Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Middle-Aged Middle Ages

Steve Muhlberger has posted an appreciation of Robin and Marian.

I probably should not say that this is a movie about middle-aged people for middle-aged people, but it is, and I mean it as a compliment. I certainly can't think of a better historical movie of this sort.

I'd say that it's matched by Goldman's other film on a similar theme, The Lion in Winter, in which a creaky Henry II deals with aging, his estranged wife, bickering adult children and other midlife issues.

One of the minor joys of that movie is William Marshal as a secondary character. He's the one who knows that you should always be waiting outside in the corridor with a drawn sword any time you send the guards into a room to fetch Richard.


Hugh Knight said...

Interestingly, while I loved Henry and Eleanor, and yes, William, in A Lion in Winter, the characterizations of Richard and John left me cold. They were too stereotypical, to shallow, and too monochromatic. I’m tired of seeing Richard as a pathological killer just because he was a proud and worthy knight who succeeded on the battlefield; some may think of him that way in light of 21st-century values, but if we’re to view him through that lens then all the characters would have to be viewed through the same lens, and they wouldn’t come off any better to most modern eyes. I’m even more tired of seeing Richard portrayed as gay just because he didn’t want to take his wife campaigning. And while I have never been impressed by John, surely he couldn’t have been that much of a whiny, pimply-faced buffoon and still have functioned as well as he did. To see the breadth of character and emotion this movie brought out in Richard and Eleanor and then to see such stereotypical treatment of their children is jarring to me; it’s as though I’m seeing two different movies.

In contrast, I thought Robin and Marian was handled with a much better hand, at least as far as the supporting characters are concerned. I especially liked the sympathetic treatment of the sheriff, who, while remaining the bad guy, was given much more depth than such characters usually are. To me, showing his better qualities as well as his mistakes made him an even better villain because he was more believable.

Will McLean said...

Goldman later concluded that he had been unfair to the historical John, and gave him a much more sympathetic portrayal in his novel Myself as Witness. If you can find a copy it's worth a read.

Robert Shaw's sheriff isn't a bad guy. He's loyal, intelligent, competent, honorable and brave. His job is enforcing the law in a hereditary monarchy, which means that his ultimate boss may not be a very nice person.

This puts him in exactly the same moral position as Robin at the start of the movie and for the preceding twenty years.

I'm very fond of both movies. In fairness, Robin and Marian had fewer documented historical characters, which gave the author more freedom.

Hugh Knight said...

I agree about the sheriff; I say "bad guy" and "villain" only in the sense that he was on the other side. I found him quite worthy, actually. Heck, I actually usually side more for the sheriff than for Robin in any of these movies.