Saturday, March 24, 2007

Script Review: Nottingham

Courtesy of Simon - who may well end up being quite a regular contributor to film ick - here is a script review for Nottingham, the Robin Hood project with Russell Crowe attached. Enjoy.

The character of Robin Hood has been around for hundreds of years, and because of that pretty much every story that can be told about him has been. He’s appeared as a vibrant, technicoloured Errol Flynn, as a talking Disney fox, and as Kevin Costner, in a film that was used as a vehicle to sell a Bryan Adams song.

Sooner or later, Hollywood was bound to take another crack at England’s favourite outlaw, and Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, the writers behind TV drama Sleeper Cell have done just that. Their spec script, titled Nottingham, is Robin Hood reversed - setting up the Sheriff as the hero and Robin Hood as the antagonist. Russell Crowe will pocket $20 million to play the Sheriff and Ridley Scott, Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer and Jon Turteltaub have all been linked with the directors’ chair. Rumours are that the project will lens in New Zealand later this year.

The general thinking behind this new interpretation of Robin Hood is that perhaps the Sheriff of Nottingham wasn’t such a bad guy after all, instead he has been distorted into a villain as the Robin Hood yarn has been passed down from generation to generation. The script for Nottingham bears the tagline “There are two sides to every legend…”, and, in Nottingham, Reiff and Voris decide to give the Sheriff’s testimony.

The writers obviously have a keen eye for history with events and characters thrown into a loose historical timeline, something that’s quite refreshing to see in what is essentially a period popcorn film. King Richard’s capturing of Cyprus is used to set up the Sheriff’s background, we get a small but substantial role for Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a huge battle at Nottingham Castle, which is based on a real event, plays a part in the third act.

The story begins in late 12th century Cyprus with Sir Robert Tornham battling in the Crusades. He’s a good soldier, a leader, and his reward from King Richard is to be appointed the Sheriff of Cyprus. Tornham’s stay is short-lived, however, when a letter from Richard notifies him he’s to be the new Sheriff of Nottingham. Tornham and his Squire, Thomas (a role seemingly written for Michael Caine) pack up and head to England.

In Richard’s absence, England is ruled by Prince John and the city of Nottingham, second only to London in size, is in crisis. There’s a Norman/Saxon divide, a mysterious hooded outlaw causing trouble and a recent gruesome murder involving a pair of young Nobles. Sir Guy of Gisbourne suspects Robin Hood (formerly Sir Robin of Locksley, a Nobleman who was outlawed for defending a man accused of killing one of the King’s deer) is behind the murders and the new Sheriff begins the manhunt.

Tornham meets Marian, Robin’s fiancĂ©, and is immediately smitten. The pair become close, Marian is a fine archer and attempts to coach the slow-to-learn Sheriff, but both know that their relationship has no future. Marian is devoted to Robin and they will wed once his title is restored by King Richard, and the Sheriff ultimately wants to track down Robin and bring him to justice.

Nottingham is certainly an in interesting script but it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. The first act is all set-up and lengthy exposition – what we get is a lot of scenes introducing us to familiar characters… and a medieval police procedural TV show with Tornham trying to figure out entry/exit arrow wounds and such other things that are more David Caruso’s field.

That said, things pick up once Robin Hood appears at around the 40 page mark. As Tornham rides in Sherwood Forest he becomes lost and is ambushed by Robin and his Merry Men - there is no Will Scarlet, by the way, or Friar Tuck (though his name is mentioned), and Little John gets a fleeting cameo. Despite being less than white Robin’s character is far from a traditional villain – he is charismatic and confident, a Robin in the Errol Flynn mould.

One of the problems with this story is that by making Tornham the “anti-Rickman” you take away much of what makes the character great. He is far more watchable when he’s cancelling Christmas and being an evil bastard… this Sheriff is somewhat dull. Robin Hood is a great myth because you have the romantic notion of the outsider fighting the corrupt system. In Nottingham that is true of both Robin and the Sheriff. However Robin lives in exile in Sherwood Forest and the Sheriff is in Nottingham Castle trying to make things better by being a part of the system. Who really wants to side with a guy who is part of the status quo?

Nottingham isn’t a bad script but it feels like a missed opportunity. Reiff and Voris wanted to re-invent something familiar and I applaud them for doing so, but they seem to be holding back, not quite going the whole nine yards for fear it they might go too far. If they made Robin Hood the real bad guy and the Sheriff the hero then maybe it would’ve worked better – at least for me, anyway. It’s clichĂ©d, of course, but the real world isn’t black and white but shades of grey. That’s the colour used to paint this Robin Hood tale and unfortunately it just isn’t as exciting as a good old-fashioned battle of good vs. evil.

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