I’m pretty sure I was British in a former life. Nothing fascinates me more than British history. I love British people. If I go nowhere else before I die, I will go to England. My obsession is a blessing and a curse.
In 1998, Cate Blanchett starred in the movie Elizabeth, about Queen Elizabeth I. I can’t tell you if it was a good movie, as far as acting, sets, story, all the “important” stuff. I can’t tell you because it was so historically inaccurate that it just managed to make me very angry. For example, in the movie, Mary, Queen of Scots, died in her own bedroom, murdered by a spy planted to act as her lover and gain her trust. In fact, Elizabeth imprisoned Mary for several years and then executed her.
My boyfriend at the time hated that I was angry about the lousy history in the movie. He said it wasn’t the job of filmmakers to educate. And he’s correct. But if you’re going to make a movie about actual historical people and events, shouldn’t you at least attempt to come close to the truth? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I feel strongly about it.
Fast forward twelve years to 2010. Once again, we find Ms. Blanchett starring in a period piece about my favorite country. This time, she’s Marion Loxley in the latest incarnation of Robin Hood.
I tried last week to talk Chris into seeing MacGruber solely because The Love of My Life Val Kilmer is in it. Chris would have gone if I’d pushed the issue, but the reviews were tending towards the “don’t bother” side and being a movie based on a recent Saturday Night Live skit, I decided the bad reviews were likely correct and decided not to put Chris through the torture of bad comedy solely for a Val fix. So we went to see Robin Hood instead.
I’d heard mixed reviews about that one, but it was Robin Hood, so how bad could it be? I won’t go too much into a
review here. If you’ve seen the previews, you can pretty much tell what you’re getting. It’s a period action film based on the legend of Robin Hood. I enjoyed it. I finally even get the appeal of Russell Crowe (although, I think it’s the characters he plays more than it is Russell Crowe himself that attracts adoring women).
What I found really, really awesome about seeing this movie, though, was that watching it made me realize (once again) how much I know about the history of England. Several months ago, I read Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by biographer Alison Weir. The King John in the Robin Hood legend was Eleanor’s youngest son and the last of her children to be crowned King of England after the death of Richard the Lionheart.
So, while the movie is based on the life of a fictional character, it also included Richard, John and Eleanor (and John’s wives), along with King Philip Augustus II of France, who was constantly at war with England during the 12th and 13th centuries. The movie is set with the politics of the old and new British kings against the French following the Third Crusade.
The movie got a lot wrong — either by design or ignorance, who knows? — but I still enjoyed it. I think having so recently read the book helped me enjoy the movie in a way many people didn’t simply because I could put it all into context. I knew from the incredibly well-researched and fabulously written biography the characters of the people portrayed. You see, Eleanor had four sons with Henry II who eventually became kings. Each one was worse than the last. Watching them play out their arrogance and ignorance on screen was like watching the book come to life, even if the details were wrong.
I think what makes me less annoyed with Robin Hood than Elizabeth is that the screenwriters of Robin Hood had to make up a story with a fictional character at its center, while Elizabeth was about a real person and real events in her life. There should be a higher standard there.
At least, however, the new Robin Hood was far more historically accurate than the Kevin Costner version of 1991 (which, by the way, I loved, if only for the Bryan Adams song). You see, Richard never returned from France. He died of an arrow to the arm that became gangrene and then blood poisoning. In the new Robin Hood, it was an arrow to the neck that killed him instantly. I suppose that makes sense. A long, drawn-out death wouldn’t have been much fun to watch before getting to the movie’s point. 🙂
In the end, I just adore the romanticism of it all.