Robin Hood - PRINCE OF THIEVES
Total Film|September 2021
Buff looks back at how one American Kevin teamed up with another to give Nottingham’s legendary outlaw a new lease of life in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. But it wasn’t all plain sailing: production problems, casting issues and on-set difficulties proving almost as dastardly as the scene-stealing Sheriff…
NEIL SMITH
Valentine’s Day, 1990. James G. Robinson and his team at Morgan Creek Productions have a matter of hours to snap up one of the hottest scripts in Hollywood – a bold take on the Robin Hood story by British co-writers Pen Densham and John Watson the former has summed up as “Robin Hood, à la Raiders.” “We thought it was commercial, distinctive and great fun,” recalls company president David Nicksay, who exhorted Robinson, Morgan Creek’s founder and owner, to make the deal. By 10pm that evening, the deal was done. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves was theirs – for a princely sum of $1.2m.

The urgency was understandable. Densham and Watson’s script was one of five Robin Hood treatments then doing the rounds, with both 20th Century Fox and Tri-Star Pictures eager to get their own versions of the legend into production. All the competing Robins had one man in mind to play Nottingham’s iconic outlaw: 35-year-old Kevin Costner, riding high off the back of such box-office hits as The Untouchables and Field Of Dreams. Morgan Creek’s pitch to the star had an extra bonus, though – the chance to collaborate with director Kevin Reynolds, a close friend who had given him an early break in 1985 comedy Fandango and who had recently helped him out by taking some second unit off his hands on his upcoming passion project, Dances With Wolves.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought one of the reasons they wanted me was because of my relationship with Kevin,” said Reynolds at the time. “Kevin wasn’t signed when I came on board, so perhaps our past relationship made the choice easier.” With only a few movies to his name (tank drama The Beast, a co-writing credit on Red Dawn), the chance to helm a $50m Warner Bros actioner was not one he could pass up. Robin Hood, though, came with strings attached: a mere 10 weeks of pre-production, a punishing 13-week shooting schedule and a pre-Christmas wrap date, vital if the movie were to have any chance of beating Fox’s Robin Hood into cinemas. Tri-Star’s spin had fallen by the wayside, but John Irvin’s film – now with Patrick Bergin as Robin in place of a previously mooted Mel Gibson – was very much a go and gearing up for its own autumn shoot in England.

“To be honest, I was never a giant Robin Hood fan,” Reynolds would later admit to reporters. “But I liked the story and time period, and I thought it would be intriguing to do a medieval action picture.” If the Texan director had any illusions he was in for an easy ride, however, they were immediately dispelled by Costner’s first day of shooting – an attempt to capture Robin’s first steps on English soil after his return from the Crusades that was later deemed unusable. “By the end of the day, Kevin was so cold and tired that he couldn’t lift himself,” recalled Morgan Freeman, along for the ride as Robin’s Moorish buddy Azeem. “It was the first day and I said, ‘Oh my God, is this what we’re in for?’” (Costner himself took control of the much-needed reshoot two months later.)

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