The BBC adaptation of the legend of the dweller in Sherwood Forrest who robs from the rich to give to the poor aired for three seasons from 2006-2009, and I’ve looked back on this series with not a lot of fondness. When I watched this program, I doggedly kept with it in hope that my gripes would subside, which they sadly never did. However, I decided to go back to this series after finding all three seasons on Netflix to give it another go. Did my feelings change towards the series?
The answer? Yes…and no.
Watching some of it back I don’t think it’s all bad but there are definitely some weak points to it. To give some background, the first episode starts us off with Robin (Jonas Armstrong) returning from the Holy Land with his manservant, turned best friend and confidante Much (Sam Troughton). He finds that the people located around the village of Locksley which are rightfully his lands are being subjected to increased taxes and hardships by the new Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne – his right hand man (Richard Armitage). The series doesn’t take long to fulfil the legend and by the end of the first episode, Robin has made his feelings clear and escapes to live in the forest.
From this point on the drama series develops different strands, establishing its characters and generally trying to bring the legend of Robin Hood to life. It works to an extent; the gang that Robin builds up in the forest grow on you and my favourites still remain Allan A Dale (Joe Armstrong) and Will Scarlett (Harry Lloyd). I often found the other characters annoyed me, particularly Much – he constantly whined and it sounded like he’d always be itching to say ‘I told you so’.
As well as following Robin and his band of men, there’s also the love interest of Maid Marion, played by Lucy Griffiths who played her with compassion and also acted as a good sparring partner for Robin. The creators thankfully didn’t create her to be meek – she stood up for herself, her family and her opinion, but also showed her emotions. Marion was physical as well, introduced in the first season as masquerading as the Nightwatchman, a fellow outlaw but not necessarily working in correlation with Robin. The series also showed us the elaborate schemes of the Sheriff and Gisbourne as they try and trap Robin, each and every week. This is where the show’s secret weapon is well and truly revealed – Keith Allen is witty, exaggerated, and hilarious bringing a much needed energy to the show.
The first series certainly develops the characters, but it isn’t until the second series that the show actually starts to be entertaining. Whilst watching the second series I remembered just how much I enjoyed the show, and I was surprised how much I remembered. The show is fleshed out, has an overall story arc, and not just random adventures every week and Robin and his men aren’t captured every single week (just every two or so).
Richard Armitage becomes an integral part of the show, and a great sparring partner for Allen’s Sheriff. Under the surface there’s something always bubbling, with just a hint of creepy in his performance, particularly with his behaviour towards Marion who he still loves, despite the fact she ditched him at the altar at the end of Season 1. With her help, she unlocks some humanity and goodness; even though he is slightly desperate, he is ferociously loyal to her, covering for her when he finally finds out she was the Nightwatchman.
When I re-watched Season 2, I was surprised by how much I could remember, and could see why I stuck with the show week after week, despite its ludicrous storylines and how Robin and his gang still remained all intact, and Marion not found out. However, as I settled down to watch the season 2 finale I still felt the same emotions as I did the first time – severe disappointment and anger.
The storyline itself was slightly far-fetched in its nature – Gisbourne and the Sheriff hatch a plan to kill the King and travel to the Holy Island to assassinate him, along with a unwilling Marion who they’ve essentially kidnapped after she discovers their plan. Robin and the gang quickly decipher their plan and chase after them. It takes both parties no time at all to get half way across the world and without much hassle, they eventually convince the King of the truth and manage to foil the Sheriff’s plan but not without a casualty along the way. Marion discovers Gisbourne bearing down on the King, ready to kill him and gets in his way trying to talk him down. After professing her love for Robin and revealing her true feelings towards him, it sends him over the edge and he stabs her. Gisbourne is distraught at what he’s done, flees and Robin says a tearful goodbye to Marion as she dies in his arms.
The show killing off Maid Marion, the true love of the shows lead character, which is so rooted in the tale of Robin Hood sent me into a rage when I first saw it, and I must say I still don’t agree with the decision. For me, the show lost its way there and then; it seemed such a senseless character death, particularly because of how much the character was invested in the show. At the time, I wondered how the show would pick up after such a important death, and even though the show did continue it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Robin returns to England, blood thirsty for revenge on Gisbourne, on a one-track suicide mission to avenge Marion. Gisbourne it seems has also been affected by Marion’s death, even more angry and depressed and his relationship with the Sheriff massively suffering. The once father/son type partnership they had, the Sheriff slowly influencing and corrupting Gisbourne has vanished as Guy blames the Sheriff for the death of the woman he loved.
The show also introduces two new characters Friar Tuck (played by David Harewood pre Homeland) and a new female lead –Kate (Joanne Froggart). She’s plucky, physical and even more go-getting than Marion, determined to ‘do the right thing’ all the time and more than often shouting her opinion. It’s not long before she’s looking admirably at Robin, her leader and friend and by the time we get to episode 9 the two of them have quite real feelings for one another; considering Robin was so in love with Marion the speed and swiftness of a new love interest is ridiculous and quite frankly rude. To add insult to injury, during the season’s 6th episode he also kisses another woman, who turns out to be Isabella, Gisbourne’s sister (Lara Pulver). Pulver is a great addition to the cast, and is more slick and manipulative than Gisbourne, who takes a back seat in this series and by the end is actually somewhat of a hero. We also have the introduction of Toby Stephens as Prince John, but only for a few short episodes – a shame really as he brings a delightful energy to the show.
Gisbourne is still relatively tortured regarding Marion’s death even though he is the one that killed her, whereas Robin seems to have all but forgotten about it. The softer side of Gisbourne and the guilt that he continues to feel are unfortunately not explored or developed. In a moment when Robin and Gisbourne are fighting, Guy says “I’ll never ask for your forgiveness, because I can’t forgive myself”. This would have been a brilliant opportunity for exploration but it unfortunately only scratches the surface of Gisbourne’s guilt. Despite Robin’s character being so destructive in the opening episode of the 3rd season, through the rest of the season he seems very blasé, and back to his typical arrogant self. The writers also tend to produce problems and issues and resolve them just as quickly, not letting it naturally develop and build, as if it’s thrown in as an afterthought.
The final straw for me was the bizarre twist they invented for the last arc of the season – that Gisbourne and Robin are actually intertwined and related by a half-brother, causing them to join forces to go on a hunt for this half-brother, who turns out to be yet another troublemaker with not that many morals. The season 3 finale the second time round was entertaining and quite action packed, with Keith Allen returning once more to try and defeat Robin and his gang. I’d forgotten just how many people they’d killed off in the episode – Allan was the first to bite the dust, a character I was massively sad to see go. He had such a charming quality about him, and a great wit, and Joe Armstrong played him so well. Next to go was Guy, followed by Isabella and the Sheriff and finally they go and poison Robin – the actual main character of the show! Jonas Armstrong had announced just before the season began airing that he was leaving the show after this season, and even though there was a potential plan to carry on the show basing it around Archer (the half-brother), realistically the show couldn’t have carried on.
The goodbye and the ending is quite clichéd, but all in all it was nice to have Lucy Griffiths return one last time as Marion, although quickly frankly I would’ve whacked him for his behaviour during that last season. The gang wander off into the forest, quite lost without its leader, a lasting image and a final one for the show.
This show had the making of a great autumn slot in the absence of Doctor Who, a slot that Merlin progressed in from strength to strength. Instead, the show had several pitfalls that it couldn’t recover from, including some foolish choices from its writers and characters that did not connect. However after I finished, I certainly took away the fact that I did enjoy this show, despite its annoying qualities, and it allowed me to discover little acting gems such as Richard Armitage, Lucy Griffiths (who’s about to appear in the new US show Constantine) and Joe Armstrong. I’ll leave this review with a few standout episodes from the series as a whole – if you wish to try out the show, I suggest you go try one of these episodes first.
Stand Out Episodes:
1.1.‘Will you Tolerate This?’
1.12 ‘The Return of the King’
1.13 ‘A Clue: No’
2.8 ‘Get Carter’
2.12 ‘A Good Day to Die’
2.13 ‘We Are Robin Hood’
3.6 ‘Do You Love Me?’
3.9 ‘A Dangerous Deal’
Robin: People of Nottingham, these men have committed no crime worth more than a spell in the stocks. Will you tolerate this injustice? I for one, will not! (Robin Hood 1.1 ‘Will You Tolerate This?’)