When I came up with my list of the Top Ten Movie Tearjerkers from a Male Perspective list last week, I obviously was suffering from a brain-freeze, as this film certainly should have been at the top of my list and that’s Richard Lester’s very poignant Robin & Marian (1976). Lester also made the amazing Musketeers movies of the ’70s and knew how to view swashbuckler iconography through a modernist’s eye. The movie also boasts a wonderfully plaintive score by five-time Oscar winner John Barry.
It tells the story of a middle-aged Robin Hood (Sean Connery) who after defying a cruel order from the king during the Crusades, in a twist that neatly affirms Robin’s commitment to moral justice over loyalty to any crown, has returned to Sherwood Forest to woo Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn), who has since become a nun. Robin soon resumes his fight with the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) one last time. The movie’s pedigree is singularly impressive. With the casting of Richard Harris as a particularly obnoxious Richard the Lionheart, along with Ian Holm as King John and Nicol Williamson as Little John.
Instead of being the light adventure you might expect, Robin and Marian is a tearjerker about aging. Penned by the great playwright James Goldman, Robin and Marian offers a unique blend of history, mythology, romanticism, and tragedy and is a brilliant reimagining of a beloved fictional character.
Robin Hood bravely faces conflict or recklessly instigates conflict, while the movie itself is filled with both funny and sad images such as Robin and the Sheriff huffing and puffing through their climactic duel. Yet the graceful aspects of time’s passage become evident in quiet scenes between Robin and Marian, where they truly realize that they are the loves of each other’s lives.
Connery gives one of his finest performances, undercutting his 007 image by playing the role with a balding scalp and a thick gray beard, bringing far more emotional nuance to his role here than in any of his other films. Hepburn, who ended an eight-year screen hiatus to appear in Robin and Marian, capitalizes on her screen persona to equally strong effect—seeing the dewy gamine of the ’60s replaced by the mature beauty of the ’70s is a bittersweet experience. She’s majestic here.
Robin and Marian is not for everyone, but for me (and perhaps you as well), it’s highly recommended viewing, especially with your loved one this St. Valentine’s Day.