Robin Hood (The Death of a King) – Movie Review

Robin Hood – The Death of a King

Movie Review by Stacey Tuttle

 I took a class in college that studied Frankenstein – but not just the original Frankenstein.  We read, I think, every version of the Frankenstein story known to mankind. I thought it would be boring to read the same story over and over again, but it was actually fascinating to look at the changes, some subtle, some substantial, in each version and how those changes affected the message and implications of the story.  So, when the new Robin Hood came out, I approached it in much the same way as our class had approached Frankenstein.  What changes are they going to make to the story, and what will those changes mean to the overall message of the story? 

While there were several changes, the one which struck me as the most significant was the way King Richard, Richard the Lionheart, was rewritten.  In the original versions, Robin Hood becomes a hero, protecting and defending Richard’s people while Richard is off to war (on a crusade, if memory serves correct).   Richard the Lionheart is a good, respected king, whose return is much celebrated by all, including Robin Hood.   The movie version however starts with Richard and his army returning from the Crusades, and basically pillaging as they return.  Robin Hood is in this army and though he does his job as a soldier, he has no respect for Richard or the things Richard has asked them to do.  Richard’s character is dubious at best—a man whose character, name and temperament seem to have been tainted and corrupted through time.  Richard dies in battle before returning home, leaving his even more tyrannical and uncharactered brother, Prince John as King.  And, of course, John and Robin soon end up at odds, as the people are far more inclined to honor and follow Robin—a man of courage, natural leadership and character.

So, the more important question isn’t what changed in the story, but what do those changes mean to the significance of the story?  Here is what keeps nagging at me.  It’s the death of the king.  Not just the death of him physically, but also the death of the ideal.  Richard wasn’t just King Richard.  He was known as Richard the Lionheart.  In all former versions, though he is only seen in the last seen of the movie, he is a silent driving force throughout the entire story.  He is the noble king, the good king, the fair king.  He is the king which will set things right when he returns.  Things may be bad for a moment while the King is away and false leaders rise up and take advantage of the people.  But, there is hope in the midst of tyranny because King Richard the Lionheart will return, and when he returns he will bring justice and peace.  Even Robin Hood himself looks eagerly to King Richard’s return and is motivated to act not only on behalf of the suffering people themselves, but to act on Richard’s behalf—to protect the good King’s subjects and the interests of his kingdom. 

The original story of Robin Hood and King Richard bears echoes of the Christian story.  We too have a good King, a noble King, a fair King who will return and set right the things gone wrong in his land.  We too have a King whose very name, presence and returning gives us hope in the midst of suffering.  We too have a man, Jesus, who was willing to suffer, fight and even die, in part to help give people the courage and the power and the knowledge to fight against the enemy until our King’s return. 

In this latest version of Robin Hood, not only is the king’s reputation sullied and his person killed, but the common man is elevated and lifted up.  Our hero is a common man, of no noble birth, whose strength comes from within himself and whose loyalty is to himself.  Granted, he does things for the good of his fellow man, still he has no higher allegiance than himself—he answers only to himself.  The original Robin Hood, while acting outside the false law set up by a false king, was always loyal to the true king.  He was never completely autonomous.  He always had a higher allegiance to the king.  This go ‘round, allegiance and submission to authority is as dead as the concept of any authority worthy of submission. 

I will not go so far as to try to make assumptions about the writers’ and producers’ actual intent.  I am not sure whether they are trying to make a statement about what they think about authority or submission to it, or whether they and this film are simply unwitting products of our culture.  Either way, and regardless of intent, I think these changes to the iconic Robin Hood suggest a significant change in our culture towards authority.  The new message seems to suggest that there is no worthy authority.  Good men must fight for their very lives against all that is unfair.  They may be happy living outside the law, but in truth, there is little hope for reprieve as there is no good king to come and set things right.  That certainly wasn’t the original Robin Hood message.  The original message was that there is a good, lion-hearted king who is worth our allegiance and our service and whose return will set things right.  And it is in the hope of his returning and for the merit of his name that we work to fight against the wrongs and injustices being done in His Kingdom.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the changes you see in the 2010 version of Robin Hood from previous versions?
  • What significance do those changes make to the meaning of the film?  Why do you think the writers/producers/directors decided to make the various changes to a story that has been beloved for generations? (It’s not as if the story needed improvement—as if it wasn’t already popular in its original version…and the changes weren’t just cosmetic, technological modernizations.)
  • In Clash of the Titans it’s the gods.  In Robin Hood it’s the kings.  In both cases the supreme authority figures are foolish and tyrannical and the common man is the more noble, honorable character.  Do you think this is representative of your feelings about God and/or of society’s feelings about God? 
  • In Clash of the Titans and in Robin Hood man decides to live for himself and to no longer live for his god or his king.  Would you say this is representative of your response to God and/or of society’s response to God? 
  • Do you feel that there would be more hope and encouragement in your life (or in the world) if you (or others) had confidence that there was a good, kind, noble King/God who would return to set things right?