the ‘Robin Hood’ that almost wasn’t…

We should have been so lucky.

The U.K. box numbers are out, and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood fared much better on its nominal home ground (for all the Brit involvement, it’s still an American-funded production keyed to a Hollywood mindset). It earned £5.8 million this past weekend, the third best opening weekend for a film in 2010, after Alice in Wonderland (£10.6 million) and Iron Man 2 (£7.7 million)… though Alice’s second weekend was bigger (£7.3 million), and so was Avatar’s third weekend, the first weekend of the year (£5.9 million).

Still, it’s a good showing for the film, which — from the sound of a new piece at New York mag’s blog Vulture, by Claude Brodesser-Akner — seemed like it might not happen at all:

It began with an original spec script called Nottingham, written by Sleeper Cell creators Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reif, the latter of whom had studied medieval history in college. It was, technically, a lighthearted Robin Hood movie, but with a clever twist: What if the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham had actually been a good guy, a dedicated public servant who’d just suffered from bad PR? What if Robin Hood was really kind of a jerk? What if they both had a thing for Marian? And what if the whole story were told from the perspective of this intriguing Sheriff?

I knew it! I knew I had heard that that was the gist of the film, and at first I thought it was based on the excellent 1993 novel by Richard Kluger, The Sheriff of Nottingham. (It is sadly out of print, but used copies are available [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.S.], and I recommend it.)

But wait: the saga of Ridley and Russell and their Robin Hood movie gets better. That spec bounced around for a while until it caught the eye of Crowe’s agent:

By the next Monday, Crowe had read the Nottingham script and attached himself as the Sheriff. With him in place and several hot directors circling, studio executives who’d already passed were suddenly saying they wanted to read Nottingham again. A bidding war erupted: New Line Cinema made an offer, and so did Warner Bros. But Crowe had just made the hit American Gangster at Universal with Imagine, and wanted to make another film with producer Brian Grazer, so Universal agree to pay a whopping $1 million dollars to acquire the script, and another half-million if it got made. In April, Scott, who’d directed Crowe in the Best Picture–winning Gladiator, as well as A Good Year and American Gangster, came aboard to direct. Crowe, on a conference call with Imagine, Universal, and his agents, was told that Scott’s involvement would give him a chance to make a sequel to Gladiator — without having to make an actual sequel to Gladiator. At this, Crowe knew he was definitely in.

So, take that, everyone who’s decried the notion that Robin Hood was supposed to be a follow-on from Gladiator, that that was merely the impression a (supposedly) bad marketing campaign ladened the film with. It was the idea from the beginning.

It gets better:

Crowe was eager to make the movie, but neither he nor Scott liked the Nottingham script’s unconventional focus on the Sheriff … which sounds a bit like saying, “I love this Crying Game, but can’t the lady just be a lady?” And so the director turned to screenwriter Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, 8 Mile) to morph Nottingham into a more traditional Robin Hood tale. (Interviewed in the Sunday Times of London in April of this year, Scott told a reporter that the original premise was “fucking ridiculous” and that “you’d end up spending 80% of the publicity budget explaining why it was Nottingham and not just Robin Hood.”) Hired in the spring of 2008, Helgeland rewrote the script to tell the tale of Robin assuming the identity of the Sheriff of Nottingham after seeing him slain in battle. Hey, he’s the medieval Don Draper!

And there it is: How Hollywood takes great ideas and squashes the hell out of them, irons out everything that makes those ideas different until they are rendered bland and safe and obvious. No one will cop to doing this, however. The Vulture piece ends with this tidbit:

Ed. Note: This story was assembled by speaking to multiple sources close to all stages of the development process and who would only comment with the promise of anonymity.

As for awesome Sheriff-ness, I remind you of Alan Rickman:

Makes me want to watch Prince of Thieves again. Which at least had no great pretensions, and did have some good laughs. “With a spoon”… It still gets me.

Best Sheriff ever? Richard Armitage in the otherwise awful BBC Robin Hood:

Oh, wait: he wasn’t the Sheriff, was he?

That’s just wrong.

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Wed, May 19, 2010 7:56pm

Mmmmmm. Men in leather!


Wed, May 19, 2010 8:56pm

Aw, damn. I’d pay cash money to see the movie of the original concept. Alan Rickman primed us to have a soft spot for the sheriff. Maybe there’s a stage musical in it a la Dr. Who. It could be “Sheriff, Live!” But only if Russell Crowe was in it.

Wed, May 19, 2010 9:01pm

LaSargenta, don’t you mean “MANLY MEN in LEATHER, running through MUD and WATER in SLO MO going “ARRGHH!”? :-)

Wed, May 19, 2010 9:03pm

Dokeo, not necessarily. I do ask, though, that they have body hair and a foreskin. But, men wearing leather is always nice.

Thu, May 20, 2010 12:00am

Richard Armitage has a new show, called Strike Back. I’ve seen the first episode so far, and it’s actually really good. The British don’t usually do army/war stuff very good, but this one has a good feel to it. Plus he’s all tortured and stuff.

Check it out, MaryAnn! It isn’t hard to find if you know where to look. :)

Thu, May 20, 2010 12:03am

Sorry: emotionally tortured. Haven’t seen any actual torture yet, but there’s 5 more episodes to go!

Thu, May 20, 2010 9:31am

There was a time when Ridley Scott wasn’t so worried about the marketing team being able to explain his movies. I guess he’s playing it safe in his old age.