Robin and Marian (1976)

November 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

Sean Connery would play James Bond for the final time in Never Say Never Again (1983), the only Bond film to recognize the character ages after his absence in the role for around twelve years. It isn’t among the better Bond films, though it’s hard to avoid being charmed by Connery and his somewhat more wistful performance. And given the nature of the film, it’s ultimately required that his last bow has him do all the things a much younger man could do. It’s a Bond film with a twist, but still a Bond film.

Connery had already featured in a much more potent meditation on change, ageing, and to some extent redundancy and inflexibility in Robin and Marian. Away on the crusades twenty years, Robin returns to find the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) is still around, and Marion (Audrey Hepburn) has entered a small convent. Critic Roger Ebert is absolutely right that Connery and Hepburn work well together here, and seem to be in complete agreement about the nature of the film. In fact, between them they make the film, though they have great support from Shaw as the Sheriff and Nicol Williamson as Little John. Connery and Hepburn are utterly believable as two people who were once in love, and Connery and Williamson are just as believable as two close friends that would die for each other.

With all due respect to a great critic, I disagree with Ebert when he suggests the humour is misplaced — I think the humour and touches of warmth help the viewer feel these characters are human, which heightens the drama. It also lightens an otherwise bleak film about people ageing and ultimately failing to change the world around them. The film suggests you can defeat the Sheriff, but he’ll be back. And if he isn’t, there are always others that are only too happy to hoard all the wealth and power. “I know your type,” Robin says to one of the more powerful lackeys he faces. Greed also takes various forms and is excused in various ways, as Robin explains in a powerful speech about religious fanaticism and the horror of the crusades.

It’s a film that gets mixed reviews, because some would prefer not to see these characters stripped of all their magic, as Leonard Maltin complains in his movie guide. But that’s about viewer expectations, not about this film. Certainly, those expecting a swashbuckling affair won’t enjoy watching an old warrior refuse to change, refuse to live happily and go quietly, and drag various others with him. And just to make it the polar opposite of earlier films, it’s all to no avail. As King John, Ian Holm gets exactly one scene that makes it clear the return of Robin is really just something of a nuisance, and changes nothing. But for those who approach the film the right way, it’s quite sad, beautiful and touching. And we can always cheer ourselves up by going back and watching Errol Flynn, right?

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