A procession of Norman soldiers is escorting prisoners through the forest of Nottingham when they are ambushed by a band of thugs. The melee is bloody and violent, and the gang of hooligans shows no mercy, rounding up survivors of the attack and executing them if they don’t prove useful.
But when a minstrel finds himself face to face with death, he offers the murderers and thieves something that catches their attention: immortality through song. He is forced to compose the tune on the spot, incorporating members of the gang and changing details to suit their whims — and the result is the accidental birth of a legend.
Written and directed by Will Kenning, this clever comedy short begins with a fight sequence set in medieval times that would make any fans of Game of Thrones intrigued, full as it is of gruesome kills and brutal violence. But there are clues that things aren’t quite what they seem, particularly when they round up survivors for execution, and spend a considerable amount of time debating over if and why they should kill someone.
The dialogue and performances expertly sketch out the various personalities at work in the gang, using sharp, focused wit in the writing and performances to dig underneath the surface of this group of killers. Though they’re amoral and violent, these aren’t the brightest band of criminals overall, and as a result, they spend a lot of time squabbling and bickering like childish buffoons.
As the story slows down to focus on the minstrel’s dilemma, his negotiations and on-the-fly composition cleverly reveal the various egos, tensions and tender points at work with various members, who insist upon revisions of their verses. The process is also a showcase for the cast’s collective performance, which expertly treads the line between broad comedy and a more subtle specificity with each character.
As a result, much of the humor comes out of watching the foibles of human ego and delusion at work, and it sits easily with the menace of violence that the film builds up early on and teases later in the action. As the minstrel writes his song, viewers begin to catch onto just who this group is. The reveal is gradual and carefully built up, but then it dawns on us just who we’ve spent time with — and how far they are from the legend.
Entertaining, attention-grabbing and clever, “The Legend of Bob Leonard” is essentially about how history is the ultimate game of “telephone,” with a focus on the gap between the glamorous, even noble image painted by the storytelling and the messier reality. Bob Leonard and his gang of violent miscreants don’t quite have the valor or nobility of the legend, and the film’s humor exploits the gap in a smart, witty way, all while capturing the action with visual panache and style. It’s all in great fun, as is the finished song, though “Bob Leonard” doesn’t quite have the impact it should. No worries, though… there’s nothing a little historical revision can’t fix.