Robin Hood onscreen – differing portrayals

The early tales and ballads describe Robin Hood as being a yeoman. Anthony Munday’s 1598 play ‘The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington’ turned him into nobility. Over the years makers of film and television have approached the material in different ways. Here are some of the most notable versions.

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (Allan Dwan 1922)

The first screen attempt follows Munday’s lead with Robin as Earl of Huntingdon. Douglas Fairbanks bounds around the giant sets built by United Artists with considerable agility and too much jollity. Huntingdon is a Knight personally chosen by King Richard to be his second in command on the Crusade. While abroad Huntingdon hears of Prince John’s villainy and returns to England to become the outlaw Robin Hood.

Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley 1938)

Considered the definitive version, The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of the great swashbucklers and has maintained its popularity by being a regular fixture on television holiday schedules. Robin is again portrayed as the Earl of Huntingdon, this time outlawed for standing up for the common man.

Richard Greene in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-58)

Greene is a solid, likeable hero and The Adventures of Robin Hood still holds up today. Greene reprised his role in the lacklustre Sword of Sherwood (Terence Fisher 1960), a spin-off movieproduced by Hammer Studios.

Brian Bedford in Robin Hood (Wolfgang Reitherman 1973)

Hugely entertaining Disney animation with all the characters re-imagined as animals. It is full of Americanisms; the minstrel Allan A Dale is a laconic Johnny Cash style troubadour, while an American Football match breaks out at one point. Robin’s wily fox is beautifully voiced by Brian Bedford.

Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (Richard Lester 1976)

Revisionist version with Sean Connery as an ageing outlaw returning from the Crusades and attempting to rekindle his glory days. Lester’s Robin is an illiterate peasant disillusioned by twenty years battle in the Holy Land. Elegiac, Robin and Marian is the closest a British film has ever come to the kind of laments Sam Peckinpah was making for the Western in the US.

John Cleese in Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam 1981)

Gilliam’s fantasy sees a boy called Kevin travelling through time with a group of dwarves. They arrive in Sherwood Forest to find a frightfully posh Robin Hood (Cleese) meeting the poor as if they were the guests at a Royal Film Premier. “And what do you do?”

Michael Praed and Jason Connery in Robin of Sherwood (1984-86)

This interesting interpretation introduced elements of mysticism and the supernatural to the legend as well as having two different Robin Hood’s. This allowed the producers to present Robin as being both peasant and nobleman. Robin of Loxley (Praed) is the son of an outlaw killed by the Sheriff years earlier, while his replacement Robert of Huntingdon (Connery) is heir to the Earldom before being outlawed.