Look up infamy in the dictionary and you’ll probably see a picture of Errol Flynn. The actor was never shy about admitting his “wicked, wicked ways” that, ultimately, led him to being accused of statutory rape. Hollywood, however, has been slower to discuss the late actor’s proclivities. The 1985 TV movie, that, despite being named after Flynn’s biography didn’t use it as source material, didn’t go into explicit details on Flynn’s dealings with underage girls, and even the brief appearance by the actor (as played by Jude Law) in The Aviator yielded little more than references to women and fighting. The Last of Robin Hood attempts to encapsulate Flynn’s issues coming to a head in his final years. Despite a rather intriguing performance by Kevin Kline in the title role, the Lifetime veneer of the movie, as well as some questionable choices in how to present the actor, leaves little to be desired.
The Last of Robin Hood follows Flynn (Kline) in his final years as he romances 15-year-old aspiring actress Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning).
Compared to previous biopics in the series, this is up there in terms of high quality and the cast assembled. Directed and written by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (who received quite a bit of critical acclaim last year for writing the film that garnered Julianne Moore her Oscar, Still, Alice), there’s a frisky 1960s vibe to the film, complimented by some great production and costume design. Produced by Lifetime – yes, the network that made Liz & Dick – there’s definitely a budget for this film, so instead of Lindsay Lohan you get Kline, Fanning, and Susan Sarandon (who’s reteaming with Lifetime on their upcoming Marilyn Monroe movie). But that Lifetime money, in turn, turns the script into melodramatic offal.
The sad fact is, there’s an interesting Hollywood story that I’d love to see told on-screen. Not much has been written about Beverly Aadland, whom the tabloids considered a teenage Lolita in the wake of Flynn’s demise. Based on a cursory glance of her Wikipedia page, she stayed quiet on her relationship with Flynn despite her mother writing a salacious tell-all – the narrative structure has Sarandon’s Florence Aadland detailing the relationship for a reporter penning the book – and suffered from some rocky relationships including the mysterious death of a boyfriend in 1960. The differing schools of thought play out in this film via tabloid covers, both calling Aadland a teenage temptress and a sad victim, but because Beverly isn’t the one telling the story we’re never certain on which side to believe. Are we saying Beverly was the victim of a stage mom willing to pimp her daughter out to get ahead? Or was she desperate to have some semblance of control over her own life? Because Florence backpedals and plays up the fact that her daughter didn’t “tell me everything,” the movie plays like pure speculation. Too often, the script seems so scared on how to romanticize statutory rape that it doesn’t comment either way. Thus, is Flynn the lecherous pursuer of a teen girl or a man who didn’t know? These questions aren’t just unanswered, but never asked or contexualized. There are movies that can successfully look at May-December relationships (see An Education for a good example). This is not one of them.
Where the movie really tests the audience’s mettle is with Beverly and Flynn’s first date. According to Florence’s retelling – yet the event plays straight forwardly – Flynn pursues Beverly, seducing her with the promise of a role in a play. The two have a rather innocuous date until Flynn up and rapes Beverly. This is where the Lifetime elements come into play as the rape plays almost ambiguously despite Beverly saying no. The fact that this event is never mentioned again, despite Beverly clearly being upset by it, and Flynn (who looks like a weasel and criminal more than ever) plays up to Beverly the next day with an apology which apparently lets everything be forgiven. And, because the movie hasn’t cemented which version of the story this is, one has to wonder how Florence even knew about the rape in the first place? Regardless, any type of sympathy I had for Flynn evaporated, leaving me to see this two scummy people manipulating a child for their own whims.
It’s hard sympathizing with anyone other than Fanning who, in spite of being the one everyone’s fighting over, doesn’t have nearly enough to do. Her Beverly is a cipher because she never tells her story. Fanning plays up the “wise beyond her years” girl, but never in a way that makes her seem like a caricature of Diana Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon (what Flynn was filming when he met Aadland). Cast adrift after Flynn’s death, she’s removed from a huge chunk of the third act, absconded with to Flynn’s lawyer’s house for reasons never explained. What happened while she was there also remains a mystery.
We’re left with Sarandon’s scheming Florence Aadland telling the story, a woman whom finds herself ensnared by Flynn’s wealth and pizzazz. There’s little doubt she’s a full-on stage mother and her character’s narrative arc is actually more in tune with most biopics; she wants the spotlight, has it for a time, and goes on a downward spiral after it’s gone. Sarandon’s the hammiest of the bunch, and her concerned mother one minute, star-seeking opportunist the next, reminds us this is a melodrama in the Lifetime style. If anything, her appearance in this should give an indication of her role in the upcoming Marilyn Monroe movie.
Kevin Kline has the unenviable task of playing Flynn, not as a pederast, but as a charming roue, Robin Hood. Kline has previous experience playing classic film stars. He played Douglas Fairbanks in 1994’s Chaplin, a role he was better suited to than Flynn, in my opinion. He’s certainly got the megawatt smile and rascally persona, and he can wield a sword like it’s nobody’s business. (The athleticism Kline showed in Chaplin continues here.) Because the film is so afraid of saying too much positive about the underage relationship between Flynn and Aadland, there isn’t the requisite tenderness or extended moments of romance between the two characters. And, often, the movie reiterates Flynn’s slow realization that Beverly isn’t 20, but 15, devised in a moment that plays comically.
The Last of Robin Hood satisfies though seeking a Lifetime movie with better production and stars. The script’s melodrama and questionable narrative voice leaves a lot of the story untold or tawdry. Kline and Fanning are good, but Fanning should be the star yet isn’t. Sarandon’s character is insufferable and the fact she tells the story leaves you questioning its authenticity.
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