Joe’s $1-a-week cinema: Costner in Robin Hood
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991 Spoiler alert: Tenuous links between Kevin Costner, Joe’s mum, and the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival
In 1991 Bryan Adams had a good old fashioned tug at the world’s heartstrings with the smash hit ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”. The song was the theme to the classic motion picture Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and was written to express the way Robin Hood felt about Maid Marian. It also, by an uncanny coincidence, describes exactly how my mother feels about me.
This was never more clear than when I went home to Melbourne for the weekend on a racing junket and thought I would pop by the old family homestead afterwards. I won’t delve too much into a description of said homestead except to say that it is the sort of house which does not so much have rooms as it does narrow pathways cut through piles of old newspapers.
My mother is what you might politely call a collector and has acquired an impressively diverse range of obsolete goods that range from several audio cassette copies of Foster and Allen’s Greatest Hits to a book called 100 Ways to Cook New Zealand Lentils, which is kept conveniently next to the toilet.
Having spent Derby Day living the high life in the James Boag marquee, enjoying responsibly the cool refreshing taste of James Boag, on Sunday I felt it was time to revisit my suburban origins. Many people loudly meditate on television and in newspaper pages on the importance of maintaining one’s humility, but for my money nothing brings one down to earth like an outside toilet.
As it turned out I got more humility than I bargained for when, due to a clumsy encounter with a rogue antibiotic, I somehow managed to burn a hole in my oesophagus. This event became known to me when in the middle of the night I woke up suddenly unable to breathe without at the same time bursting into tears. It is difficult to describe just how painful it was but it roughly compares to someone stabbing you through the middle of your torso with a red hot piece of pipe metal while Penny Wong explains the emissions trading scheme in the background.
After several unsuccessful attempts to sleep on all fours, a variety of different retching sensations told me that I might need to visit the bathroom. So I spent some time rising up and down from my bed, running through the house and out the back door to the far end of the wooden shed where our family commode proudly sat. Having arrived at my destination I quickly realised that even by outhouse standards it was not the sort of facility you wanted to stick your head into and so found myself daintily throwing up from a standing position, while also learning a lot about lentils from New Zealand.
The next morning I was groaning on the couch while my mother ran around the house – or at least walked as fast as she could without causing a structural collapse – fetching any beverages, medicines or ice cream that I judged necessary. At the same time she called every member of the extended family to discuss my plight, seek out home remedies and inform them how tall I was. Nary has a happier woman been seen.
And it was while lying on the couch being doted on by this selfless and tireless person that I realised there was in fact only one person who was really sacrificing themselves in this equation, only one person who was really suffering for the sake of another, only one true softly spoken hero: Perhaps for the first time or perhaps just more than ever, I realised that person was me.
And of course when one thinks of quiet heroism and self-sacrifice, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to Kevin Costner. Having established himself with Dances With Wolves, an Oscar-winning picture exploring untold stories of the Civil War and pioneer-age America, Costner turned to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, another historical film which presented new evidence about the famous English outlaw, including that he wore a proud mullet that was thinning on top and spoke with an American accent.
In the film’s opening scenes we find Kevin imprisoned in the Middle East, having been captured during the Crusades. His less fortunate cellmate has just had his hand amputated by a Saracen and when it comes Kevin’s turn to receive the same punishment he places his hand freely on the chopping block, stares his persecutor in the eyes and utters the immortal words: “This is English courage.”
As it happens “English courage” turns out to be “Tricking your opponent into thinking you’re going to do something and then suddenly double crossing them” because just before the great scimitar comes down Kevin yanks back his hands, allowing the blade to cut him free, and then proceeds to slaughter every guard in the building. For a teenage boy viewing this for the first time it was an incredible feat of skill and derring-do, even if for many academics it was just another example of western imperialism.
As if appearing to pre-empt this, Kevin quickly makes friends with a black man played by Morgan Freeman, who helps him escape – and not, much to the surprise of the audience, via a black Bentley with Miss Daisy in the back. The pair return to England where we find out that Kevin is in fact called Robin. Robin is a landed aristocrat whose nobility has only slightly been compromised by the fact that all his land has been stolen and, by my own calculations, he has been wearing the same clothes for four and a half years.
From here the film follows roughly the standard Robin Hood tale, so I will not trouble the reader with a full synopsis. However it is worth paying special tribute to whichever script consultant came up with the idea for the giant fire arrow and the exploding barrels, who deserves more Oscars than a Sesame Street reunion. One of the great barriers to making films set prior to the Middle Ages – namely that it was difficult to work in plausible plotlines which contained a satisfactory number of explosions – was comprehensively smashed with this movie. And like so many breakthroughs it was remarkably simple: All they had to do was take out the word “plausible”. Countless filmmakers have since taken advantage of this, including Wolfgang Peterson’s remake of Troy in which the Greeks stumble across the atom bomb.
At the climax of the movie Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham are, in an unexpected twist, locked in mortal combat. Yet as the fight escalates it emerges that the sheriff is in fact the better swordsman and comprehensively outmanoeuvres the outlaw. Even so, just as the sheriff is about to land the decisive blow, Robin tricks him by grabbing a knife he had hidden in his boot and stabbing him in the chest, another example of English courage.
So it was that Robin did everything he did for Maid Marian, including killing countless Muslims before he met her and Alan Rickman after he had. It’s that kind of heroism that should be celebrated in the world, I thought to myself returning to Sydney last night. Then I unpacked the six pairs of socks my mother had slipped into my bag and quietly went off to bed.
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