Dakota Fanning as Beverly Aadland in "The Last of Robin...

Dakota Fanning as Beverly Aadland in "The Last of Robin Hood." Credit: Quantrell Colbert

That directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer had a tale of sublime trashiness on their hands with "The Last of Robin Hood" was never a secret -- but it turns out to have been a secret weapon. The April-December romance between Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) and would-be starlet Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) -- who was 15 when she met Flynn in 1957 -- was long the bar by which Hollywood sex scandals were rated. But Aadland stayed with Flynn until the star's death at a Vancouver house party in 1959; their affection seems to have been genuine. That's how Westmoreland and Glatzer view it, and, as a result, a stream of pure sentiment runs below the surface of what should be a far tawdrier tale. How moving it all is turns out to be one of the surprising things about the film.

There are others: Inspired by "The Big Love," the book by stage-mother-of-the-century Florence Aadland (Susan Sarandon), Westmoreland and Glatzer get performances out of Kline, Sarandon and the miraculous Fanning that elevate the entire drama. Kline has long been talked about as the ideal choice to play Flynn, who went from Hollywood's handsomest to its most dissipated star in about 20 years. One of Kline's bigger challenges is looking as haggard as Flynn became. Another is playing a man who essentially is tired of playing himself, a creature of automatic charm and profound world-weariness, whose eyes are pools of social exhaustion.

His opposite is Florence, whom Sarandon makes a guilty party thoroughly convinced of her own innocence. She's not what one expects to find in this kind of story, and neither is Fanning. Her Beverly is an ill-educated but far-from-ditzy blonde who understands far more than anyone gives her credit for, including Flynn. In fact, he probably died at the right time, before Beverly could make the exit from his life she's clearly en route to making.

PLOT The scandalous '50s romance between teenager Beverly Aadland and career swordsman Errol Flynn.

RATING R (some sexuality and language)

CAST Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon


BOTTOM LINE Terrific performances help mine the poignancy in a legendary tabloid story.

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