The Great Unmade? Nottingham

The tale of Robin Hood is one oft told, many times on film alone, including the recent Ridley Scott / Russell Crowe team up, sold to Crowe as a chance to make a “sequel” of sorts to their previous historic rip-snorter,Gladiator.  Robin Hood sprang from an original “hot” script called Nottingham, yet the two articles bear as much relation to each other as a giraffe does to a zebra. Is Nottingham as great as stories surrounding the troubled birth of Scott’s finished film make out?

Back in 2007, Ridley Scott elaborated on what was the (constantly changing) premise:

“Richard the Lionheart is on his return from the Crusades [when] he took an arrow in his neck and died. His brother, John, becomes king. John, known in his own life as John Lackland (because as the youngest son he didn’t get any inheritance) was actually pretty smart,” Scott insisted. “[But] he got a bad rap because he introduced taxation. So he’s the bad guy in this.”

“Meanwhile, you’ve got the returning Nottingham who is the right hand man of Richard and witnesses Richard taking the arrow. And so he comes back to England to carry forward Richard’s dream about England. The Sheriff, then, strives to do right while caught in the middle of two wrongs – on one side a corrupt and unpopular King who orders him to arrest outlaws, on the other the outlaw himself who threatens to rouse the public in popular anarchy.

“He is caught between the minority of haves and the majority of have nots.”

Nottingham,  (which can be read via this site) by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, opens with a large castle siege, much like Robin Hood. Only this time the English are besieged, in Castle Marcappus, a Byzantine castle in Cyprus, July 1191. An English Nobleman, Sir Robert Tornham (Crowe) carries a large brass pot of water past thirsty, sweating soldiers digging a mine beneath the castle’s defences. Much like the claykickers of WWI, they and the enemy are doing the same thing. The water is to detect by ripple the thump of enemy digging. Sir Robert gives his men a taste before the enemy are detected the other side of the earthen barrier. Snuffing out their candles, they surprise and overcome them, rushing through to surprise the trebuchet crews outside. A fierce battle begins.

– Cut to A celebration back in an English Manorhouse. A young couple break away to make love in the nearby forest (Sherwood). Suddenly, a single arrow pierces both their bodies, pinning them to a tree.

-Back to Cyprus, dawn in the castle. Sir Robert’s forces have won the battle. Over his morning ablutions and game of chess, he is handed good and bad news from his squire, Thomas Leslie, a sardonic 60 year old (a possible Michael Caine role?), who remarks with astonishment that the locals prefer milk to wine over their morning cereal (just one of many historical observational nuggets dotted throughout). Sir Robert is dismayed to learn he has been relieved of his duties as Sheriff of Cyprus, and is now the new Sheriff of Nottingham…

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood in disguise – as he might have appeared as Sir Robert


The first thing that struck me about Nottingham in this script is how it appears to be exactly as it has always been portrayed – a thriving town, with several large buildings, and a castle. Robin Hood’s home turf  resembles a few thatched roofed village huts and a manor house for Marion. Matthew Macfadyen’s Sheriff seems to live in a tree house. Bizarre. Did the money run out after all the script revisions?  Here, Sir Robert meets his aide, the temporary Sheriff, Sir Guy Of Gisbourne, who informs him of the menace of Robin Hood, once Robin of Locksley. He is a Saxon Nobleman turned outlaw, who Gisbourne blames for a rash of killings of Norman nobles, including the two lovers. Tornham then examines the bodies, and asks to see the scene of the crime, tracking the trajectory of the arrows. This was an aspect Ridley Scott dismissed as ridiculous, but reading it it seems quite plausible. Tornham quickly establishes himself as an intelligent man who demands proper records and evidence before he will condemn anyone for a crime.

The sheriff is actually based on a real historical figure – Sir Robert really did govern Cyprus for King Richard, until the Crusader King sold it to the Knights Templar to raise badly needed funds for his campaigns. The buffoonish King Richard is guardedly defended by Sir Robert, who walks a fine line. In this interview with co-writer Ethan Reiff, he states:

“He’s also a bureaucrat and an administrator. He was in charge of the city and had a very difficult job to do. Sort of caught between a rock and a hard place, because Richard gets kidnapped and held for ransom. The taxes have to go up, but people are already poor from the taxes for the war. And at the same time, Prince John is making his own efforts to make sure his brother never comes back from being held hostage. John builds up more support and political power inside England. And Tornham is Richard’s guy but John is trying to get him on his side of this political feud verging on civil war.”

Sir Robert gets captured by Robin Hood at one point, and their scenes together reveal a decent, frustrated man of reason butting heads with a wilful rogue, happy to take the people’s adulation but not really having a strong cause to fight for yet. An interesting casting choice the writers had in mind for Robin was Colin Farrell – that certainly would have added another lively level to the accent debate! There is also a love triangle between the men and Marion, a strong, determined noble woman who helps mend broken minds and bodies in Nottingham’s “hospital”.

robin hood 3

Things come to a head when Richard returns to England and discovers his brother John’s treachery, and he lays siege to Nottingham. Meanwhile Sir Robert uncovers the real murderer, and he and Robin unite to aid Richard in taking Nottingham castle and usurping Prince John. But Sir Robert becomes the figure history forgets after a gripping personal duel within the larger fight, while Richard, in a case of spin, bestows the glory on the romantic figure of “brave Sir Robin”. Sir Robert even fails to win the hand of Marion.  Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard and John’s mother (who also plays a major role in Robin Hood) tells him:

“People need heroes, Sir Robert. Men like yourself, steeped in law and arithmetic, help a kingdom to function properly but the kingdom itself  would not exist without men like my Richard – and your Robin of Locksley. They are the sort who will make men proud to be English – the way Charlemagne and Roland made them proud to be French.”  

Sir Robert surmises the list of the killers victims were supporters of Richard, eliminated on John’s orders by Gisbourne, an embittered veteran of the campaigns. But now none will be allowed to know the truth. He cannot even retain his post. Offered a role in Richard’s army, he ponders his future as he bids goodbye to Robin and Marion in Sherwood forest. To return once more…?

Nottingham is a cracking story, with action, romance, humour and intrigue, and a clever, conflicted hero in a difficult position. Ethan Reiff said, “Thinking about it, I guess our script was about spin. About the idea that our hero was pretty much a straight hook, pretty intelligent, knowledgeable, sophisticated guy but he was a straight-forward, straight-shooting, public servant. And what happened all around him, basically, the guy who was … not a supervillain … but not a hero in any way, shape or form — who was the Robin Hood in our story — because of the powers-that-be got turned into this huge, heroic figure in order to serve the ends of the powerful.”

Ethan Reiff and his partner Cyrus Voris were of course paid (or paid off) for their script and retain a writing credit on Robin Hood, but very little of their ideas remain in that film. The story of the changes to the script can be found here and here. 

Originally posted 2013-01-24 17:13:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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