THE story of Robin Hood is one of the best known tales of folklore.
The latest film adaptation, starring Russell Crowe as the eponymous hero, is one of the most eagerly awaited movies of 2010.
Much of the film was shot in the spectacular scenery of Wales, not far from the place that the actor’s ancestors once called home.
Crowe is actually descended from a prominent family who lived and worked in Wrexham.
The Oscar winner’s great grandfather, Frederick William Crowe, lived at 13 Salisbury Road in the town until 1925 when he, his wife Kezia Marie and 12 of his children emigrated to Canada.
Russell’s grandfather, John Doubleday Crowe, however, remained in North Wales to run the family business, a greengrocer’s shop, which became a very well known fruit and vegetable wholesale business called Crofruit.
When John’s elder brother Frank returned to run the shop in Wrexham, John emigrated to New Zealand where he married and had two children, David and Alex, Russell’s father.
Russell was born in New Zealand in 1964 and moved with his family to Australia when he was a child. He would go on to become one of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Frank stayed on and had his own family, and his descendants still live in Wrexham today.
Crowe was first approached about starring in a new version of Robin Hood by producer Brian Grazer who he was working with on American Gangster.
“I was very enthusiastic,” says Crowe. “Robin Hood has always been in the back of my mind since I was a child. I was a big fan of the various incarnations I saw when I was growing up.
“There’s a universal connection that everyone makes to Robin Hood, which is at the core of the story: there might be somebody out there who cares enough to redress the imbalance. There’s an empowerment quality about Robin to which people respond.”
The actor’s agreement, however, came with a caveat.
“I said I’d do Robin Hood, but only if it were a fresh take,” he explains. “It is one of the longest-surviving stories in the English language.
“That requires due respect. I took the attitude that if you’re going to revitalise Robin Hood, it has to be done on the basis that whatever you thought you knew about the legend was an understandable mistake. It has to be different from what has come before.
“Take Robin and Little John, for example, who don’t get on when they first meet.
When we first meet them they have a disagreement. But that doesn’t take place on a log over a creek with a staff fight, which has been done to death. What we’ve done is to redefine the times and shift the timeline.”
There was only one person that Crowe and Grazer wanted to direct the film: Ridley Scott. Once he was on board, Robin Hood gathered momentum. They brought in screenwriter Brian Helgeland to fulfil their vision for the film.
In Helgeland’s script we are introduced to archer Robin Longstride as an infantryman in the ranks of King Richard’s army as it returns from the Third Crusade in the Holy Land. Richard, in a bid to reclaim money paid to the French king who held him hostage as he returned from his Crusade, is laying siege to a French castle.
As history records, during the siege Richard suffered a neck wound from an arrow and died soon after.
This shattered his mother, Eleanor, and resulted in the crown being passed along to his younger brother Prince John.
Beginning his story with the moment of Richard’s death, Helgeland imagined Robin, who has suffered a restless childhood overseas, seizing an opportunity to return to his native England for the first time since he was five. After he lands on its shore, Robin discovers a nation crippled by poverty and robbed of its men by Richard’s reckless bid to fund his wars.
The spectre of French invasion looms on the horizon and Richard’s incompetent brother is content to let his people suffer while he fills his coffers.
For the title role, Crowe meticulously researched the legendary figure and read extensively on life in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.
“Robin is a witness to that death at the age of five,” Crowe adds. “He is then left in a monastery with the Templar Knights in France. His guardians (Loxley and Marshal) go off to the Crusade, but several years later when they come back, he’s not there.
“He’s had a very hard time, been treated badly, and he’s gone with the one piece of equipment that he was left with, his father’s cuirass. You can imagine a small child dragging around a fully grown man’s chest-plate armour.”
When we are introduced to Robin during Richard’s siege in France, he has no knowledge of life before his father was killed.
“He’s suppressed the memory of watching his father die,” says Crowe. “In his mind, his mother and father just got rid of him and stopped loving him. That’s what has been on his mind for 35 to 40 years.
“But now he’s close to England again. Here’s a guy who’s travelled across Europe and all through the Middle East. He’s seen a variety of different ways that people live and when he gets back to England he’s surprised that this seems to be the most suppressive place.
“We follow a man on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way he begins to remember his past and his quest solidifies. He realises fate has overtaken him and he has joined in something much larger than he thought it was.
“In the process of finding out who he is, he takes up his father’s work where he left off.”
Robin Hood (12A) is released in cinemas next Wednesday, May 12
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