Alan Rickman did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning BAFTA, for portraying George aka the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
One man who is not at all confused by what the tone of the film needs though is Alan Rickman who to quote his BAFTA winning speech gives "a healthy reminder to me that subtlety isn't everything". Alan Rickman's performance is his very own personal example of "watch me act" a potentially dangerous idea, however used in the right circumstance can be a true gem of the partially absurd. There needs to be a few ingredients for this recipe for it to come out just right, and not a pile of overcooked Terl shaped nonsense. One is a legitimate actor, which we have in Alan Rickman who proved himself quite capable of a more subtle turns from 1991 whether it be the romantic ghost, the manipulative interrogator, or a cuckolded husband. Rickman acquitted himself properly in each role despite their differences, though this is treated by many as his crown jewel from this year. Well that brings me the next ingredient to this difficult recipe. This is such a film that just won't accept itself as a fun adventure, despite so many silly elements, so Rickman chooses to provide the entertainment. This performance also needs the right character for this approach, which we have in this film's Sheriff of Nottingham. Of course all those element are for naught though if one is missing the final key element, which is the proper execution of a "watch me act" performance.
Well thankfully all those ingredients are all found in this honey glazed prime slice of ham that just tastes so very good. Rickman's performance has a keen awareness that the Sheriff of Nottingham isn't just a villain, but an absolute fiend without a hint of a redeeming element as written. He seems to take this as a cue then to make up for such potential simplicity in the character by absolutely owning every moment of the character's villainy. Take even his opening scene where he invites Robin Hood (Kevin Costner)'s father (Brian Blessed) to join his ranks. Despite the white robes Rickman in no way wishes to hide Nottingham's black heart as his eyes are overflowing with a maniacal intensity, and he bears a sneer that only a proper vicious psychopath could wear. This murder of Robin's father though is but a diabolical preview of the madness that is to come. A madness that is of a certain sort, that Rickman grants to we the audience, that we should be more than eager to accept with humble gratitude as Raul Julia would say as M. Bison, a spiritual brother of this performance in many ways.
There is the idea of the villain, the start of an idea and only that. What Rickman demands is that the audience get so much more than that. Rickman delivers the requisite villainy. He has the menace, he has that intensity, but really those are not the true focus of this performance. They are just an underlying aspect because Rickman knew that just being a good villain would not be good enough for this film. This film needed a bit more spice than that, it needed something a bit more "hamtastic" shall we say. Rickman delivers that with aplomb in his way of playing the Sheriff not only pure evil, but pure evil in a way that couldn't be more enjoyable. Everything about what Rickman does is an actor giving it his all, and is such a glorious fashion. Rickman even physically embodies this, as I love the way he rarely seems to sit still portraying it as though the Sheriff is just constantly annoyed by everything and everyone around him. Rickman delivers this great unpredictability through that physicality. He goes beyond any limits of any scene to properly chew, but in a way that is something so wonderful. The way he stomps and storms around is a marvelous display that one could argue grants the Sheriff a certain petulance that is rather enjoyable, also it just incredibly entertaining to watch Rickman do it even beyond that.
Of course what is a performance like this without some delicious line readings, and these are some of the most delicious you'll see in a film. I mean you have Rickman's already magnificent voice then you have it pumped up to eleven to garnish every scene he is in with such beautiful gems, either ad-libbed by Rickman, lines he specially had friends write for him, or just made so by what he brings to them. Now I don't know if I should even begin to state the lines because there are just so many things made so very special by the sheer monstrous absurdity that Rickman grants them, well speaking them with such beautiful relish. Eh what the hey, there's the peculiar threat "Locksley. I'll cut your heart out with a spoon." gives such fierce insanity, his especially specific time orders for his wenches "You. My room. 10:30 tonight.You. 10:45... And bring a friend" with such smarmy disregard for all decency, his quieter yet as intense instructions to make his stitches small that Rickman grants with such excessive vanity, and of course let's never forget the holiday classic line of "call off Christmas" the oh so fret less and hilarious demand as improvised by Rickman. Evidently Rickman only took on the part after being given free reign with the role, apparently correctly believing the script to be terrible, and essentially sought out to ensure the audience is entertained by him at the very least though. Rickman in a way is kind of trolling a film he knows is bad, but he is doing it in a way to make sure everyone who watches it will get something to enjoy from it. A most notable effort that he does pull off, and I'll say it the right approach. I mean take the finale of the film where we have the Sheriff's attempted rape of Maid Marian a scene that frankly shouldn't be in any fun adventure film. Rickman takes the terrible idea and decides to make work. How, well by playing it as absurdly as possible with every digression, usually of the Sheriff being exasperated by yet another interruption as though he's guy way past his deadline on some important project. Rickman very oddly makes it work because he keeps the scene from at all embracing the very dark implications, and keeping every moment as ridiculous as it should be. I especially love the way in the end how Rickman sword fights Costner in sort of this free style way. It is emblematic of his whole performance where Rickman is performing some great jazz while nearly everyone else is playing rusted some poorly written orchestral piece with rusty instruments that are out of tune. Rickman may be on a different wavelength, but he knows what he's doing to the point he makes something wholly worthwhile in what otherwise would be a completely disposable series of pictures.