Although the Crusades have ended, Robin Hood (Sean Connery) and Little John (Nicol Williamson) still follow King Richard the Lionheart (Richard Harris). But when Richard unexpectedly dies, the two men decide to return to England to see Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn). Many things have changed since they've been away, but one thing remains the same - the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) still holds sway over the land...
This lament for Robin Hood was scripted by James Goldman. All the familiar elements of the tale - the swordfights, the love story, the conflict between Robin and the Sheriff - are fashioned into a bittersweet tribute to an enduring myth, with fine performances, a pastoral look and an autumnal air to the proceedings.
Connery is great as Robin, full of rough, roguish charm one minute, but capable of brutal acts of violence the next. Shaw's Sheriff is sly and dangerous, biding his time for the inevitable confrontation, drawing Robin out to face him simply by waiting. But the film makes no bones about how old the characters are getting; they constantly let us know with offhand jokes and reminders of how long Robin has been away from Nottingham - perhaps too long.
The film shares some of the humour of Richard Lester's Three Musketeers movies: Ronnie Barker's Friar Tuck could have been easily played by Roy Kinnear, and there are nice comic touches such as the scene where Robin and John spend hours chipping away at stones in their prison cell, only for the guard to open the door just as they make a hole big enough to escape through.
But there is pain there as well: Hepburn's pragmatic yet sensitive Marian reveals that she tried to kill herself when Robin abandoned her all those years ago, and she has since become a nun. And Robin himself has to realise that once you become a legend, you belong to the past. After the ending, there won't be a dry eye in the house, I can tell you.
If there's a problem, it's that the film spends so much time in wistful reflection on times past and present, the story itself tends to be neglected. The unusual mixture of melancholy, disillusionment, romance, humour and action won't be to all tastes, but it creates a poignant mood, and the whole thing is a novel, welcome take on an old story. Appropriately lush music by John Barry.