Some legends get lost in the sands of times, others get accrued over decades and centuries to become a steady source of populist entertainment even after half a millennium. A prime example of the latter might be Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw who rose from the 15th and 16th century ballads of England and have been popularized since then in the form of plays, fair amusements, ballads, pantomimes, television series and cinema. In fact, the time-tested appeal of the folkloric legend has been confirmed by the fact that 2010 marked the 100th year of Robin Hood on silver screen.
As there is no definitive take on the original story, which was circulated through games and plays on May Days in the 15th-century England, each version of the story has been populated by permutations and each is distinct in its own way. The outlaw of the Sherwood Forest was already quite popular on the other side of the Atlantic at the turn of the twentieth century with a number of children’s literature and plays based on him. His portrayal on silver screen, however, was in 1908 with Robin Hood and his Merry Men, a silent short film.
Thereafter, till 1913, a series of films were released on the same subject, featuring love rivalry to archery contests to chase sequences, with increased budgets and lengths of the films. Out of all these, only the 1912 film, Robin Hood, starring Robert Frazer survives till date. In 1922, it was Douglas Fairbanks, the silent film superstar, who broke cinematic records with his portrayal of the outlaw in the film Robin Hood and ascended Robin’s status from the hero of a familiar children’s story to a cult, worldwide.
Though hugely popular, Fairbanks’ version allegedly had few similarities with the original story. That mistake was rectified with The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn in 1938. Flynn was at the height of his stardom at that time and Warner Brothers had left no stone unturned to make the film a fun ride, a kaleidoscope of colors, light, movement and typical old-school entertainment overall. In the times of the Great Depression, it is notable that Flynn, as a philanthropist outlaw, sent the much-needed thrills and excitements among the audience. Following this success, a beeline was created to portray Robin and his pursuit of justice and freedom on the big screen and in the next 20 years a number of films like The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, The Prince of Thieves, Rogues of Sherwood Forest, Men of Sherwood Forest, Sword of Sherwood Forest and A Challenge for Robin Hood.
In 1969, a more realistic and grittier approach was adopted for Robin in Wolfshead- the legend of Robin Hood, starring David Warbeck. The film was set in Yorkshire, instead of Sherwood. Thereafter a satirical Up the Chastity Belt, starring Hugh Paddick and a number of TV series and animated series were released portraying alternate versions to the realistic approach. Robin and Marian, released in 1976, offers a revisionist version of the legend where the lead characters, played by Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, are an elderly couple advancing towards death. Meanwhile, a Soviet adaptation was released in Russia in 1975, by the name Strely Robin Guda (Robin Hood’s Arrows). 1991 witnessed the head-on competition between two Robin Hoods, namely Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman and Alan Rickman and Robin Hood, starring Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman. The former was a lot more well-received by the audience and the latter by the critics. Thereafter, Robin was mainly portrayed in TV sitcoms and animated series, till Ridley Scott’s magnum opus in 2010, Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, which was a hailed to be the most accurate adaptation of the legend, as well as a completely fresh take on the ages old folklore.
As Robin has remained an eternal favorite symbol of resilient and persistent struggle for justice and equal taxation, it won’t be any surprise if we witness his next cinematic venture much earlier than we expect, offering another fresh adaptation of the legend, and it is with this hope that fans of Nottingham’s asset can sit back and start binge-watching all the available films of his from the start.