Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris’ Nottingham script begins with the tagline, “There are two sides to every legend…” And like the script’s eventual film adaptation, there’s more this story hidden behind the scenes than meets the eye.
Nottingham, a spec script based on the Robin Hood legend, boasts a unique perspective on the classic myth – instead of championing Robin as its hero, the story follows the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is tasked with finding and arresting the legendary English outlaw. This fascinating role-reversal was purchased by Universal back in 2006, leading to the signing of famed director Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) to helm and actor Russell Crowe to play both Robin and the Sheriff.
Sadly, rewrites and further revisions from Scott and Co. led to the project finally formulating as 2010’s Robin Hood, a bland, uninteresting origin story chronicling a darker, grittier origin of how the character came to be and removing the Sheriff/Robin dual actor dynamic. I myself tried watching the film and found myself bored out of my mind after just under a half hour. Ridley Scott is a fantastic director, to be sure, and with great scripts like Gladiator that keep the tension rising at a smooth pace, he can do great work. But after Kingdom of Heaven, I’ve grown weary of the director’s historical epics, and I wasn’t about to waste another two hours of my time on a similarly dull, lifeless snoozer. Now, I’ve returned to the roots of the project with the original first draft of the script and the original concept intact. Obviously I can’t comment on the differences between the two having not seen the final film in its entirety, but judging by what I saw, it seems the script is different enough as to be worth looking into itself.
Nottingham opens in 1191 England, during a castle siege led by Robert Tornham against Cyprus. Turns out the battle was all for naught – after taking the castle, King Richard reassigns Tornham from Sheriff of Cyprus to Sheriff of Nottingham, giving him orders to report to the new town immediately. Upon arrival, Tornham becomes aware of a serial murderer loose in the town, his victims stuck with arrows in their backs. The suspect? None other than Robin of Loxley, a renegade King Richard supporter (turned away from the crown after the power-hungry Prince John takes the throne and declares a raise in taxes), and expert archer who lives in the woods with his army of followers. Tornham, along with his companion Squire Thomas, set out to stop the outlaw Robin Hood. But the situation proves much more complicated than a simple indictment of Hood, especially when Hood’s lover Maid Marion becomes involved.
Nottingham is a fascinating look at the Robin Hood legend from a different perspective, a fresh new way of looking at the mythology. In almost all Robin Hood media, we’re blasted with the simple, quaint idea that stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is the right thing to do, and yet, who’s to say everyone in government at the time was worth stealing from? It’s a great approach, and a real page-turner, providing an enthralling whodunnit mystery on top of its bold concept.
Character-wise, the hero Tornham is an interesting, yet logical choice for a protagonist. He’s bound to serve King Richard and his government, yet he’s a free enough thinker to know when his superiors are wrong. In contrast to all his other appearances, is a humanized, sympathetic character in Nottingham.
But perhaps most noteworthy is the portrayal of Robin Hood. Here, he’s a much more ambiguous character, doing what he believes is right in the face of heavy opposition, including falling out of the audience’s favor several times (one scene even sees him cheating on Marion with another woman). He’s got a darker edge to him, with much looser morals, far from the smiling do-gooder Errol Flynn was, but not quite a villain either. He’s almost the film’s wild card, a vigilante-type we don’t immediately sympathize with. The darker interpretation allows the film to match up with the myth, but also stand on its own as something different. Sadly, Robin isn’t really established as a character until around the second act, and I finished the script with a feeling that he could’ve actually been in it more, with more time for character-building with Tornham and Marion.
And that’s really the crux of this first draft as well – it leaves you wanting more from its characters. More interaction, more development, etc. It’s to be expected for any first draft, but it’s tantalizing to imagine just what these writers could’ve accomplished had they been allowed to polish and perfect their vision.
While the groundwork for a great character piece is here, I didn’t care for how the relationship between Marion and Tornham was handled in the end. I’ll avoid spoiling it for those who haven’t read it, but it seemed as though the feelings between them were never brought to a meaningful closure, leaving the reader feeling like the whole affair was only present for dramatic purposes. In fact, the entire love triangle between her, Robin, and Tornham could’ve really be explored further.
Marion’s motivations in the end are also a bit questionable. Again, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but throughout the script, she adopts this wishy-washy stance on Robin’s behavior. For example, when she talks to Tornham about Robin, she’s almost trying to convince herself that she’s in love with him and that he’s really a great guy above all. Trouble is, Robin ISN’T a great guy in this script, so when the ending rolls around, we’re left wondering exactly what it is Marion sees in this guy.
In fact, much of the script’s conclusion seems to be resolved far too quickly and neatly, convenient in how it ties everything up to reflect what we know about Robin Hood lore today, rather than making sense in the context of the story. It’s unfulfilling in more ways than one; the script wants to portray Tornham as this unsung hero, so in the end, he’s simply labeled as such, without there being much dramatic reason for him to be. It’s almost like the rug is pulled out from under us at the last minute for no other reason than to defy our expectations. It’s just not narratively sound, and makes me wish they’d gone for perhaps a more ballsy, contradictory ending, defying our expectations. Think Inglourious Basterds, only better.
For Tornham’s resolution, my guess is that the writers came up with the original idea to cast the same actor in both the role of Tornham and Robin, so the two characters’ resemblance might explain the quirks in the ending, which involves a bit of confusion in which hero gets credits for what. I will say that I quite liked the final shot of the script; it’s poignant imagery, the kind of thing we don’t see often in too many movies these days.
Overall, this is a fantastic start, the blueprints for what could’ve potentially been a really cool contribution to the Robin Hood legend. There’s plenty of action, mystery, suspense, character intrigue, and above all, it’s got a great concept to draw readers in. I highly recommend checking it out regardless of whether or not you’ve seen Scott’s film.
The first draft of Nottingham is available to read here.