By the mid-to-late 1950s, both the career and reputation of legendary Hollywood heart-throb/swordsman (in every sense of the word) Errol Flynn were on the skids. His star, which shone most brightly in the iconic The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 had long since waned and, as he stumbled through middle age, he became a pitiable figure reluctant to accept that his glory days were long behind him. He died in the arms of a much younger woman – star-struck dancer Beverly Aadland – and The Last of Robin Hood begins in the frenzied aftermath of the star’s death and then rewinds – courtesy of his mother Florence telling the ‘real story’ of her daughter’s shocking romance to a plausible journalist – to chronicle the larger-than-life star’s last couple of years.
In many ways, The Last of Robin Hood is the story of a different time and much of what’s depicted here appears both unsavoury and unpalatable to modern sensibilities. Beverly’s pushy mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) turns a blind eye to her daughter’s ‘friendship’ with Flynn (Kevin Kline) who has promised to give her a helping hand up the showbiz ladder. But Flynn and Beverly have become more than friends; in one unsettling scene, Flynn ‘seduces’ Beverly (only fifteen years old at the time) but what’s depicted is quite clearly rape and there’s the sense that Beverly knows it, even though she keeps it to herself and ultimately allows the penitent Flynn to wheedle his way back into her affections. Florence, meanwhile, initially scandalised by her daughter’s relationship with a man over three times her age, eventually learns to turn a blind eye when she realises what Beverly’s association with Flynn, still a charming smooth-talker, could mean for her and her daughter.
The Last of Robin Hood develops beyond its unsettling, queasy opening into a genuine love story between Flynn and his “Woodsy” (the nickname he gives Beverly as she reminds him of a ‘wood nymph’), and the two eventually become virtually inseparable. But somehow, despite their clear devotion to one another, we can never really shake off the slightly distasteful nature of the relationship and the fact that it began in a shocking act of violation and that Beverly’s mother quickly became complicit in Flynn’s lascivious behaviour. Yet it’s clear that Flynn and Beverly became the real deal and they stayed together even when the relationship became public knowledge and a genuine Hollywood scandal. The story of Flynn’s failure to restore his professional reputation and his sad death in 1959, addicted to pain-killers and obsessed with booze, is in itself, beyond his notorious inability to ‘keep it in his pants’, a salutary lesson in Hollywood excess.
The film, clearly a low budget effort despite the presence of its accomplished cast, has a determinedly TV movie air about it, and whilst it makes no moral judgements about Flynn or the Aadlands – this is the story, warts and all – it’s lifted out of the mundane by strong turns by the ever-reliable Sarandon and Dakota Fanning as the naive, starry-eyed Beverly. Kline’s Flynn is a little one-note, playing up to the gauche stereotype with little in the way of nuance or subtlety yet he passes muster if only because of his remarkable physical resemblance to the fallen idol.
The Last of Robin Hood is a mercifully largely unsalacious retelling of the fall of one of Hollywood’s most famous sons and it’s a story told with sensitivity and intelligence and, refreshingly in an age of outrage and offence, with no desire to pass judgement or wave a moralising cinematic finger. But you’ll still feel a little uneasy at the true story you’ve been told and feel relieved that things like this just don’t happen anymore. Do they?
THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: RICHARD GRATZER, WASH WESTMORELAND / STARRING: KEVIN KLINE, DAKOTA FANNING, SUSAN SARANDON / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 14TH