• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #182: The Sheriff of Nottingham


That looks like it hurts more than, say, a spoon.

Robin Hood was never really a hero of mine (my own political leanings aside). And other than maybe Errol Flynn's prehistoric relics, or the uber-70s Disney version with the animals, the screen has struggled to produce a compelling version of the legend. 1991's Prince of Thieves is no exception. Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman sleepwalk their way through a fairly standard, fairly boring interpretation, rendered halfway watchable because of Michael Kamen's memorable score.


And Alan Rickman.


As mentioned here some months ago at his tragic passing, Alan Rickman was a rare talent and a genuine joy to watch. His exuberant performance as the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham is a glittering gem amongst gray rocks: ambitious, lusty, impatient. He is smarmy and seedy, demanding with women and inferiors and the world. He's got a small window with King Richard out of the picture, and he doesn't intend to have his grand machinations spoiled by some minor noble with an uneven accent and a bunch of rag-tag bad-teeth peasants. Part of Rickman's immense ability was his capacity to squeeze every ounce from each syllable, turning dialogue into his own fierce, malleable weapon. He could make words a rapier, quiet and puncturing and unerringly accurate, or he could inflate them into a heavy cutlass, slashing fellow actors to bloody bits. And he could somehow do both in a single line. All the while his physical choices ranged from the subtly sinister to the broadly, almost operatically comic. He acts with gleeful abandon in this movie, chewing every set and scene and making the entire movie about his character. His lines are memorable, as is his death scene, in which the Sheriff seems truly more confused than wounded, more frustrated than afraid. After all, he was supposed to be a great man, and this isn't how great men end.


Of course, the Sheriff wasn't a great man. He was a small one, lewd and grasping and cowardly. And a lot of fun to watch.

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