Singer/dancer/actress Beverly Aadland dreamed of stardom, but instead her name went down in infamy as the subject of scandal rags accusing her of gold-digging a beloved--albeit controversial--Hollywood icon. A May-December (or March-December) romance with the late Errol Flynn made her the subject of gossip and public scorn. Now, 54 years since his death and four since hers, a movie teases telling her side of the story. But like its title suggests, The Last of Robin Hood is far more about Flynn than the ingénue he seduced and destroyed.
Written and directed by Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, The Last of Robin Hood stars Dakota Fanning as Beverly "Woodsey" Aadland, who is introduced at the dramatic moment when her long-running affair with Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) went public in the wake of his death in 1959. He was 50. She was 17. While Woodsey--as Flynn dubbed her for her wood-nymph looks--flees from the press, refusing to make her private life anymore public, her mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) is all too eager to dish the dirt. Through Florence's narration, we flash back to two years before, when Flynn sought out the chorus girl on the studio lot. From there, we're dedicatedly stepped through their courtship, collaborations, quarrels, and dramatic final chapter.
The film ends with a memoriam title card to Aadland, who died in 2010. But as this biopic points out, she never spoke about her relationship with Flynn. The story told comes from her stage mom, who against her daughter's wishes published a book about Flynn and Aadland's relationship called Big Love. This means every scene between this pair--of which there are many--is at best hearsay and at worse completely fiction. Still, Glatzer and Westmoreland could have had fun with the concept of an unreliable narrator, painting an impossible or improbable tale of fated romance. This would have had some added heft and intrigue considering Flynn's fascination with Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. (He not only quoted the book to his teen dream lover, but also pushed to star in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation with her.) Sadly, The Last of Robin Hood tries nothing so daring or interesting.
Sure, Florence lies to us in narration, assuring us that Flynn was a gentleman that first night with Aadland. But we're shown the "truth" in which the The Adventures of Robin Hood star isolates the teen ingénue and then rapes her. We're granted a lone moment where the girl weeps for her lost innocence and this trauma of being manipulated by a matinee idol she admired. But this is one of the few moments the filmmakers bother to give Aadland the spotlight of her own story. The film is far too caught up in the appeal of Kline's garish Flynn impression and Sarandon's caricature of an opportunistic stage mom to spend more time with Aadland, establishing her character, wants and motivations. Admittedly, Fanning brings little to the role beyond a pretty face and a passing resemblance to the real Aadland. Nonetheless, it's jarring how a movie that supposes to be about the girl who got lost in the headlines repeats the sin of her mother and lover by ignoring her for the filmmakers' own desires, in this case a juicy expose.
Still, I learned little from The Last of Robin Hood that I couldn't have picked up from Wikipedia. A smattering of facts and much speculation is not enough to make this Hollywood tragedy sizzle. Further hurting it, Fanning has zero chemistry with Kline. So when they kiss--which is shown sparingly--it's more cringe-worthy than remotely romantic. Even her bond to her mother feels faint. Intellectually, I gathered that Aadland was pushed by two very charismatic forces, a mother who desperately wanted her daughter to be a star, and a star who offered her expensive treats and assurances of fame in exchange for his indulgence in sex with under-aged girls (a trend the film repeatedly establishes.) But Aadland is a character so thinly drawn that it's difficult to be drawn into her drama on an emotional level. Instead, this plot plays out like another parable about big bad Hollywood, where greed drives people to sell their souls. Basically, it's a story we've seen again and again. This time told without style.
Painted in tinny colors with performances that range from showboating (Kline and Sarandon) to flat-lining (Fanning), The Last of Robin Hood seems the stuff of TV movies. Perhaps none too surprising as it's produced in part by Lifetime Films (yes, of the Lifetime channel). This offering is tawdry and cheap, good for a guilty pleasure but little else. In the world of Lifetime made-for-TV movies, I'd place it above the total train wreck that was Liz & Dick, but below the speculation-packed yet grimly entertaining Lizzie Borden Took An Ax. But The Last of Robin Hood is downright disrespectful in masquerading as Aadland's story. It's less a portrait of a maligned and misunderstood girl, and more a lazy excuse to sift through her dirty laundry.