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Monday April 22nd 2024

Robin Hood| 2010

Robin Hood location: Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire
Robin Hood location: the French invasion at ‘Dungeness Beach’: Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire

A very odd-sounding project entitled Nottingham, based on the traditional Robin Hood myth, but which doubled Robin and his arch-enemy the Sheriff of Nottingham as the same person, went through several rewrites and directors, until finally becoming a much more conventional origins story in the hands of Ridley Scott. With the Sheriff (Matthew Macfadyen) hardly getting a look-in and the Magna Carta left lying around unsigned, it feels like a sequel was intended.

Although the production eschews Britain’s wealth of castles in favour of sets built at Shepperton Studios (including the ‘Tower of London’, the medieval city and most interiors) and digital imagery, it does firmly anchor the story in authentic English woodlands.

The film begins against the familiar background of King Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston) away fighting the Crusades, as England groans under the stewardship of his greedy, conniving younger brother John (Oscar Isaac) and continues its interminable war against neighbouring France.

Returning home through France from the Third Crusade, an oddly unlikeable Richard – usually a figure of benevolent authority – lays siege to ‘Challus Castle’.

Robin Hood film location: Bourne Woods, Farnham, Surrey
Robin Hood location: the siege of the French castle: Bourne Wood, Farnham, Surrey

Oddly, Scott chooses to open with this opening conflict on exactly the same location as the first battle scenes of Gladiator. The ‘French’ fortification was built atop the slope in the central clearing of Bourne Wood, near Farnham in Surrey where, ten years earlier Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius had ordered his troops to “unleash Hell”.

A stray arrow suddenly takes the life of the king, opening the way for a political power struggle. The devious Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), in league with the French, contrives to destabilise the rule of King John and facilitate an invasion of England.

Unaware of these machinations, archer Robin Longstride (Crowe) and his army pals are more concerned with getting swiftly back to England, when they come across the aftermath of a French ambush, and find themselves unexpectedly in possession of the royal crown.

A promise to the mortally wounded Robert of Loxley (Douglas Hodge) prompts Robin to vow that he’ll return a prized sword to the dying man’s father in ‘Nottingham’ once back on English soil.

The boat carrying Robin and the usual band – Little John (Kevin Durand), Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes) – sails up the ‘Thames’ to London. In the guise of wealthy knights, they’re obliged to bring the news of Richard’s death to his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins) and present the crown to John. The Water Gate of the ‘Tower of London’, as it would have appeared in the 13th century, was constructed on the waterfront at Virginia Water Lake in Surrey, part of Windsor Great Park.

Also in the Park, the gnarled oak trees of ‘Sherwood Forest’ are at Bears Rails, toward the east, an ancient wood over 700 years old, and part of the 5,000 acre deer park which adjoins the royal residence of Windsor Castle in Berkshire.

For the village of ‘Nottingham’, more than 50 buildings were constructed on the Hampton Estate, a traditional agricultural estate centred around Hampton Lodge, a Grade II-listed Georgian house in Seale, between Farnham and Goldalming just south of the Hogs Back in Surrey.

As well as houses and hovels, the 55-acre valley, studded with yet more English oaks, the grain store, tavern, tithe barn and church were built here.

The nearby estate of ‘Peper Harrow’, where Robin meets Loxley’s aged father (Max von Sydow) and widow Marian (Cate Blanchett) was built at Oxenford Farm, Milford Road, Elstead near Godalming in Surrey.

Oxenford is a traditional working farm which for over 50 years has specialised in growing Christmas trees. Dating from the 12th Century, when it was a Ley farm (pasture land) for Waverley Abbey, It has a number of unusual buildings designed in 1840 by Augustus Pugin, the extraordinary Gothic Revival designer who put his distinctive stamp on London’s Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament).

The farm was also used as a location for The Wolfman, with Benicio Del Toro – and Max von Sydow again.

Robin takes over the identity of the late Robert in order to protect the family estate from the rapacious attentions of John and his minions, determined to squeeze ever-increasing taxes from the struggling populace.

Godfrey is happy to exploit the king’s unpopularity, clamping down cruelly on northern communities. The town of ‘Barnsdale’, which resists and is burned to the ground, was built in Bourne Wood not far from the ‘French castle’ of the opening scenes.

The medieval village, in which Robin stops to ask directions on the road to London, was built in Thunderdell Wood, a 17th Century plantation on the Ashridge Estate, Little Gaddesden, on the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border.

The Ashridge Estate has been used for many movie locations including Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Made of Honour, the remake of Alfie, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust.

Getting news that French troops will be landing on ‘Dungeness Beach’, Robin sets off to thwart the invasion.

The ‘Vale of the White Horse’, through which he rides to be joined by King John, swearing to honour the barons’s demands for rights in return for their support, is Thorpe Pastures and Lindale, at Dovedale, in the beautiful Peak District of Derbyshire. A beautiful three-mile long limestone ravine, now owned by the National Trust, you’ll find the entrance to Dovedale between the villages of Ilam and Thorpe.

You can see the same landscapes in Jorge Grau’s cult 1974 eco-horror The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue.

The huge climactic battle at ‘Dungeness’ is staged on the beach at Freshwater West, on the B4319, about seven miles west of Pembroke in Pembrokeshire, South Wales – the forbidding cliffs were added digitally.

Facing southwest, this is a favourite spot for experienced surfers – but treacherous currents make it a dangerous place to swim. The wide expanse of sand is the same beach where ‘Shell Cottage’ was built, and Dobby the Elf buried, for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I.