New version of Robin Hood is a social and political commentary on the present day

NEW YORK – With its story of robbing the rich to give to the poor, Robin Hood has always been one of the more Marxist fairy tales out there – and a new version starring Taron Egerton as Robin and Jamie Foxx as Little John continues in that vein.

But while British director Otto Bathurst is happy to talk about his film’s socio-political commentary on the present day, its leading men think you should maybe not dwell on that too much and enjoy it more as an action-packed romp.

The trio sat down with The Straits Times at a recent press day in New York.

Egerton, the 29-year-old British star of the Kingsman spy comedies (2014 and 2017), is the latest in a long line of actors to play Robin Hood.

The film, which opens in Singapore on Nov 29, revives the version of the legend where a nobleman named Robin of Loxley leaves England to fight in the Crusades. He returns to find his lands seized by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, who is also making life hell for the poor with his extortionate taxes.

Here, Robin’s sidekick Little John – played by Foxx – is a Moorish soldier Robin encounters during the Crusades. John ends up following him back to England and helping him and the love of his life, Marian (Eve Hewson), lead a revolution against the sheriff. They also steal the latter’s ill-gotten tax money to redistribute to the poor.

For Bathurst, best known for the BBC period drama Peaky Blinders (2013 to present), those core elements of the story made it worth retelling.

“For me, it’s, like, ‘Why bother telling another Robin Hood story?’ So we wanted to make a version that felt very relevant to what’s going on now. Now, the film’s a lot of fun and a big, entertaining blockbuster action movie, but at the same time, it’s also got some interesting parallels to and reflections on what’s going on in the 21st century.

It was a very conscious choice to make the film that way.

“There was no point just making the classic British fairy tale – the nice little quaint story that happened 600 years ago that doesn’t really have any kind of resonance with a modern audience,” Bathurst says.

“We wanted to make a Robin Hood that felt relatable to a modern audience. Now more than ever, we have political leaders that are abusing their power, we have religions that are oppressing people, we have social inequalities and injustices all over society, armies fighting unjust wars in other people’s lands and killing their brothers for some bogus religious or national reason.”

“The idea is that the film would hopefully reflect some of those and maybe get audiences going, ‘Hang on, that’s going on right now.’ “

Egerton liked that “the politics are dialled up” in this take on the story, and he and Foxx believe viewers will spot the similarities to injustices in the world today.

“For me, it’s about to what extent can you trust the narrative you’re being told, the rhetoric you’re hearing. Can you truly believe that everything you’re being told is exactly as you hear it?” the actor says.

“In our story, Robin goes to fight in a war that over time, he realises is completely unjust and quite puppet-mastered. He begins to realise he’s kind of fighting for the wrong side.”

Foxx adds: “We will forever have politics, we will forever have religion, and you’re going to have good politicians and bad politicians. When you have the bad ones who don’t care, that’s when there has to be an intervention by the people.

“Little John and Robin are able to join together and release the pressure.”

At the same time, Foxx does not want to beat audiences over the head with the political messages.

“As artists, we’re supposed to shine a light (on these issues) and tell truths – and entertain at the same time. We don’t want you out there to feel like this is heavy. It’s funny and it’s fun.”

Egerton agrees: “I think the political element to it is really interesting – it’s what gives the world a reality, an intrigue and a tension.

“But I’m also loathe to sell the movie as being something kind of heavy and intellectual. It has an intellectual element to it, but it’s also a kind of rip-roaring action thrill ride.

“And with our relationship at the centre of it, something Jamie and I were really conscious of is giving it a banter, a fun and a wit. So I’m hoping it covers a lot of ground in a lot of different ways.”

Robin Hood opens in Singapore on Nov 29.

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