Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the gang from Nottingham
The Robin Hood legend has been fuelling my imagination since I was a child. I don’t know when exactly I first heard the tales about the dashing hero clad in Lincoln green, who saved all those less fortunate from the tyranny of the evil Sheriff, but I used to want to be him. I loved the idea of living so free, and having such wonderful adventures with a big gang of friends.
I know, it’s weird wanting to be the man, but I was always a tomboy, and Maid Marian seemed, to my four year old brain to be ‘boring’. She was always waiting around for Robin Hood to save her, and I wanted to be the one fighting instead. It wasn’t until I was searching out the different versions for myself, that I began to see that Marian wasn’t nearly as ‘namby pamby’ as I had thought.
The Disney version is still a favourite, packed full with lovable characters and great songs, although Lady Marian’s hen in waiting is still the funniest. Love the scene when she takes out a whole bunch of the Sheriff’s soldiers, by playing American football against them. The portrayal of Prince John as a coward, who still sucks his thumb and is terrified of his mother is another highlight. I don’t think I will ever truly grow out of enjoying that.
Maid Marian and her Merry Men, written by Tony Robinson was the first live action version that I saw. I was a avid viewer. It seemed so funny, and I idolised Kate Lonergan, who was the lead. It flipped the legend on it’s head, dealing with it through wit, and revealed that Maid Marian was the brains and the muscle of the outfit, Robin usually cowering in a corner behind the other mismatched merry men. She was the one that I really wanted to be like, from the first moment I saw her in action.
I was mildly obsessed with the Prince of Thieves version which was released in the early nineties, but again it wasn’t Robin Hood who captivated me. It wasn’t Marian either this time, but the scenery chewing, insult spewing and ‘Christmas cancelling’ Sheriff. Alan Rickman was incredible, he’s the one that I remember most vividly from that film. Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood was fine, fulfilled most of the hero cliches, and no doubt won quite a few hearts during the nude swimming scene, but he was so forgettable. I can’t remember a single line that he said during the film, but I remember whole speeches from Alan Rickman.
The next television version I remember seeing regularly was the BBC version, starring Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffith, with Richard Armitage and Keith Allen. It was nice to see a sarcastic Sheriff, but for some reason I didn’t find Allen’s portrayal as funny or memorable as Rickman’s. I think the writers were trying too hard to recapture the love that the audience had for Rickman’s version, and it didn’t quite work.
Griffiths’ Lady Marian, was a welcome return to the strength of Kate Lonergan’s version, after the relative disappointment of the woman playing opposite Costner. This portrayal was more physically able than the majority of the others, and absolutely refused to wait for the men to change things. She had taken to saving the people under the guise of the ‘Nightwatchman’, not a name that she had selected, but because of her fighting ability, the villagers evidently are supposed to assume that she must be a man.
I especially liked the fact that the writers didn’t have her rush into Robin’s arms on reuniting in the pilot. The back story had them as childhood sweethearts, but he went to fight in the Crusades and broke their betrothal, returning several years later. It was a striking introduction, as we first see her aiming her bow at him, and she refuses to back down even when she realises who it is.
The BBC version also carried on a twist introduced in the Costner film, by having a non white character in the Merry Men. However this time it wasn’t a man, but a scientifically minded woman named Djaq. She was a fascinating foil for the other characters in Robin’s gang, and it was nice that there were a few physically able women within the show.
I have to confess that I didn’t like the Russell Crowe version. Well that’s not entirely true, I can’t remember hardly anything of note about it. He delivers a solid and macho performance, and I know that Cate Blanchett is his Marian, but other than that, it left no impact.