Aug 26, 2017

Adventures galore in the BBC's Robin Hood

I remember when I first heard about the BBC doing a Robin Hood series. It was a family trip to London in September 2006, and there were posters on the bus stops advertising it. I remember thinking "A Robin Hood TV series?! Yes please!".  I'd only ever seen the odd episode of Robin of Sherwood (the only other Robin Hood TV series I know of, to be reviewed here some day in the far off future ), so was extra excited at the chance to see one of my favorite characters brought to life on a weekly basis (and with the quality the BBC is known for). Of course it didn't come out on TV in Belgium where I lived at the time (boo!), but the next year (or later? not sure when exactly) I saw the 1st season on DVD in the Fnac in Alicante and just jumped on it! Then ended up having to order the following seasons off Amazon UK since for some reason Spain only did "one and done".

I also remember my first general reactions while watching it. It was a lot of fun, the actors were great (particularly the villains) and we were thrown straight into the action from the very beginning. However I also remember needing a while to adjust to the dialogue! The language felt a bit too modern for me, both in terms of jargon (some odd slang sneaks in from time to time, as well as groan-inducing puns or word games, showcased for example in the episode titles, i.e. 102 "Sheriff Got Your Tongue") as well as modern references or winks (political and cultural). To that I could add on the negative side the anachronistic elements in some of the costumes (some head coverings resemble bandanas or beanies, shirts under the armor clearly industrial etc.). I'm guessing the anachronistic wardrobe was due to budgetary restrictions, and the language probably to attract a modern young audience. Anyhow, once I got the hang of it, I was in it for the long haul, and on a re-watch the lingo is more amusing than jarring!

Created as a family drama for the BBC by Dominic Minghella (brother of English Patient director Anthony Minghella) and Foz Allan, it starred Jonas Armstrong as the titular Robin and Lucy Griffiths as Marian, and on the villainous side Richard Armitage as Sir Guy of Gisborne and Keith Allen as Vaisey, Sheriff of Nottingham.

Unfortunately it only lasted 3 seasons (13 episodes each), due to several of the main actors wishing to leave for other ventures (some sooner than others, *sob*). Between that and Downton Abbey... kind of makes you wish UK shows signed the lead actors on for 5 year contracts like on many US shows to guarantee a solid run! *sigh* They put elements into play in the 3rd season that would have allowed them to do a kind of reboot in the hypothetical 4th, but it came to nothing (felt forced, just wrong).

I haven't seen it in several years (not since loaning it to my English students who loved it!), and figured it was perfect for a summer rewatch (and jumpstart my blogging again). So here we go! 😃

Who is this Robin Hood? 

Sir Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon. Member of King Richard's guard who has just returned from fighting with him in the Crusades, where he was honored by the king for saving his life. He appears to have lost his taste for killing and just wants a peaceful life on his lands, and maybe to win back the Lady Marian (daughter of the previous Sheriff of Nottingham, a strong character determined to defend her own opinions as she sees fit) whom he left behind when he joined Richard to leave for the Holy Land. He's cocky, mischievous and all too aware of his talent and charms. And while he genuinely wants to help the poor people of the land suffering under the Sheriff and his men, he also wants to make sure he gets the credit and love of the people for his help.

S1's initial Sherwood gang: Will, Allan, John, Robin, Roy, Much

He is accompanied by his trusted servant Much, once a Locksley serf, now a freed man eager to receive his reward for his devoted service to his master. Both an endearing character (entirely devoted to Robin), and comic relief (his obsession with food...). Robin and Much will find themselves joining and leading a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest (including familiar names Allan A Dale, Will Scarlet, John and eventually Tuck, with a few original elements thrown into the mix). 

What's going on here?

Robin returns after a 5 year absence, where he was fighting with King Richard in the Holy Land (1st historical error, since Richard was barely 16 months in the Holy Land! Even if you add travel time, and time spent waiting in Sicily and Cyprus, nowhere near 5 years!). All he wants is to get home to Locksley, with his people, and leave the death and violence behind him. Ha! Instead he gets more violence as the new Sheriff of Nottingham Vaisey and his right-hand man Guy of Gisbourne (whom the Sheriff designated to manage the Locksley lands in his absence) have been abusing the people during the previous 3 years in order to raise more and more taxes, and have increased the severity of punishment for crimes (instead of time in the stocks for stealing some flour, hanging!).

So Robin of course rebels against the system, becomes an outlaw, recruits a band of merry men (and eventually women) who make their home in Sherwood Forest and strike out to rob from the rich (the Sherif and those taxes he's collected) and give to the poor (the families they've left behind and others), while they wait for King Richard to return and bring justice back to the land. They are aided / have competition (depending on your point of view) by a mysterious "Nightwatchman" who also helps the poor under the cover of darkness.

Most of the series takes place in and around Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, with a brief interlude in the Holy Land. The historical context is late 13th century Norman England (with clashes between Norman rulers and their new laws which the Saxon lower nobles, burghers and peasants have to adapt to). King Richard the Lionheart is in the Holy Land participating in the Third Crusade, while his brother Prince John has managed to outmaneuver the regents he left in place and is trying to manipulate the situation to his advantage so he can steal the throne for himself.

The series addresses some modern themes, like the soldier returning from war and finding his home (and himself!) changed, and symptoms of PTSD (or at the very least nightmares of the horrors lived through during the war). The people he left behind unhappy he "abandoned" his responsibilities at home and left in search of "glory" (under the guise of doing his duty for king and country). Also the hardship a people face when taxed into poverty to finance said war. The idea of having gone off to fight "evil", when there's plenty of "evil" at home that needs dealing with. And of course the women are definitely not Medieval damsels content to sit meekly by while others decide their lives for them...

Straight out of Sherwood (or not!)

  • Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon -> so we are in one of the versions where Robin is a nobleman who gives up his status to help the people.
  • Robin, crack shot with a bow!
  • Robin wields a recurved bow and a saracen sword?!
  • As in most of the traditional tales, the Sheriff of Nottingham is the main villain, supported by his right-hand man Guy of Gisborne. New element -> the Sheriff has a name!!!
  • Also frequent, Gisborne has an interest in Marian and tries to marry her (for her land, position... and in this case maybe something a bit deeper). He's a more three-dimensional character than in most other versions.
  • In keeping with traditional versions (and the History books), King Richard is on Crusade in the Holy Lands, while Prince John is mucking things up in England (trying to steal his brother's throne).

Will be updated as rewatch progresses

Who's who?

  • Jonas Armstrong -> Robin Hood / Robin of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon.
  • Lucy Griffiths -> Lady Marian of Knighton
  • Richard Armitage -> Sir Guy of Gisbourne 
  • Keith Allen -> Vaisey, Sheriff of Nottingham 
  • Sam Troughton -> Much
  • Gordon Kennedy -> Little John
  • Joe Armstrong -> Allan A Dale
  • Harry Lloyd (GoT's Viserys!!!) -> Will Scarlet
  • William Beck -> Roy White
  • Anjali Jay -> Djaq

Will be updated as rewatch progresses


Warning! Spoilers for each episode in its post... 
Season 1 (2006) (re-watched in summer 2017 & 2018)
  • 101 "Will You Tolerate This?" - In which we meet our heroes and villains, and the adventure begins.
  • 102 "Sheriff Got Your Tongue?" - In which the Merry Men come together, get a mission statement, and Robin a new name.
  • 103 "Who Shot The Sheriff?"In which the Sheriff tries to make the people hate Robin Hood, we are introduced to the Nightwatchman, and Gisbourne has a political rival in Nottingham.
  • 104 "Parent Hood"In which Robin and co. find a babe in the woods, and lose one of their own.
  • 105 "Turk Flu"In which miners strike, slaves are brought in to replace them, Robin attends an archery competition and the gang gets a new member.
  • 106 "The Taxman Cometh"In which the Sheriff sets yet another trap for Robin, but gets more than he bargained for.
  • 107 "Brothers in Arms"In which Gisbourne sets a trap for a spy in Nottingham Castle, a family member causes trouble, Marian kicks ass, an offer of marriage is made and a snake gets his comeuppance.
  • 108 "Tattoo? What Tattoo?"In which Robin spends a lot of time tied to a tree, and discovers the identity of a would-be royal assassin.
  • 109 "A Thing or Two About Loyalty"In which Robin must foil the Sheriff's plans to get his hands on a weapon of mass destruction.
  • 110 "Peace? Off!"In which Robin and his men help out a returning Crusader, and find themselves embroiled in some international diplomacy and spy-craft.
  • 111 "Dead Man Walking"In which Robin and his men help out a returning Crusader, and find themlseves embroiled in some international diplomacy and spy-craft.
  • 112 "The Return of the King"In which Robin and Marian are finally honest with each other, and Robin desperately tries to prove the identity of an assassin and stop a wedding.
  • 113 "A Clue: No"In which the Sheriff and Gisbourne corner Robin and his men forcing a violent standoff... while everyone else prepares for the return of the King.

Season 2 (2007)
Season 3 (2009)

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