Robin Hood – the myth, the folklore, the magic, the lure- never truly vanishes from public awareness. Its themes of an outlaw with a heart of gold, who serves up justice to the poor by robbing from the rich never seem to lose its relevancy. Even in America, in today’s political climate, there are those who secretly long for a Robin Hood figure to come along and make things right, and fair. We long for a touch Maid Marian, who went against the grain to be with her man in Sherwood, going so far as to dress up like a boy to join Robin’s Merry Men.
Robin Hood first appeared in print around the beginning of the 16th century, but long before that was told and sung through ballads and oral storytelling, which are traceable back to the 13th century. Even after Christianity was well grounded in England by then, plays and fairs honoring the Green Man, his lady and his Merry Men take place to this very day. May Day festivals, honoring the queen of May and Morris dancers are common not just in Britain but throughout the west.
Robin Hood came to America as a swashbuckler, handsome and full of derring-do. One of the earliest films starred suave Douglas Fairbanks as Robin and Enid Bennett as Maid Marian. This was in 1922. Prior to that, there were many black and white shorts, the earliest dating back to 1908! There have been many sorts of re-tellings, from the mystical to the gritty historical, to the downright silly, played for laughs. As I pen this there are several new Robin Hoods in the works, as well as a revival of one of the most beloved, Robin of Sherwood.
So when you are fed up with the political atmosphere that’s got everyone in a tight, polarized grip, check out these adventures of Robin, Marion and His Merry Men on these films and television shows.
1. Robin Hood (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks and Enid Bennett as Robin and Marion in this swashbuckler, in which Robin is a nobleman who fights the oppression of King John. It was filmed in black and white although there are colorized and color tinted editions available. Fun to watch (in black and white) because it was one of the first screen versions in America. There are actually two older versions, shorts from 1908 and 1913, but there seems to be nothing left of those pieces except a few credits.
2. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with the dashing Errol Flynn as the swashbuckling, debonair nobleman seeking justice for the poor. Olivia de Havilland is radiantly beautiful as Maid Marian. Considered a classic, it’s still fun to watch, especially all of the fencing scenes, which were quite dramatic.
3. Robin Hood (mini-series, television, 1953). I’ll bet you didn’t know Doctor Who was Robin Hood! Yes, in 1953, Patrick Troughton played the man in green for a brief while. Josee Richard was Marian, and her father was played by….Ian Fleming? It only last 6 episodes and was aired live on BBC. You can Google pictures of the good Doctor as Robin, and he was quite dashing!
4. The Adventures of Robin Hood (television, 1955-1960) starring Richard Greene as Robin Hood. The series focused primarily on adventure; Maid Marian wasn’t even introduced until 1957. This series is probably most famous for its opening theme song: “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Riding through the Glen, Robin Hood, Robin Hood with his band of men. Feared by the bad, loved by the good, Robin Hood, Robin Hood…”
5. Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood (1969) Starring David Warbeck as Robin, this film has the unique distinction of being a Hammer film (as in Hammer’s House of Horror). It’s very hard to come by, but the reviews seem to indicate a “grittier, more historical” Robin Hood. It was made in Denmark and also is known by the title, “The Legend of Young Robin Hood.”
6. Robin Hood (animated, 1973) This is Disney’s take on the legend; Robin and Marian are foxes, Prince John and King Richard were lions, the Sheriff was a wolf, and Guy of Gisbourne was replaced by the snake, Sir Hiss, who practically steals the movie. This is fun, funny and sweet, exactly what you would expect from a Disney Production.
7. When Things Were Rotten (TV series, 1975) Mel Brooks’ comedic parody of Robin Hood starred Dick Gautier as the dashing Robin, Dick Van Patten as Friar Tuck (he would later go on to play the Abbot in Brooks’ big-screen Men in Tights), Misty Rowe as Marian, and Ron Rifkin as King John. The comedy went over most audiences’ heads and only lasted one season, but upon rewatching, it is still just as silly/funny as I remembered. It was certainly the precursor to .
8. Robin and Marian (1976). An aged and worn out Robin (Sean Connery) returns from the Crusades to find the love of his life, Marian (Audrey Hepburn), in a convent. This is one of the loveliest and heart-wrenching Robin Hood tales to grace the screen.
9. Robin of Sherwood (television series, 1984-1986) One of the most iconic and beloved series to this day, Robin of Sherwood managed to capture the historical aspects of the legend as well as the mystical. The series introduced a Muslim character, which has become a canon role in many future productions. The fandom is still going strong, as is the series – a brand new audio adventure is set to be released this June 2016. The show also has the distinction of the prettiest Marion ever, but I may be biased!
10. Maid Marian and her Merry Men (TV series, 1990-1994) In this clever series, Robin was a cowardly tailor while Marian was the actual brains of the outfit. Part comedy, part action adventure, Marian and her band of outlaws terrorize the Sheriff and his men while protecting her village of Workshop.
11. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) Kevin Costner should never put on the hood. Marian starts out as independent and feisty but spends the second half of the film screaming and helpless. This bears watching only for Alan Rickman as the Sheriff, and Morgan Freeman as the Moor, Azeem.
12. Robin Hood (1991,TV movie) This under-rated little film starred Patrick Bergin as Robin, and Uma Thurman as a truly rough and tumble Marian. It’s a little slow-moving for an action film, and this one plays it very close to standard Robin Hood fare.
13. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) Mel Brooks’ feature-length parody stars the dashing Cary Elwes as the over the top Robin, and Amy Yasbeck as Marian. Dick Van Patton returns as clergy (from Mel Brooks’ television series When Things Were Rotten), and a very special cameo is made by Patrick Stewart as King Richard.
14. The New Adventures of Robin Hood (TV series, 1997-1999) This was made during the tongue-in-check Hercules/Xena years, and while it didn’t quite work out the way the aforementioned shows did, it was still a hoot to watch. Few will forget Maid Marian (Barbara Griffin) running around in Xena-length red leather.
15. Robin Hood (BBC TV series, 2006 -2009) This certainly was no Robin of Sherwood; watchers weren’t exactly sure what angle the series was approaching. Robin (Jonas Armstrong) plays a Robin returned from Crusades, and he gathers his band of guerilla fighters to harangue the Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s Marian’s role that is confusing; she is Robin’s love interest, sort of, but, more importantly, is herself a rogue spy. I admit to giving up on the series when the Sheriff’s sister shows up, and tortures Robin in some bizarre leather BDSM get up. There was a good deal of comedy for something that tried to be gritty.
16. Robin Hood (2010) Starring Russell Crowe, this is a manly man’s version of Robin Hood. The historical aspects of the legend are well handled; Robin’s story is moving, and Cate Blanchett holds her own amidst all the testosterone. It’s gritty and violent, and if the film’s goal was to make Robin Hood “realistic” it succeeded.
17. Robin Hood: Ghosts of Sherwood (2012, Germany) While fighting the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin and most of his men are slain. Desperate and grief-stricken, Marian and Little John attempt to resurrect Robin and his men, but end up in creating living dead, thirsty for blood. This falls on my list as “has to be seen to be believed.”
Rumor has it that there are at least six new versions of Robin Hood in the works, and that’s not including Robin of Sherwood and the Knights of the Apocalypse. Antoni Pearce has an Indiegogo fundraiser for his new series, starring Kate Davies as Robin. As long as there is inequality between the classes, as long as legends feed our souls, there will always be a need for Robin Hood.