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Review: Robin and Marian

Watched Robin and Marian. The works of Richard Lester tend to be pretty hit or miss: his collaborations with The Beatles are fantastic, his contributions to the Superman mythos… not so much, and his adaptations of The Three Musketeers somewhere in between. This revisionist take on the legend of Robin Hood stands as one of his better efforts, though that owes more to the phenomenal cast (which includes such stalwart character actors as Nicol Williamson, Denholm Elliott, and Ian Holm) than to his creative input.

Sean Connery plays an older, more cynical Robin Hood, who long ago abandoned his life as a benevolent outlaw in order to serve Richard the Lionheart (Richard Harris, devouring scenery like he hasn’t eaten a decent meal in decades). Unfortunately, the good king gradually became obsessed with pursuing gold and glory, rather than defending God and country, waging futile, bloody wars until an errant arrow ended his reign. When our bitter, disillusioned protagonist returns to Sherwood Forest, he’s ready to hang up his bow and pass the rest of his days in peace and quiet… until he learns that his beloved Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn, lending the role both grit and sensitivity) is in peril. In the years following his departure, she’s become a nun—a devoted, strong-willed woman of faith in a land that has declared her religion illegal. When Robin swoops in to rescue her from the authorities (much to her chagrin), the embers of their romance slowly begin to reignite (also much to her chagrin).

Of course, contrary to the title, the real love story here occurs between Robin and Robert Shaw’s Sheriff of Nottingham. Our hero’s resolve only truly reawakens once the opportunity to clash with his old nemesis arises, and the sheriff—a severely put upon bureaucrat surrounded by idiotic soldiers and arrogant noblemen—is likewise elated to once again match wits with the one opponent worthy of his talents. Despite the brutal conflict that seems to orbit their rivalry, they clearly respect and admire each other, and that complex relationship elevates the… somewhat less than spectacular battle sequences.

What Lester lacks in visual style, he more than makes up for with workmanlike precision. As expected, he brings his trademark sense of humor to the table—in the opening scene alone, for example, a pair of soldiers bump helmets as they clumsily unearth a large stone; one of them proceeds to crush his fingers while loading it into a catapult; and after all of that buildup, the projectile… anticlimactically crashes to the ground several yards short of its target. What I wasn’t anticipating, however, was his surprisingly realistic depiction of violence. Unlike his Musketeers movies, this isn’t a traditional swashbuckling adventure: the characters swing their fists about as often as their swords, and even the “good guys” have few reservations about fighting dirty. Logically, this should result in a tonally-confused mess, but miraculously, the finished product holds together remarkably well, delivering a competently-crafted—though not terribly memorable—costume drama.

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