Emmerdale’s Ben Freeman is a new look Robin Hood in Suffolk-based action movie
- Credit: Archant
Robin Hood is a timeless hero. Each generation reinvents the character to reflect the concerns of their world. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to Suffolk film producer Lucinda Thakrar about the latest incarnation of the famous outlaw
Robin Hood is one of the great characters of British legend – a folk hero who can be reinvented as many times as needed. Each generation have their Robin Hood. Robin maybe an outlaw (at least technically) but he is first and foremost a champion of the people.
In early versions of the story he robbed from the rich to give to the poor but in more recent retellings of the legend he spends more time defending the rights of the ordinary villager against the oppressive Norman aristocracy than raiding tax caravans making their way through Sherwood Forest.
The character traits of each Robin Hood provides a welcome snap-shot of the time in which they were born. Each era has a hero they can identify with. This change of emphasis in his character make-up also applies to his consort Marian, who over the years has gone from Maid Marian to My Lady Marian as she has gained greater independence and become a fighter in her own right.
As the modern world has become more disillusioned with politicians and government Robin has been reinvented more frequently. In the last ten years we have had the 2009 BBC TV series with Jonas Armstrong and Keith Allen, Ridley Scott’s 2010 take on the legend with Russell Crowe and currently there are two new versions courting audiences – one in cinemas Robin Hood starring Jamie Foxx and Taron Egerton and the other Robin Hood: Rebellion on DVD starring Ben Freeman, Game of Thrones Kristian Nairn and Brian Blessed.
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While the cinema movie has the weight of a Hollywood production company behind it. Robin Hood: Rebellion was made for a fraction of the cost but can hold its head up high when it comes to the on-screen visuals.
Made by Framlingham-based production company, Picture Perfect, producer Lucinda Thakrar knows the value of putting the budget up on screen. Picture Perfect is a small, independent film company but controlling costs, working with a repertory company of tried and tested actors, writers and film crew means that quality films can be produced on a tight schedule without sacrificing the storytelling element.
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“It’s all about experience. We’ve been doing this for a few years now,” explains Lucinda, “You get a feel about what is possible in the time and for the money you have available. We can’t compete with a Hollywood budget but we have enough to make a great movie.”
Savings can also be made by shooting close to home with Screen Suffolk scouting locations and by shooting action sequences at the film-friendly facilities at the former airbase Bentwaters Park. Although the principal locations for Robin Hood: Rebellion were situated in South Wales, Bentwaters was used for some pick-up shots and brief action scenes which weren’t completed during the main shoot.
Lucinda is hugely pleased with the result, their first period action film, and if it sells well, may pave the way for more movies of this type.
“We have done well with the Hooligan films in the past but we are happy to make any genre of film. It’s nice to do something different. Contemporary films are easier because you don’t have to worry so much about the locations and costumes but at the end of the day story is king. It’s all about the story.”
Lucinda is a hands-on producer. “I don’t sit around in an office. I like being on set, anticipating problems, getting them fixed before they are problems, so the director can concentrate on working with the actors and the crew.
“In many ways Robin Hood is a lot like a Hooligan film, lots of boys running around, but the preparation took longer. We had to have extra rehearsals because they using swords and horses. It was hard work. I am happy to make any genre of film but next time perhaps we’ll do a nice easy horror – although nothing is easy.”
The biggest challenges revolve around making the 21st century look like the 12th – as always that takes time and time always means money on a film set and for an independent film-making company that’s in short supply.
“You have got to have the right wardrobe and you are working with animals, which means the production team is bigger. Also, if you doing a night-shoot at 2am and Robin Hood damages his tunic you can’t send a runner off to an all-night Tescos for a new polo shirt, you’ve either got to have a new tunic or repair the one that’s torn.
“For Robin Hood our production department was eight people, that’s huge for us, and one of the sets we had to build outside because we had candles and open fires as part of the set and then we had to burn down part of the building and clearly you can’t do that to a national monument.
“The prep time is enormous because everything has to be built from scratch and then taken down again when you leave – it’s not a case of grabbing a gun and then shooting an action sequence as you do on a gangster movie.”
As with any film casting is crucial and can make or break a movie. Lucinda was delighted with her cast. Emmerdale actor Ben Freeman went from their previous film, the hard-hitting contemporary thriller Hooligan Escape The Russian Job, straight into Robin Hood and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and loved swapping guns for swords.
“Casting is hugely important because not only do you have to get the right person for the role, you have to get the mix of personalities right, so everything goes smoothly on set, and you want people who you can trust and who are reliable. You want people who can turn in a great performance in one or two takes because we haven’t got all day to do one little 30 second sequence. It’s a real team effort.
“We were thrilled to cast Brian Blessed as Friar Tuck and he was brilliant, but his language, oh my God, I have never heard anything like it. He didn’t mean anything by it, but he’s a colourful individual.
“We also loved having the Irish actor Kristian Nairn on board. It was one of the first things he did after leaving the role of Hodor in Game of Thrones. We were really lucky having such a special mix of people. We try and look after our cast and crew and hopefully they will come back and do something for us again.”
So, how did their version of the Robin Hood legend come about?
“It was presented to us by Elizabeth Williams, another producer we work with, and it seemed a great idea. We sat down with Nick (Winter) and came up with a storyline, which takes places over one night, and is centred on a siege of a castle to rescue an imprisoned princess. It’s a very simple, contained story but it works very well because it involves you, as an audience, every step of the way.”
Robin Hood: Rebellion, starring Ben Freeman, cert 12, is currently out on DVD.