“The Middle Ages – sanitized, for your protection.”
Back before Pirates of the Caribbean made Knightley a household name, and even before Bend It Like Beckham made her an obscure name, as a fifteen-year old she shot this Disney TVM, which rewrites history wholesale from the very start. It begins in 1184, claiming this is the reign of Richard the Lionheart – this must come as a surprise to Henry II, since he didn’t die until 1189. It also introduces Philip, Richard’s supposed illegitimate son, out to replace the evil King John; in reality, Philip may not have existed and certainly left no mark on history. However, the film needs a romantic lead, so there you go. Of course, the whole Robin Hood mythology is more a block of clay, that writers and film-makers have seen fit to mould as they wish.
Here, when Robin is arrested trying to link up with Philip (Moyer), it’s his daughter, Gwyn (Knightley), who puts together her own band of merry men, with the aim of both rescuing her father and putting Philip in his rightful place on the throne. Archery contests and the Sheriff of Nottingham (McDowell) ensue, until Philip, under an assumed name, joins her posse, and the inevitable romantic attraction begins. This is much to the chagrin of Froderick (Synnott), Gwyn’s longtime companion from when she grew up in a monastery [her dad being off crusading with Dick]. However, since he has a crap haircut, it’s clear Frodork doesn’t have a chance with the perfectly-complexioned Gywn and her immaculate teeth.
It is largely bland, unthreatening and unsatisfying, yet not entirely unwatchable. Knightley – only 15 when she made it – clearly has star potential, and her archery experience must have come in handy for her later role in King Arthur. Early on, there is an almost Mulan-like feel, with Gwyn defying her father and dressing as a boy. However, the more the film proceeds, the more she is shuffled off to the side in favor of Philip, who is much less interesting a character, especially from this site’s point of view. McDowell is as reliably evil as ever, while Jonathan Hyde does his best Alan Rickman impression as King John, yet, inevitably, comes off as a poor imitation. If this isn’t worth paying money for, as a Saturday afternoon diversion on TV, it’s tolerable.
Dir: Peter Hewitt
Star: Keira Knightley, Stephen Moyer, Malcolm McDowell, Del Synnott