The latest Hollywood version of Robin Hood is due to hit the cinemas later this year. Directed by Otto Bathurst, written by Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, IMDB states ‘a war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.’
I have seen the trailer. I am not impressed by what I see.
I can accept that the makers of the movie may not be going for historical accuracy in setting and tone, it all looks far too clean and pristine to be set around the twelfth Century when King Richard I is away on the Third Crusade. Perhaps the movie is going for something like ‘A Knight’s Tale’ (2001) – not historically accurate with it’s clothing, a more modern feel and a fun story. Except that’s not what I’m seeing.
In this movie trailer Robin is like Batman, he’s a rich playboy by day and a hooded (rather than masked) thief (vigilante) at night – or in the shadows – throwing gold at the poor. OK, not exactly like Batman – and I’m sure he killed someone, but you know what I mean; rich guy with secret identity who is apparently looking out for the people – and trying to steal somebody else’s love interest. But I’ve seen this version of the story many times before (except for the ‘steal somebody else’s love interest’ part anyway.) My favourite so far is the TV series ‘Robin of Sherwood’ (1984) – it showed the impact of Hood and his band of (mainly) forest dwellers and their escapades with an added aspect of natural paganism – and real consequences for their actions.
The tale of Robin Hood is timeless and still relevant, especially as the gap between rich and poor increasing. But telling the same story from the same point of view could make this stale no matter how many well choregraphed fight scenes there are and regardless of how well Robin and his Merry Men are portrayed. It’s time to tell the story from a different point of view.
We always follow Robin and his Men off on their adventures, someone comes and asks for their help and off they go. There’s risk, there’s danger – there may even be death for one of our Merry band – but they return to the relative safety of Sherwood Forest and its environs to battle again another day. But what we rarely hear about with much depth is what happens to the people they save after Robin has left – or the ones they never hear from who still needed help. What happens when the Merry Men go to battle and need to take more local men with them – what happens to those who are left behind, and who is left to deal with the fallout of a plan gone wrong? Who are the ones who were not only poor but looked on as property – the women and children.
When told about famous battles and heroic deeds by famous men throughout history I always wanted to know; what happened to the women and children when the men were away?
‘The Forestwife Trilogy’ by Theresa Tomlinson answers this question and more.
I first read this series in my teens as three separate books. I picked up the first, devoured it and picked up the next two as soon as I could get to the library. Later I bought the beautiful bind-up.
‘Who will champion the poor against injustice and cruelty?
Book 1: The Forestwife
‘Mary, 15 years old and an orphan, must flee into Sherwood Forest to avoid an arranged marriage. There her life truly begins, for she finds a community of heroic outlaws that includes a woman with seemingly magical healing powers and a young man who is bravely leading the fight against tyranny.’
Book 2: Child of the May
‘Magda lives in the woods with the Forestwife. Here she learned to heal sick people and became skillful in archery and fighting. Now Magda wants a life of adventure beyond the forest. When word comes that Lady Matilda and her daughter Isabelle are being held captive by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, Magda is ready. This is the chance of a lifetime to join forces with her father, and the mysterious Robin Hood and his band of outlaws.’
Book 3: The Path of the She-Wolf
‘Forced to sign the Magna Carta, King John reneges and answers the uprising by the foresters by destroying their villages. The Forestwife’s skills are called on more than ever. This trilogy concludes with Marion and Robert finally confronting the Sheriff of Nottingham and fulfilling their destinies.’
This trilogy in its entirety tells a more rounded story of Robin Hood and Marion – it tells of a real world where, for every act of bravery, for every act of daring do, for every revolt against the greedy powers that be – there are consequences. And sometimes plans go wrong. Robin Hood goes off with his men, and the bloody results of those choices show up at their home doorstep. We meet the Merry Men – and the Merry Women too, who no doubt kept the home fires burning and the actual wolves (rather than the rebel ‘Wolves Heads’) away from the door whilst the men were away.
I would love to see this version on the big screen or as a serialised show. There’s so much scope for which story could be the focus – or which stories. There are enough characters to build a rich series and the books themselves cover over twenty years worth of events, so plenty of room for more stories to fill in the gaps or expand on the ones that are briefly mentioned in the books. Historic accuracy would be far easier to attain as the historic period is stated throughout. And the people you’ll meet! The test of a good character-driven story is how you react to what happens to the characters – and there was a lot of reacting here, both in my teens and after re-re-re-reading this book this year.
This is the story we could be seeing, rather than going back around again with a focus on dudes and deeds. Instead we should see how the plays for power at the upper echelons of society effected the daily struggle of the people, and how they not only survive but live and find joy. A story for our times if there ever was one.