to be very popular in England, despite the taxes he levied for his crusade (the saladine tithe, initially decided by his father Henry II). It is on this last point that Scott's vision is the most questionable, Richard being far from being popular in England (at that time), where he set foot very little and that he contented himself with taxing for his crusade and his glory. Moreover, the film makes him too much of a truly “English” king (like Aliénor or Jean for that matter), hiding the fact that he can be considered at least as much “French” (he was of Angevin and Aquitaine origin. , and spoke better French than English). Ridley Scott therefore gives us a very official version of Richard I, which has long been questioned by historians, including English.

- Eleanor of Aquitaine:
Richard and Jean's mother is shown in the film as the Queen Mother (which she was), but as English! No allusion to its origins and its somewhat turbulent past! Recall that, daughter of William of Aquitaine (whom she inherited, which has serious consequences later), she was first married to ... King of France Louis VII, father of Philippe Auguste ! After a crusade where she acquired a sulphurous reputation, she saw her marriage annulled and took the opportunity to remarry with Henri II Plantagenêt. She thus offers him her immense dowry, her land in Aquitaine and Anjou among others! The King of England, yet vassal of the King of France, finds himself with a kingdom much larger than that of his overlord! The film therefore does not address these facts, but it is above all to see Aliénor despise the French and especially to give lessons to the young French princess with whom Jean falls in love, who astonishes him… We must nevertheless note to the credit of the film that he clearly shows his political importance and skill. This English queen for the film dies in Poitiers and is buried in the Abbey of Fontevraud.

- Jean Sans Terre (and Isabelle d'Angoulême): the film does not allude to this nickname, yet it is very important. There are two versions: it would have been called so because of the heritage of his father Henry II, who would not have bequeathed him any territories; the other version is that following the kidnapping of the young Isabelle d'Angoulême, cousin of the King of France (promised to Hugues de Lusignan) in 1199, he would have been dismissed from his French possessions by his suzerain Philippe Auguste in 1202 ... In the film, he is already with Isabelle whereas normally he kidnaps her while he is king. For the rest, the circumstances of his coming to power are relatively faithful, but it is his caricatural image that bothers the most, even if John was probably not a great king (considered one of the worst in English history ).

- Philippe II Auguste: we see him little in the film, so it is difficult to get an idea. Scott gives the image of someone a conspiratorial but a little soft (his "reaction" to the failure of his landing). We know that, unlike his great rival Richard, the King of France was not a great warrior. He was also in poor health. But he was a formidable strategist and politician, one of the inventors of the French state, and one of the greatest contributors to the expansion of the royal domain (and therefore ultimately of France). Quite simply, one of the greatest kings of France. We cannot say that he gives this image in the film, although it is indeed the following years that he will really experience his success ...

We can then discuss some facts that the film seems to present as "historical".

First, the return of Richard and his death: at the beginning of the film there is no allusion to the capture of the King of England by the Germanic Empire, we have to wait for an evocation of the ransom paid a little later . Scott then claims that Richard is plundering everything in his path (in France) to get back to England. However, the king probably did not intend to cross the Channel again, he considered himself at home in Anjou; he fought against his rival Philippe, in particular to keep Normandy. His death shown in the film is relatively faithful to the facts: he was indeed killed during the siege of the castle of Châlus, in Limousin, by a crossbow bolt; on the other hand, the film makes a cook the marksman, whereas it seems that it is a small noble. A striking fact is mentioned in "Robin Hood": the hero recalls before the king the massacre of Muslim prisoners during the capture of Acre, which would have made Richard's army impious (this leads Robin to irons). It seems that, on this point, the film is faithful to the facts: Richard's army would have contributed to the capture of the city, but the English king would then have decided to execute several thousand prisoners against the advice of Philippe Auguste ...

A very "Anglo-Saxon" Robin Hood

Then, Ridley Scott chooses (without obviously claiming reality here) to make Robin's father the inventor of the Magna Carta ; this was a charter imposed by the barons on King John, to limit his power and increase their freedom as well as the individual freedoms of his subjects more broadly. A sort of Constitution in medieval sauce, mixed with the beginnings of human rights (even if it mainly concerned the nobility and the Church). The English are as proud of it as we are of our Declaration of 1789; the Magna Carta would be at the origin of the famous Habeas corpus. In the film, Jean promises to sign it, but in the end he does an about-face. In fact, he will be forced to sign it in 1215, following the Bouvines disaster (July 1214, founding victory for France, so well narrated by Duby), but this is after the film.

The last significant event of "Robin Hood" is the attempt to land Philippe Auguste on English soil! He first sent marauders, who sowed discord in England with the felon Godfrey, then decides to disembark, thinking the English are weakened. Obviously it is not. It's pretty simple here, that landing and even his attempt never happened! And probably the King of France never had a specific plan to do so; in fact, he gave it to his son, Louis known as "the Lion" (who succeeded him, and who was the father of Saint Louis), who landed in England without any problem in 1216 (ie after the film)! Victorious of Jean Sans Terre in La Roche-aux-Moines before, he is viewed with a good eye by the English barons who support him and want to make him their king! Married to Blanche de Castille (granddaughter of Henri II Plantagenêt), he may indeed be a legitimate heir. He moved to London in 1216, but King John died soon after and the barons changed their minds and chose Henry III (son of John) as king: Louis tried to resist, but he was beaten in Lincoln in 1217 and had to leave England. He will avenge himself a little later when, once king, he will take over most of the English possessions still on French soil.

Ridley Scott has therefore taken some liberties with History, making us a very "English" film: a Richard rather shown in a beautiful light (even if we are far from the Sean Connery of the version with Costner), a classic vision of Jean, an apology for the Magna Carta, and of course the French who take the mash. But with the necessary hindsight, that in no way detracts from the pleasure one takes in watching his film; on the contrary, it's even fun.

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