ROBIN HOOD: THE REBELLION
Directed by: Nicholas Winter
Starring: Ben Freeman, Marie Everett, Martyn Ford, James Oliver Wheatley, Brian Blessed, Kristian Nairn, James G. Nunn, James Groom, Jamie Kenna
After Robin and his good friend Will Scarlett return to England from the Crusades, they find Nottingham being ruled by a tyrannical Sheriff. With the help of his love, Maid Marian, Robin leads a gang of rebellious outlaws hiding in Sherwood Forest and attacking the Sheriff's men. It becomes a war of attrition, with the outlaws outnumbered and forced into more desperate measures. When Marian and Much are captured and taken to Nottingham Castle, Robin leads a daring rescue plan, entering the Sheriff's own lair…
There is a serious omission in Robin Hood: The Rebellion, which I shall come on to later in the review, but for the most part, writer/director Nicholas Winter has put together a pretty decent DTV effort of a Robin Hood movie.
The first part of the film doesn't look particularly great, shot in a forest in Wales and looks for all the world like they plonked the camera down just about anywhere and started filming a scene. I'm pretty sure they didn't do that, but that's how it comes across on screen. It also becomes very clear that Kristian Nairn (Hordor from Game of Thrones) is only there to splice a second's worth of familiar face into the trailer.
However, things do improve a lot with the change of setting, moving the action to Nottingham Castle where Marian and Much are being held captive. Utilising different locations within the castle allow for a lot more dynamic storytelling. There's a lot more interaction, developing the characters more (especially the Sheriff and Marian, who share a great dialogue scene in the dungeon).
At first I was a bit annoyed with the constant bickering between the protagonists as I felt it was obstructing the flow of the story - but then I looked at it in context with the story and I got into it more. At this stage of the Robin Hood narrative, Robin and his men are losing - not only rebels but also the support of the people who've been brutalised too long to hope for a better outcome. It's gone past the Empire Strikes Back part and into The Last Jedi. All that's left for Robin at this stage is a last-ditch, near suicidal attempt at a victory. Its gotten to the point where he's putting Little John's children in direct danger - no wonder everyone is questioning his every move!
One aspect of Winter's script that I found refreshing, and ties in nicely with my last point, is that we get to see Robin's rebellion from a different perspective - two scullery maids working in the castle. One is still quite idealistic and wants to help Robin and his men. The other, however, sees Robin and his men as the outlaws and thugs they've been portrayed to be by the Sheriff - and really, none of their actions inside the castle are going to change her opinion at all!
Ben Freeman does well as Robin, giving the character a mix of swagger, self doubt and righteous anger. There are times where his plan is just to hope for the best and be lucky, and sometimes it works - other times not so much. He's constantly having to win over his companions to keep them going. James Oliver Wheatley has good form as the Sheriff, switching between hamming it up when he's at his most dastardly but then able to carry off more grounded villainy when in conversation with Marian, who he sees as his key to complete dominance of his realm. James Groom on the other hand only has one setting, and its high on panto-villainy. Hats off to him for doing a lengthy sequence where he has to stride around both the forest and the castle completely nude, however. By the time he turns up, I'd totally forgotten that Brian Blessed was meant to be in this, so it was a nice surprise to suddenly hear his very identifiable voice ringing out. Brian plays Friar Tuck in a decent sized cameo late in the film. The best bit of stunt casting though was the larger-than-life Martyn Ford (FINAL SCORE), who's always a welcome sight whenever he turns up in a film.
So, I quite like the script, the production values are solid (especially inside the castle) and the acting is pretty decent. However there is one key element sorely lacking in this film and that is attention to the action.
The fact that there is plenty of action in the film just makes this even worse. There are sword-fights aplenty but, bar from a couple of key moments, they all look like they belong in a school stage production and not in a motion picture. Actually, that's a bit too glib and harsh: they actually look like they're being handled by a group of actors who've never been in a swordfight before. Looking at the film's IMDB credits shows why - there was only one stunt coordinator on the production and (seemingly) no stunt team to work the fight scenes. This is truly a shame and its likely to obstruct audience's enjoyment of the film.
GODS AND WARRIORS showed how some decent, well shot and choreographed action scenes can lift the entertainment value of a low-budget film. Robin Hood: The Rebellion gets just about every other element correct - familiar characters, good setting, interesting take on a well-worn legend - but sorely misses the mark when it comes to its action scenes. Viewers expecting anything in the ballpark of the impending cinema-released Robin Hood will be sorely disappointed. Anyone who can take it for what it is and have a little bit of patience will be rewarded.
6 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)