Princess of Thieves (2001)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

   

Tales have long been told of the noble thief Robin Hood and his love for Maid Marion... but few know of the child that was given them. The importance of an heir is vast, and Prince John orders the sheriff to place a bounty on the child's head at its birth double to that of the father. But when the Sheriff of Nottingham learns that the child is a girl, the bounty is dropped... and Gwen is forgotten.

  

Raised in the monastery of Fryer Tuck, Gwen (Keira Knightley) is a strong-willed young woman with very black and white views of the world. Largely ignored by her father (Stuart Wilson) due to her gender, her only companionship is found in the young novice Froderick. But even his sweet temperament and eager-to-please mentality cannot repair her grievous relationship with Robin Hood. The daring outlaw is in Jerusalem, fighting with King Richard. But when a war wound leaves the king close to death, Robin must return and see his illegitimate son Philip (Stephen Moyer) to the throne... before the King's tyrannical brother Prince John (Jonathan Hyde) is crowned. Her patriotism running strong, mingled with desperation to appear in her father's eyes worthy, Gwen pleads with him to allow her to accompany the Merry Men on this quest. But Robin is adamant that it is no place for a young woman, and sets out the following day, leaving a sullen daughter behind. In the meantime, Prince John has sent out an order that Philip is not to arrive in England alive and the prince's valet is mistakenly murdered. Philip is alone and lost in England. And Gwen is determined to impress her father... even if she must masquerade as a young man to do it. Eventually their paths will collide and it will be up to Gwen to see the young man upon the throne... and to save her father from death.

  

Overly predictable, Princess of Thieves is at most an entertaining check-your-brain-at-the-door flick perfect for teenagers seeking an alternative to the male-dominated world of Robin Hood. Gwen is a lot of fun, from her spirited verbal tousles with anyone willing to debate to her obviously incredible archery skills and her kind heart. Froderick is at times funny... and in other instances, cringingly immature. And Philip? Well, Philip is the expected "Please don't crown me" monarch who would much rather live a simple life. As everyone knows she will, Gwen talks him into the job by pointing out how terribly the people have been treated under Prince John's reign. Thus said, although the film is a nice little production with reasonably good values and a couple of attached moral lessons, there is nothing very original. The script writers pretty much borrowed off the Robin Hood plight that's been seen and done before... the archery tournament... the evil Sheriff... the tyrannical Prince John... And the Philip-Gwen struggle is pretty much the Prince Henry-Danielle debate from Ever After : a selfish, spoiled monarch who is brought around by a poor but sensible young woman. Really the only originality is the untypical ending that closes on a bittersweet note.

  

The acting is praiseworthy although I had a bit of difficulty accepting Stuart Wilson as Robin Hood. He's a very amiable actor and is by far the best in the slew of embarrassingly-bad swordfighters in the film. The only truly great actress in the bunch is young Kiera Knightley herself. Largely unknown, she looks very much like the British actress Keeley Hawes and is both very pretty and incredibly good. Typically the film is not without its soft points. There are several inappropriate uses of God's name and some violence. But what bothered me most was the implication that Philip was something of a playboy. "I've known many women, my friend," he tells his valet on the differences between "love" and survival, "but there isn't one that I wouldn't trade right now for some bread and cheese." But it should be noted that he keeps in check his romantic feelings for Gwen when he believes her to be engaged to Frederick. Gwen's thieving nature is never really debated. She steals from a wealthy merchant in town and justifies it by the fact that he was mistreating a street waif. She then attempts to sneak off with Philip's horse and only later refuses because he would give it to her due to her gender. For that reason, I wouldn't encourage showing the film to anyone without a good grasp of right and wrong. These are dangerous lessons for less-wary youngsters. Yes, it's predictable and it wouldn't have held up in a run at the box office, but it is an entertaining and almost-innocent way to spend two hours if you like a good adventure, a bit of romance, and a girl that lets it be known that gender has nothing to do with talent or ability. This is one Princess that stands on her own two feet.


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