Accepting Judi Dench as Ian Fleming’s ‘M’ was a big ask at first, but it worked in the end. Likewise, Jamie Foxx as a black Muslim John (the ‘Little’ is dispensed with) in this latest Robin Hood caper is initially jarring. But you quickly get used to it, as you do with Eve Hewson’s less than maidenly Marian. In any case, a narrator tells us at the outset that this version of the fable will be like no other with which we are familiar, and he is dead right about that. Director Otto Bathurst, who has taken more than just a casual leaf out of the Guy Ritchie book of slam-dunk filmmaking, strays not too far from historical context while mixing sets, props and costumes (the Sheriff of Nottingham is dressed like a character from Doctor Who) in a visual extravaganza. More importantly, the narrative holds together perfectly as the boyish, cocky Robin (Taron Egerton) is presented as a revolutionary in the mould of Che Guevara, and John his mentor. Ben Mendelsohn is superb as the villainous Sheriff with a traumatised childhood (he owns the movie) and the surprise packet is Tim Minchin as a diffident but canny Friar Tuck. Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan), who has been having it off with Marian because it is believed that Robin was killed in the Third Crusade, is seen as a sort of union rep with questionable motives, but there is no reference at all to King John – it is as though Nottingham, not London, is where power resides in England. The action is set against a sociopolitical backdrop of exploited workers and villagers being heavily taxed to support the war against the Saracens in the Holy Land (sound familiar?), while the corrupt and bloated Church of Rome emerges as the monster that casts the darkest shadow. Most pundits have hurled the rounds of the kitchen at this film, but despite the heavy-handed and often intrusive musical score, I thought it fab and can’t wait for the promised sequel.
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