Exclusive: how 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and the Patrick Bergin-headlined Robin Hood crossed over behind the scenes.
In 1991, everybody expected Patrick Bergin and Kevin Costner’s respective Robin Hood movies to do battle at the box-office, or at least with quarterstaffs over raging torrents of water. The truth was a little different.
There’s that old adage in Hollywood that there’s always at least a couple of Robin Hood films in development. Back at the dawn of the 1990s, there were three, and all of them were looking to hit production at the same time, a rarity in the film business. Whilst one production, with Liam Neeson set to play the outlawed nobleman, stumbled at the last, the other two made it into the world.
One was Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, a globe-conquering Hollywood blockbuster with Kevin Costner, questionable accents, haircuts and historic accuracy, not to mention an outstanding performance from the ages from the late, great Alan Rickman.
The other was Robin Hood, a lower-budget, British-made, gritty tale of the Sherwood legend, shot in shadow and firelight and steeped in historical realism.
At the time, despite being utterly different in tone, budget and creative intention, the summer of 1991 was billed as ‘The Battle of the Robin Hoods’. We know the British press loves a good rivalry and as such, the two films, despite their many differences, were duly set against one another. An all-green encounter which didn’t happen in the States, due to Robin Hood skipping cinemas to go straight to Fox’s TV network.
However, after digging around for an oral history of the film that you can find in this month’s issue of Film Stories print magazine, we discovered that the truth behind the two competing productions was more collaborative than you’d think.
Whilst Costner and Bergin were busy getting their respective Robins on, one in Buckinghamshire, one in North Wales, lots of the crew were actually moving between productions or meeting to share resources.
According to David Harris, head of special effects on Robin Hood, contact between the two SFX teams was a regular occurrence as they shared their limited resources to ensure both films could run on schedule.
Harris told us that “a mate of mine, Johhny Evans, was doing the effects for Prince of Thieves and a lot of my special effects friends were working with John. We were all fairly involved in our own work at the time so I wouldn’t talk to Johnny about what they were doing. The chats would be more like, “listen, we’re doing a load of rain so do you have any more rain stands I could use?” or he’d call me and say “we’re doing a big fire gig, can we borrow your dantes [high pressure systems designed for large-scale fire effects]?”
It wasn’t just the SFX teams that were getting on behind the scenes either. As David Morrissey – who played John Little in the British version – tells us in our latest issue, the stunt teams were especially busy, working half of the week on the Bergin production, then travelling cross-country to work the other half of the week on the Costner film.
As Morrissey puts it, “it was the same for us and our stunt guys. They’d be with us Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then they’d go work with Costner on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. They’d come back and gossip, or just tell us ‘their breakfast is really good and yours isn’t so great.’”
Whilst Costner may have been able to put on a better breakfast, the British production of Robin Hood managed – in typically plucky British fashion – to craft a striking film that sadly is often overlooked as Prince Of Thieves’ huge success dominates the chatter regarding 1991 films about the Sherwood outlaw.
Still, thanks to Disney+, you can now stream Robin Hood for yourself and make your own mind up. If you want more recollections and behind-the-scenes stories from the film as it celebrates its 30th anniversary, be sure to pick up a copy of issue 24 of Film Stories, where there’s a seven-page oral history of the film, with key members of the cast and crew, including Patrick Bergin and David Morrissey, remembering the film’s production and release in their own words. You can get a copy of that issue right here.
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