Bill Thomas’s The Adventures of Maid Marian
Reviewed by Kevin J. Harty
La Salle University
Poor Maid Marian and her sisters! When left to their own devices, neither film nor television generally knows what to do with them. The one exception has been the Tony Robinson BBC children’s comedy series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (1989-1994). The series reduced Robin Hood to an over-the-top foppish former tailor whose contribution to Sherwood lore is to coordinate the Lincoln green colors of the outfits for the Merry Men with those of the forest, so that the outlaws can more easily blend into the scenery. In the admittedly zany series, the real brains behind the Sherwood outlaws are Marian’s. The Marian character in Cybil Richards’s 2000 mildly pornographic film Virgins of Sherwood Forest is a twentieth-century film director who is knocked on the head and wakes up à la Twain in twelfth-century England. She gets no respect in either century, but she does at least get the best line in the film. Exiting Sherwood after a tryst with one of the merrier of the Merry Men, she deadpans, “So, why do they call you little, John?” Keira Knightley tried her hand at being Robin Hood’s decidedly independent daughter only to resort to gendered stereotype and don a wedding dress at the end of the 2001 Disney made-for-television film Princess of Thieves. In the BBC series Robin Hood (2006-2009), Lucy Griffiths’ Maid Marian, disguised as the Night Watchman, outdid the eponymous hero with her nocturnal exploits against the Sherriff—at least until she was killed off early in the series. One yearns for the solid, dependable Marians of old—Enid Bennett, Olivia de Havilland, and Audrey Hepburn—who stood by their men careful not to upstage them, at least not too often. The latest film Marian, Sophie-Louise Craig, in Bill Thomas’s direct-to-streaming 2022 The Adventures of Maid Marian could use some help blending into the scenery.
The film opens with a series of title cards telling us exactly where we are in this version of the oft-told tale of Robin Hood. Three years ago, Prince John, serving as King Regent, had levelled crippling taxes on the people in the absence of his brother, King Richard the Lionheart. In the North, however, Robin Hood and Marian Fitzwater stood against John, exposing in the process the corruption of the Sheriff of Nottingham, William de Wendenal. King Richard rewarded Robin and Marian for their bravery,
Sophie-Louise Craig as the title character in The Adventures of Maid Marian
commanding that Robin join him to fight in the Crusades to liberate Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land, and sending de Wendenal into exile. Absent Robin, Marian and Sherwood are left unprotected, but anyone with a conscience cannot sit idly by and do nothing. Marian hides out in Kirklees Priory disguised as a novice, Sister Matilda. Marian, however, makes a poor novice (“How do you solve a problem like Matilda?”), not least because she receives regular love letters from Robin and sneaks about at night disguised as Robin to help the poor. The poor, by the way, are scarcely to be seen in the film—which is probably a good thing. No one in the film seems to have any time to rob from the rich, so there is nothing to give to the poor.
Three years pass, and the Crusade ends. Robin is back home, but, alas, Richard is dead in France, and de Wendenal is also back in England seeking revenge on Robin and the restoration of his title and lands. As he clumsily attempts to do carry out his revenge, de Wendenal is aided in no small part by the Prioress of Kirklees, Sister Elizabeth, his cousin no less, who is intent upon punishing Robin for sullying her family name. Equally corrupt, is Abbot Eustace, who is being blackmailed to aid de Wendenal, lest his past unsavory deeds be made public. Other minions of de Wendenal include a sniveling Guy of Guisborne [sic] and the double-crossing Warden of Sherwood, who at the end of the film is named new Sheriff of Nottingham by Prince, now King, John.
Bill Thomas likes to advance the action of his film by inserting endless overhead shots of Sherwood—his cameraman is like a kid with a new toy drone—and by repeating scenes. Thus, Marian is attacked and tied up twice. Marian must twice run up the incredibly steep hill that the Priory rests on. There are, at one point, two Sheriffs of Nottingham, the exiled de Wendenal and Baron William de Lech, who is assassinated by a second woman archer disguised as Robin Hood. Robin himself is twice shot in the back, once with an arrow loosed from a crossbow and once with a spear launched from a ballista. Guisborne produces several ballistae on a moment’s notice to attack a wooden shack in which Robin and Marian are unsuccessfully trying to hide, and somehow Robin manages to survive both wounds.
The ballistae are not the only weapons in de Wendenal’s armory. Each of his men is armed with a Morgenstern, and they all wear helmets modeled after that found in the Sutton Ho treasure trove. Marian is, though, a match for any man she meets whether she is armed with long bow, crossbow, axe, staff, or sword. She even sheds her outfit of Lincoln green for a full suit of chain mail, eventually
Dominic Andersen as a decidedly second-fiddle Robin Hood in
The Adventures of Maid Marian
killing de Wendenal in a duel. The twice-wounded Robin barely gets to fight at all. Indeed, in the film, his initial interest lies in leaving England almost as soon as he arrives back home to become a pig farmer in France where Richard has deeded him some land.
There is much talk in the film of the famed deeds of Robin Hood and his Merry Men—only Little John and Friar Tuck appear briefly in the film—but there is little in Dominic Andersen’s portrayal of Robin to suggest he is really a match for the legend that has grown up around the Wolfshead, as Robin is repeatedly referred to in the film. Indeed, Andersen seems to have arrived back in England from boyband practice rather than from France, and he looks ten, if not fifteen, years younger than Marian, who is always rescuing him from danger. Not that she gets much respect for doing so. When Tuck attempts to come to Marian’s aid, he is admonished not to do so by Abbot Eustache who quotes 1 Timothy 2:12 to justify their abandoning Marian: “Do not permit a woman to exercise authority over a man.”
The Adventures of Maid Marian is mercifully short, and does nothing to burnish Marian’s screen reputation, instead reducing her to a twelfth-century cougar in hot pursuit of a much younger, pouty-lipped boyfriend. Marian may be plucky, but to no real end. Bill Thomas does have the temerity to end his film on a note that suggests there will be one or more sequels. Such a note was struck both by Guy Ritchie at the of his 2017 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and by Otto Bathurst at the end of his 2018 Robin Hood. So far, we have been spared the sequel or the franchise for either. I suspect the same will be true for poor Marian in The Adventures of Maid Marian.
The Adventures of Maid Marian, directed by Bill Thomas, Signature Entertainment and Picture Perfect Productions, with Sophie-Louise Craig as Marian, Dominic Andersen as Robin Hood, James Groom as King John, Bob Cryer as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Jon Lee Pellet as Little John, Harry Harrold as Friar Tuck, Adam Benwell as Guy of Guisborne, Jennifer Matter as Prioress Elizabeth, Roland Stone as Abbott Eustace, Gerard Cooke as the Warden of Sherwood, Danny Husbands as William de Lech, Kitty Dobson as the Second Woman Disguised as Robin Hood, and Robin Gould as King Richard the Lionheart (whose actual onscreen appearance seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor). Running time: 1:22. Released straight to digital platforms on 6 May 2022 in the US and on 9 May 2022 in the UK.