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In 1976 Columbia Pictures released Robin and Marian, a historic romance that picked up the legend of Robin Hood twenty years after the happy fade-out in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). It heralded the return of Audrey Hepburn to film after a nine-year hiatus and also starred Sean Connery, who was still trying to break away from his James Bond screen persona. Directed by Richard Lester, the genesis of the film has an interesting story. Reputedly, Lester was approached by Columbia production chief Peter Guber with several film ideas printed on 3x5 index cards. Lester, riding on the heels of the enormously successful The Three Musketeers (1973), was immediately intrigued by one idea in particular which was simply stated as "Robin Hood as an old man meets Maid Marian." The one line concept quickly took on a life of its own.
The resulting script, penned by James Goldman, was originally titled The Death of Robin Hood but the studio brass declared the working title too grim and changed it to Robin and Marian. It told the story of Robin of Locksley, returning to England after a twenty year absence, to find his beloved Maid Marian now a nun, and his old enemies waiting for him. Sean Connery was signed first, although Lester initially had him in mind for the role of Little John. Hepburn came on board next and was eager to play a different type of role for her return to the screen. Now forty-six, the actress stated, "Everything I'd been offered in recent years had been too kinky, too violent, or too young. I had been playing ingenues since the early fifties, and I thought it would be wonderful to play somebody of my own age in something romantic and lovely." But filmmaking methods had changed drastically since Hepburn had been out of the business and she found it difficult to adjust to the thirty-six day shooting schedule and Lester's working methods. In the biography, Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris, the actress recalled, "I was literally petrified the first day on the set. Even after a few days, I was still shivering and shaking before each take. My hands were clammy. Making movies isn't like riding a bicycle. It doesn't all come back to you at once."
Lester's favored use of multiple cameras, as well as a one-take method of filmmaking, served to further unnerve Hepburn. On top of that, his cinematographer, David Watkin, used natural lighting and unfiltered close-ups that Hepburn feared would make her look unflattering. Hepburn also felt that Lester was downplaying the relationship of Robin and Marian in the film: "With all those men, I was the one who had to defend the romance in the picture. Somebody had to take care of Marian." Nonetheless, Hepburn - being the consummate professional - quickly overcame her concerns, at least externally, and made the best of a difficult situation.
Lester, who had been responsible for such landmark films as The Beatles' Help! (1965) and A Hard Day's Night (1964), not to mention the British New Wave cult comedy, The Knack, and How to Get It (1965), certainly felt pressure to work quickly, though partly it was his own preference. As he stated in the aforementioned Barry Paris biography, "I'm prone to be impatient. Hard Day's Night was just under seven weeks. Juggernaut was six. Musketeers was seventeen weeks for the two parts, about eight and a half apiece. On Robin, I set out to shoot eight or nine pages a day. There were about fifty pages under a bloody tree, so why not? We had a location which suited the temperaments of the cast and, more important, their tax arrangements. There were five members of this distinguished English cast who couldn't set foot in England for tax reasons. In Nottinghamshire, where Sherwood Forest really is, there are very few trees left that aren't held up by rope and heavy bits of steel. So we shot in Spain," about two hundred miles north of Madrid in Pamplona (the location for The Three Musketeers), where the director said it "looks like everyone's idea of what England looked like in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries."
Hepburn, who was living in Rome at the time, was delighted to be close to home and her two children, and brought them to the location to learn horseback riding and archery from the set experts. Her children were, in fact, a major impetus in her acceptance of the part: being avid James Bond fans, they convinced her to sign on in order to work with Connery. According to script supervisor Ann Skinner (in Audrey Hepburn by Warren G. Harris), Hepburn, during production, "rarely joined us for supper in the hotel dining room, preferring to have it in her suite with the children. Sean Connery, however, would come down every night, go in the bar, and share in the jollity with every member of the crew."
While Hepburn and Connery were the focus of every press release on Robin and Marian, the supporting cast was certainly impressive in their own right. Robert Shaw, best known as Quint in Jaws (1975), and Richard Harris, who garnered acclaim for his role in A Man Named Horse (1970), contribute strong performances as the Sheriff of Nottingham and King Richard, respectively. There are also memorable appearances by Denholm Elliott, well-remembered as Indy's sidekick Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and the versatile Ian Holm, who was recently seen in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Elliott, incidentally, was the only cast member to not stay at the reserved hotel during shooting; he elected instead to reside in a nearby monastery, reportedly due to their abundant cheap, red wine!
Robin and Marian opened to glowing reviews, with one critic calling the pairing of Hepburn and Connery like "silk and chain mail." Frank Thompson in American Film wrote that the film "is a sad and satisfying hymn to heroism, myth and lost youth...Hepburn's Marian is the heart of the film; for once, neither fragile nor innocent. Her performance has steel in it, and a touch of madness." The obvious hype of the film was Hepburn's return, illustrated by a standing ovation for the actress at a Hollywood screening. Columbia's promotion department, however, chose to put Connery in the limelight for the general public; a secret survey had revealed that the core potential audience - young people - really didn't know who Hepburn was. The film grossed a respectable four million, but more importantly, provided an admirable comeback for a screen legend, and proved that Connery was an intelligent actor capable of playing more challenging characters than James Bond.
Producer: Denis O'Dell, Richard Shepherd, Raymond Stark
Director: Richard Lester
Screenplay: James Goldman
Art Direction: Gil Parrondo
Cinematography: David Watkin
Editing: John Victor Smith
Music: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery (Robin Hood), Audrey Hepburn (Maid Marian), Robert Shaw (Sheriff of Nottingham), Richard Harris (King Richard), Nicol Williamson (Little John), Denholm Elliott (Will Scarlett), Ian Holm (King John), Ronnie Barker (Friar Tuck), Kenneth Haigh (Sir Ranulf de Pudsey).
by Eleanor Quin