Sunday, December 27, 2015

Robin of Sherwood Season 1 - Episodes 1 - 3

Yes it is that time of year again. You know when the TV networks assume that EVERYONE goes on holiday and NO ONE EVER watches TV, unless it's sport, so they show absolute garbage (even more so than usual). When that happens and we've run out of stuff to watch we either watch or rewatch something and I blog it.

The last couple of years have been my choice. Disney animated films one year and last year the great James Bond rewatch. This year my wife chose and she went for Robin of Sherwood, the mid 80's TV version of the heroic archer/thief.

This year I'm in the same boat as she was last year. She'd never seen any Bonds prior to Pierce Brosnan, so only had limited knowledge of the franchise. I did see the first few episodes of Robin of Sherwood when they first came out, but they didn't rate well here and the network showing it started to play lucky dip with the timeslot, so I lost track of it. Then I saw and ad for the show and Michael Praed had suddenly morphed into Jason Connery and I thought I was pretty well out of it.

I have to say I really like the casting of Michael Praed as Robin and always have. I can get behind a long haired brunette Robin with dark hot eyes. He's probably a little too clean, but you can't have everything.

The show begins with a good old fashioned village burning. Robin's father Ailric (how he wound up being called Robin, when his father has a very Saxon sounding name I do not know) saving him and then confronting the Sheriff of Nottingham at a sort of mini Stonehenge. Apparently Ailfric was the keeper of an arrow with mystical properties. The mystical thing is one part of Robin of Sherwood that differs significantly from past and future attempts to chronicle Robin Hood in film and TV. There are mystical overtones throughout the show. This was big at the time the show was made (mid 80's) for anything that was set in medieval times, and when you take into account that the show runner; Richard Carpenter, was best known for a comedy series about a time travelling medieval monk (Catweazle) it's probably now that surprising.

After the Sheriff has killed Ailfric and taken the arrow (it was silver and rather resembled a cartoonish cruise missile) the show jumps forward 15 years and an adult Robin is shown rescuing his imbecilic foster brother Much from killing a deer in the forest. It's a staple of the Robin Hood legend that no one other than licenced foresters could hunt in the King's forests (all of England's woods) and to get caught doing carried severe penalties. If the hunter was lucky they'd be maimed and if unlucky executed.

This leads to a confrontation with Guy of Gisborne. I was used to Richard Armitage's portrayal of Guy in Robin Hood and even with  his vinyl drizabone he was more menacing than Robert Addie's version. He's very fair and looks quite young, he's also not all that convincing, he tries, but I just can't take him very seriously.

Over the course of the 3 opening episodes Robin gets into and out of scrapes, generally makes Guy look quite stupid and survives plenty of scheming from Nickolas Grace's Sheriff (also outplayed by both Alan Rickman in the Kevin Costner version Prince of Thieves and Keith Allen in the earlier mentioned Robin Hood) and the Sheriff's rather dopey younger brother Hugo (the requisite evil cleric).

Audiences also meet most of the Merry Men: Will Scathlock (a very young and surprisingly good looking Ray Winstone, with a much softer accent and voice than I was used to hearing from him), Friar Tuck, Little John (originally under a compulsion to serve the devil worshipping Baron Simon de Belleme - I kind of thought that they were shaping him up to be another antagonist like Guy, the Sheriff and Hugo, but he was killed off in the second episode.) Maid Marion (interestingly enough with curly red hair, first time I've ever seen that casting decision made, although I guess a case could be made for the one in Disney's animated Robin Hood being a redhead as she was a fox) and Nasir the Saracen, this was the first time a Saracen was cast as a Merry Man, but since that it's become fairly common. Apparently Alan A'Dale also appears, but he hadn't by the end of episode 3. We had two others Tom and Dickon, but they died in episode 2, so I assume that they were the show's equivalent of red shirts.

One interesting addition is that of Herne the Hunter, who adds to the mysticism angle. This is helped by Clannad's haunting theme Robin (The Hooded Man) and the fact that episode one and two were called Robin Hood and The Sorcerer and episode 3 The Witch of Eilsdon. I did find it eyebrow raising that Robin develops a sort of ceremony honouring Herne and both Marion (previously promised by Hugo to the church as a nun) and Tuck go along with this, not only not protesting, but happily drinking from the bowl representing blood and murmuring 'prayers' to the pagan idol.

Production values are quite high, some of it is dated and they cut the fight scenes to limit the depiction of violence and death, but that's all part of making a TV show, which may be of interest to minors in the 1980's. Acting is spirited if not necessarily high class, and it's quite interesting. The first 3 were all quite self contained  and have familiar scenes from the legend: Much killing the deer, Robin escaping Nottingham, showing up in disguise to win an archery contest, rescuing Marion, attacking a tax collector, fighting Little John in a river with staffs.

I will be interested to see what else they do with the accepted legend and how they depart as the show unfolds.

1 comment:

  1. And now you're seeing why I utterly adore this version of TRobin Hood (and the newer version paled in comparison. Except for their version of Guy & the Sheriff.)
    And as much as I loved Will Scarlet & Djaq from the new show, this is the Will Scarlet that I adore. It's a bit peculiar watchin Ray Winstone as Will and also as Jimmy Rose 30-ish years later, it's hard to reconcile the two.

    The mystic bits are an interesting addition to the lore, but it calms down a bit when we swap Robins. There's some different types of mystic-ness during the 3 seasons.