An Underrated Masterpiece: The Music of ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’

Whenever people talk about Robin Hood films, it always irks me when someone inevitably refers to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a “lesser film.” I understand that this may not be everyone’s favorite iteration of the classic story, but to just brush Prince of Thieves aside is to ignore one of the best things about this film: the music.

The music for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was composed by the late Michael Kamen and is unquestionably a masterpiece of film music. While released in 1991, Kamen’s score, to my ears, is written in the style of classic Hollywood, right down to the rousing overture, sweeping romantic theme, and swashbuckling music worthy of an Errol Flynn epic.

There are so many parts of the musical score that I could talk about, but in the interests of time I’ll confine myself to two pieces: the overture and the music for the Sheriff of Nottingham’s witch.

The overture for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a gorgeous piece of music that plays while the camera slowly pans over the Bayreuth Tapestry. In the grand tradition of film overtures, Kamen starts off with the brass section, particularly horns, playing over the low strings before transitioning into just the strings for the film’s secondary themes. This pattern can be found a lot in film overtures, in fact John Williams’ overture for Star Wars does the exact same thing. One thing about any film overture is that, if you listen closely while the opening credits roll, you’ll find you’re getting a sneak preview of several of the musical themes that you’ll get throughout the film. For example, a key piece of the overture (right after the initial fanfare) repeats itself during the montage when Robin and the other outlaws are establishing their camp in Sherwood Forest.

You can check out the overture for the film below:

The other piece of music from this film I want to talk about isn’t as well-known as the overture, but it’s no less important. The piece in question is the theme for the Sheriff of Nottingham’s witch, a character that is unique to this film’s take on the Robin Hood story. There are so many ways this character could’ve gone badly or come across as hokey, but what sells her to me is the twisted music Michael Kamen created to accompany her.

This music is best heard during her introductory scene when the Sheriff goes to visit her:

It’s a little hard to hear with the dialogue, but Michael Kamen created a perfectly fitting flute motif for this character that twists up into an almost painful register at times. It’s not particularly pleasant to listen to nor is it supposed to be: the witch is possibly the most evil character in the entire film and the music needed to get that across to the audience. I’ve always liked how this motif reappears in the midst of the film’s climax, when the Sheriff is dragging Marian off to get married and she encounters the witch for the first time. It’s a nice touch of horror for the scene.

These are just two examples of the brilliant music that can be found in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The point I’m trying to make is that the music in this film is highly underrated, as is the film as a whole. This film has always stood out to me as a classic among early 1990s cinema and it is due in large part to Michael Kamen’s wonderful music, which I encourage everyone to check out if they get the chance.

Author: Becky O'Brien

I'm a 33 year old musicologist and blogger and I've had a lifelong obsession with film music, cartoon music, just about any kind of music!