Monday, 12 September 2011

Robin Hood series 1 and 3 links:

Robin Hood series 1 episode guide, reviews and pictures can be found here: Robin Hood series 1.

Robin Hood series 3 episode guide, reviews and pictures can be found here:Robin Hood series 3.

No illegal downloads.

All other Robin Hood blogs are in a process of being updated for their information, pictures, and historical content. I will keep you posted via Twitter. Thanks for your continued interest.

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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Robin Hood and his Outlaws

Robin Hood and his diminished band of Outlaws as they stand at the end of Robin Hood series two: Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong), John (Gordon "he'll always be Little to me", Kennedy), Much (Sam "don't call him servant", Troughton), and Alan A Dale (Joe "wanna buy a dodgy motor?" Armstrong). Okay, so Will Scarlett was off the roster, but everyone here loves Harry, so I included the picture. (Sorry Djaq!)

You can find earlier versions of Robin Hood and his Outlaws on this link.

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Friday, 4 April 2008

Robin Hood. Series 3. Episode 0: "Fantasy in the Forest".

Upon their return to Nottingham the Sheriff is less than enamoured with Guy of Gisborne's mental state. Totally pre-occupied with his murdering of Marian, Guy is given to calling out in his sleep, restless nightmares, and imagining he sees visions of Marian in her now ghostly bridal veil, come to haunt him. In essence, the Sheriff now perceives Guy as a liability, and starts to consider ways of getting rid of him.

When Robin returns to Sherwood with John, Much and Allan, the atmosphere is tense. Robin is suffering from bereavement, and even more reckless in his attitude than at then end of Series 2. Allan is still not fully trusted nor accepted, especially by John, and Much does his best to alleviate the situation, but to little avail. Before long, both John and Allan decide to go their separate ways, alone. John to resume his mission to "give to the poor"; Allan to wheel and deal his way through life as best he can. Only Much, the ever loyal "servant", remains. However, it is not long before Allan (never able to look after his own welfare too well), is arrested in the local tavern and thrown into the dungeons to await his fate on the gallows.

That night a dark, masked figure is observed distributing food to the townsfolk and villagers beyond. Of course the people of Nottingham know it to be the Night Watchman, unaware as they are of Marian's links with the character. News of the Night Watchman's activities naturally reaches the Sheriff, who appears a little less surprised than one might have expected under the circumstances. He dispatches Guy to investigate…

At first Guy is convinced Allan has escaped and is responsible for the masquerade. But upon searching the cells (a search which results in a painful beating for Allan), Guy becomes increasingly convinced that Marian has somehow returned from the dead to plague him, and Allan witnesses the full extent of his former boss's mental breakdown before Guy flees into the night to put an end to the matter, one way or another.

Later on, the Sheriff of Nottingham visits Allan A Dale's cell. Stroking Allan's cheek, he cunningly confides that he might need a new second in command now that Gisborne's mental state is questionable, and releases Allan to "think it over". It is a win-win situation for the Sheriff. Whether Allan kills Gisborne himself, or brings Robin Hood into Nottingham to investigate the Night Watchman stories and face Gisborne, he stands to gain!

Carrying the bruises left on him by the earlier beating, Allan does the noble thing; he rejects the idea of killing Gisborne and working for the Sheriff, and goes straight to Robin Hood with news of the Night Watchman. The information of course distresses and angers Robin. Much is convinced Allan is once again lying and luring Robin into some kind of trap where the Sheriff will be waiting. But what choice does Robin have but to go?

The following night, all sides in this terrible drama are destined to clash. Whilst Robin and Much make their way to the Town, leaving Allan tied up back at camp, Gisborne's men are concealed on every street corner. They don't have to wait too long before a familiar, rather elegant looking, masked rider enters from one end of the street. Gisborne, now dictated to by his broken mental state rather than his usual military instinct, screams out "Marian!" The Night Watchman's horse rears, but when the soldiers close off all exits, escape is futile, and the masked rider slides down from "her" mount.

Guy staggers towards the Night Watchman, weeping and shouting in equal measure. He is insisting on seeing "her" scar, just as he did that time in the barn when Marian's secret identity was revealed. The Night Watchman complies, and slowly lifts the hem of her waistcoat. However, this time the scar which is revealed is not the mark left by Guy's small Saracen dagger, but the horrific and gruesome cut from his broadsword. Gisborne collapses to his knees in disbelief. Then, from behind, another voice screams out into the night: "Gisborne!" It is Robin Hood, enraged and confused by the vision before him, but hell bent on revenge! Gisborne orders his troops to stand back, and the two enemies lock swords for what they both know will be the final time.

At the peak of the fight, both men completely exhausted, Gisborne knocks the sword from Robin's hand! Defenceless, Robin looks up at Gisborne's raised blade, but still taunts him to the very end, proclaiming that even as he dies there are other outlaws poised to replace him and fight for justice in England. Dead he may well soon be, but his spirit will never be defeated. Then, just as Gisborne's blade is about to fall on Robin's neck, the unmistakeable tone of a girl's voice calls out from behind the mask of the Night Watchman as she throws him her sword! In one movement Robin catches it and, with ironic justice, plunges the Night Watchman's blade deep into Gisborne's stomach.

As Gisborne dies Much and the Night Watchman run to Robin Hood's side, prepared for a fight against the overwhelming number of soldiers. But without their leader, Gisborne's troops melt away into the night, unwilling to take on the enraged, now legendary outlaw. So Robin and Much, together with the Night Watchman, make a hasty exit and return to camp.

Once back in the safety of Sherwood Forest, a weakened Robin approaches the Night Watchman in silence, and pulls down her mask…. It is the Arab servant girl (played by Konnie Huq), who acted as a spy for the Sheriff when they were all in the Holy Lands! She confesses to Robin that she is a trained assassin, now working for the Sheriff of Nottingham with the express purpose of killing him. However, having seen the corruption in Nottingham, and heard positive tales about Robin Hood from the Townsfolk, she decided she could not go through with her mission. She does however make her loyalties to her own country, and distaste for King Richard, quite plain. It is only to assist the common people of England, who she believes do not themselves support the unpopular War, that she offers her services now to Robin Hood. Just how much Robin needs those services becomes apparent as he faints to the ground, blood coming from a wound in his side; a far more serious wound than he had hitherto disclosed.

It is the Night Watchman now who takes control. Robin Hood needs more than just rest, he needs medical attention. Much wishes Djaq was still with them, but in her absence suggests nearby Kirklees Abbey where the nuns might be able to help, and where Robin might claim a degree of sanctuary. Allan insists that just the two of them won't stand a chance if the Sheriff discovers where they are, and pleads to be allowed to go and find John. Much isn't keen to do this, believing Allan will go straight to the Sheriff. But they have little choice and, after a severe warning from the Night Watchman as to what she'll do to him if he betrays them (causing Allan to make a quip about previous warnings he's had from someone who once wore that outfit!) they set him free and depart for the Abbey carrying the weakened Robin between them.

Robin Hood is of course admitted to Kirklees Abbey, but the Sheriff's spies are everywhere in this corrupt district, and it is not long before a veritable army of his soldiers have the building surrounded. Much and Robin assume it is Allan who has betrayed them once more and led them here. For their part, the nuns of course will not give Robin up, but neither can they provide much protection beyond their prayers. So it is that the Night Watchman applies a tight field dressing to Robin's wound as the outlaw leader slips back and forth from a state of full consciousness, imagining for moments at a time it is his beloved Marian once more at his side, and both the Night Watchman and Much do little to dissuade him from his fantasy. All three now stand together to take the battle outside, in respect of the Holy nature of the Abbey's interior.

The battle is bloody, as the ninja like skills of the Night Watchman dispense with considerable numbers of the soldiers surrounding her before she and Much are themselves wounded. But it is Robin Hood who is the main target for the Sheriff's archers, and although Robin's arrows plunge deep into the hearts of all within his range, he in turn is struck by the bolts from their crossbows. Before long it would seem that all is lost, as the Sheriff gloats and barks his orders from a well placed and protected position at the rear.

Just then a cry rings out from the forest. It is John with Allan at his side, and a new band of outlaws which John has been gathering together whilst apart from the group! He calls out: "Men of Sherwood, will you tolerate this? Because I for one will not!"

As the giant of the forest now plunges forward swinging his half staff the Sheriff's men are scattered senseless in all directions. The sight of this brings renewed energies to Much and the Night Watchman as they plunge once more into the heat of the battle, whilst Allan alone notices the wounded Robin Hood slump to the ground and runs forward to stand over his former leader, defending him at all costs.

The wily Sheriff of Nottingham can see from where he remains hidden that the battle is lost and, discretion being the better part of valour, makes his escape alone, riding unobserved back to Nottingham. Having witnessed this uprising he is becoming convinced that Nottingham may not be a safe place to stay, and makes plans for a replacement to take over his badge of office whilst he moves on to operate his schemes elsewhere. Donning a suitable disguise, the Sheriff begins to pack and load his canary cages onto the back of a simple peasant cart.

Back at Kirklees the fighting has come to an end. The outlaws stand scattered amidst the malaise, bloodied but not bowed. Against Kirklees Abbey wall Robin Hood lay supported by the arms of Allan A Dale. They have this one final moment together, as Allan weeps and extends his heartfelt apologies for all he's done. Robin forgives him, they hug, but both men know this is their last conversation. As the outlaws gather round their dying leader he addresses each in turn. From John he extracts a promise to carry on his work; to "rob from the rich, and give to the poor". To the Saracen Night Watchman he makes a plea that she stay in Nottingham, to continue the good work of her predecessor, and to further her understanding of its people; an understanding which might one day facilitate peace in the Holy Lands. The last person Robin Hood calls to his side is the faithful Much who, as always, has been seated apart thinking himself forgotten.

Whilst Much holds the man he knew as "Master" in his arms, Robin Hood addresses him: "As much as any man can love another man, I have loved you." Then, through the pain and tears he asks John to pass him his bow. Supported by John and Allan alike, Robin draws back his Saracen bow and fires a last arrow towards his beloved Sherwood. His final words, almost a whisper, are once again directed towards Much: "Where that arrow falls, is where I wish my body to rest. In that way, I shall be with you all, always".

And so it is that Robin Hood, a legend in his own time, passes into folklore.

At the grave side each outlaw will have their own eulogy to express. But John's simple epitaph will be the final one: "Him we liked. But Robin Hood is not dead. For we are Robin Hood".


This has been a fantasy post.

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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Robin Hood Marian Picture gallery. "That Lucy Look".

It is interesting comparing these Marian pictures with those of the first Lucy Griffiths Gallery on the Robin Hood series 1 site.
Above: Marian makes an all too rare appearance in Sherwood Forest.
Above: Lady in Red, Marian the seductive temptress.
Above & below: Masked, and unmasked.
Above: Marian faces the gallows. Below: Lucy in chains... (don't even go there!)
Above: Raunchy in the forest. Below: Teenager in Love.

There are more links to Maid Marian here.

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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Robin Hood, a Hero or Loser for our times?

Robin Hood series 2 continued to be a good (often outstanding) programme, and Jonas Armstrong continued to prove himself as the right man for the role. He is a great Robin Hood.

I think it important to re-state that fact in the wake of such huge upset over the death of Marian, and the criticism of the producer's judgement therein; plus the added disappointment over the total redundancy of Djaq (Anjali Jay) in series 2, not to mention the less than convincing conclusion to her relationship with Will Scarlet; together with various other concerns about consistency where writing and character development were concerned.

Programmes like Robin Hood, Dr Who, Star Trek, Torchwood, etc., etc., are always going to attract an intelligent audience, keen to analyse plot lines and characters as they unfold. We want complexities, but we also expect consistency. Yes, we might be critical, but be in no doubt we enjoyed it. So, why then is this post so difficult to write? Why is Robin Hood's mercurial role in series 2 proving so difficult to define?
At the start of series 1, when Robin stood on the steps of Nottingham Castle and posed the challenge "Will you tolerate this!?" he posed that question not just to the town of Nottingham but to the country beyond; the country (and the girl) he had left behind to do his duty, believing that when he returned it would be to a better place, and one which would respect him for the service he'd done.

That moment on those steps was a thrilling one to witness. In one fell swoop Jonas Armstrong committed Kevin Costner's somnambulistic version to history. (Take away Alan Rickman and Bryan Adams from "Prince of Thieves" and you're left with very little). Jonas Armstrong, with his youthful mixture of boy next door looks and charismatic smile, delivered not only the energy of an Errol Flynn type, but also such emotionally charged scenes as Marian's initial "death scene", the tearful intensity of which we haven't seen in any Robin Hood before. Standing defiant on those Castle steps, as his arrows cut the Scarlet brothers down from the nooses around their necks, Robin Hood was a hero both of the people and for the people, even going so far as to speak openly about the unjust taxes which were being raised to furnish his beloved King's war; a war which scarred him far more than he realised.

So what happened? Did Robin Hood turn away from those people, or did they turn away from him? I offer you my assessment of the character as portrayed in Robin Hood series 2. It is only my opinion, and not necessarily the writer's intent.
Right at the start of series 2, in "Sisterhood", we can see something has changed in Robin. He should be happy. Marian had publicly demonstrated her love by riding away with him on horseback, leaving a punched out Gisborne at the altar. He had assembled and knocked into shape an excellent band of outlaws, embracing all sciences and cultures, and to which both Will Scarlet and Allan A' Dale had returned to the fold. He should be happy, but he's not. And worse than that, he's out to kill.

Of course it wouldn't work out if Robin Hood went about killing his enemies every week, otherwise we'd run out of cast members. But for the first time in that episode we had to be told an "official" reason why he can't kill the Sheriff of Nottingham, and so the thought that "he would if he could" (rather than the fact he might be restraining himself through some sense of morality) does put an entirely different slant on his character: This Robin Hood, rather than have learnt his lesson from the horrors of war, actually wants to kill. And more than that, it might be suggested by his actions in the subsequent programme "Beauty and the Booby", that he actually wants to "kill or be killed". Time and again Robin Hood instructs his outlaw gang to either stay behind when he goes on his missions, or stay back when the action starts. The loyal Much sees this straight away, and is most concerned over his master's apparently reckless, self destructive actions in the strong room. Does Robin have a death wish? And note how it is Little John, not Robin, who gives the final morale boosting call to action (something which will occur time and again from this point onwards). Does Robin also have growing concerns about his own leadership qualities and ability to inspire his gang?

In several ways, episode 3 ("Childhood"), is pivotal to the decline in Robin Hood as both a confident leader of men, and as a heroic saviour of the oppressed. Like a schoolboy he spies on Marian's encounter with a bare chested Guy, still uncertain of her loyalties, and then has to suffer the indignity of being thrown from pillar to post by "Guy the Man of Damascus Steel". His own plan to retrieve the black diamonds is thwarted by the Sheriff, and it is Marian who's macho dagger against the steel maker's spine saves the day. And to top it all, although he doesn't know it yet, there is now a traitor in his ranks. After a clear indication of unrest amongst the troops when Will Scarlet and Allan A' Dale almost left in series 1, Robin has still failed to learn from his mistakes as a leader, and Allan has deserted him.

Robin Hood the hero, the Pagan "Green Man" from the Forest, hailed since pre-Christian times as the spirit who will ensure a good harvest and bring harmony to the land, is clearly both failing and falling apart at the seams. And if ever proof were needed, look no further than episode 4 as the "Angel of Death" spreads his plague like genocidal death amongst the very people before whom Robin Hood once stood on those steps and pledged "I will not tolerate this". But his eye has long since left the ball, and now the victims of the Sheriff of Nottingham's corruption are falling in ever greater numbers. (And Will Scarlet's father, the very man who's sons Robin had saved on that inspiring day, is amongst them).
A lot has been said of the scenes between Lucy Griffiths and Richard Armitage throughout Robin Hood, and such scenes as the balcony sequence, the "wedding", and many others were impressive for their tension. But I would argue that the scenes between Jonas and Joe Armstrong in episode 5, "Ducking and Diving", are amongst the finest of the entire two series. When Robin Hood is confronted with the traitor Allan A ' Dale he is not only face to face with the man who betrayed him, but face to face with his own failure as a leader. Robin saved Allan from the gallows; Allan's brother was hung by the Sheriff of Nottingham, and yet STILL Allan has determined that working for the enemy is a better option than a future with Robin of Loxley. In these scenes between Jonas and Joe the sparks fly off the screen; both actors seizing the moment to shine for a while outside that Lucy / Guy spotlight the producers seemed intent on driving into the ground. And as extra proof that Robin has now come completely unglued, he simply and remorselessly kills the man (Henry) holding Much at knife point. No consideration for Henry's mental state, no attempt at persuasion and bargaining. Nothing. Apart that is from one arrow, clean and straight to the heart. (I loved it. But heroes aren't meant to be doing that sort of thing, and we all know he could have made a trick shot).

What we are witnessing at this stage is Robin Hood the disturbed war veteran; Robin Hood who did his duty by King and country and, having done so, cannot now understand why the consequence would appear to be this world of corruption, death and desertion he finds himself returned to. Even the girl he loves stubbornly refuses to join his cause in fighting from the Forest, preferring instead a more "hands on" approach, dispensing food in the darkened streets of Nottingham. It is not so much Robin Hood who is taking from the rich to give to the poor as it is the Night Watchman.
The next truly pivotal point in Robin Hood's decline as a heroic character occurs in episode 6, "For England". Now totally bereft of all ideas on how to stop the schemes of the Black Knights, he dresses from head to toe in sinister black, jumps on a table top, and without warning slaughters all before him, fully expectant that his actions will also result in his own death. If this was the 20th century, what we would be witnessing is an ex-war vet turned psycho with a sniper gun atop a tower block. Even Gisborne himself hasn't committed murder on this scale! But what is even worse from Robin's perspective is that Gisborne probably wouldn't have failed. He would have taken their heads off, whereas Robin's arrows simply thud into the Black Knight's hidden breastplates as the Sheriff of Nottingham has once again outwitted him. By adopting his enemies ruthless tactics and morals, Robin has lowered himself to their status, lost the fight, and become once and for all "the loser".

Robin Hood's only hope, his only "way back" to his former, confident, focussed, high spirited self, is "the girl he left behind". Robin Hood without Maid Marian is a man without purpose, because Marian is a symbol of all that was good and right about the Country he thought he was defending and fighting for. Marian empowers Robin Hood. She is quite literally the Wind Beneath His Wings. Only Marian's approval can stop his inner turmoil, if only she could be made to understand his continued unquestioning loyalty to the King, and his "big plan" to get Richard home, rather than deal with the situation himself on a local level, as he once pledged to, and as both Marian and John clearly still want to.
And so it is that, in the same episode which sees the Sheriff's men silently slaughtered without warning when ambushed from behind by Robin Hood's outlaws, he finally tells her he loves her. In fact he loves her so much his anger subsides long enough to let the traitor Allan A Dale live. When Marian's father is murdered soon after this scene, and Marian agrees to flee into Sherwood Forest with Robin, it still seems possible for a while that he can win the day; regroup his forces, draw strength from Marian, and return to destroy the corruption in Nottingham. But it will never be. It is John, not Robin, who comforts Marian in her grieving, whilst Robin stubbornly refuses to be swayed from his only plan to get King Richard home. Not for a moment has he learned anything from the desertion of Allan and the later disobedience of Djaq and John. In the end, Marian, the one person who could have saved him, seems to desert him herself, returning to Nottingham Town to continue her vigilante actions alone as the Night Watchman. Even his proposal of marriage will not persuade her to stay, and in one final ironic twist of fate, it will be Guy of Gisborne who stands bravely at Marian's side to defend Nottingham against overwhelming odds, whilst Robin Hood the loser stumbles about Sherwood Forest trying to secure the safety of his arch enemy the Sheriff.

England desperately needed a hero. Robin Hood and Much might have expected to be greeted and lauded as home coming heroes. But heroes need heroic causes, and Robin's cause was seriously flawed. And whereas Much accepted and learned from that fact, Robin never did.
For me personally, what happens in episodes 11, 12, and 13 is a shambles. There are some great moments, as when Guy discovers who is behind the Night Watchman's mask, but the whole thing lacks continuity. What is interesting about those three episodes is sometimes more the actor's performances than the script. Lucy Griffiths gives it her all. She knows it's over, and she goes out on a bang, grabbing every headline (and so she should). Anjali Rose has long since gone onto "remote pilot" and, having been ignored all series, who can blame her? In "that scene" with Harry Lloyd they both look like they're saying "Let's just get this over with. The pubs will be open in a bit". In fact, Harry Lloyd is soooo over the top I seriously think he's taking the p*ss out of the script. Go and look at it again. He cannot be serious. And we all know of Richard Armitage's concerns because he's made them public, and subsequently signed up for "Spooks".

And Jonas Armstrong? One of the best Robin Hood's ever? Series 2 asked him to go to the well one time too many, and he doesn't look too happy about it. After all, he'd already ended one series with a Lucy death scene, giving everything he had in a superb performance. Then there was Edward's death a couple of episodes previous, and now he has to do it all over again? Several readers commented on the fact Jonas didn't seem to care as much as he should have when Marian was finally killed. Who can blame him? Perhaps it should be a measure of how splendid Jonas Armstrong was that, not only has he given perhaps the most diverse set of performances ever in the Robin Hood role, but that he had to do it within a context that became increasingly frustrating and confusing as it neared its end.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Robin Hood and Marian, Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Griffiths, pictures

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Was Guy of Gisborne the Sheriff's b*tch?

Robin Hood's arch enemy was always the Sheriff of Nottingham, until Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 movie version, which relegated the Sheriff to a small cameo role as a clerk, and sat Guy of Gisborne (Paul Dickey), alongside Prince John. In that movie Gisborne was a simple two dimensional character, of a loathsome, creepy appearance, sneaking up on King Richard's tent in an attempt to assassinate him. His reward was to be Maid Marian, with whom he intended to satiate his lust against her will. All good melodramatic stuff in the silent cinema of 1922. But doesn't one expect a little more character development today?
Errol Flynn's Robin Hood took it's lead from Fairbanks. Once again the Sheriff was sidelined (a buffoon), in favour of the dastardly Basil Rathbone as Gisborne; camp as a row of tents, expectant of Marian's hand in marriage, but too shy to talk to her. It was a classic performance, and no doubt a huge influence on the chief villains which followed as first Alan Wheatley, then John Arnatt, Nickolas Grace, and Alan Rickman, all gave outstanding performances and re-instated the Sheriff of Nottingham as arch enemy number one to the outlaws of Sherwood. When Keith Allen started swishing about in his black silk pyjamas, he was inheriting the almost pantomime style that had been established long ago, and doing it superbly well. But what of Gisborne?
Well, in the 1980s, when Nikolas Grace adopted Rathbone's camp style for the Sheriff, Robert Addie gave us a new Guy: Ruthless to the point of being psychopathic; a “master race” blonde haired blue eyed slayer of “wolf’s head” Saxons; driven not simply by power but by thoughts akin to genocide; and certainly no interest whatsoever in a Saxon maiden called Marian. Robert Addie died tragically young, but his interpretation of Guy remains definitive and (perhaps wisely) Tiger Productions made no attempt to recreate it in the current Robin Hood. All of which brings us to Richard Armitage…
I should put my cards on the table at the outset; I just don't "get" Gisborne as he has been written over the last two years. I know Armitage is a fine actor (it always seems necessary to say that for those that cannot distinguish between the script and the person), but I don't think he's been put to good use in Robin Hood. It's obvious what Tiger Productions’ intentions were: To place a love triangle at the centre of the series and use that as an ongoing thread to link the main characters together, much like the 1922 film. But was this done effectively? In my opinion, which I acknowledge to be amongst the minority here, no not at all.
The undeniably handsome Richard Armitage was dressed from head to toe in a sexy black leather suit (rather reminiscent of Elvis Presley's 1968 TV Special), and asked to stomp about in fine military style, barking orders, and thus successfully invoking thoughts of fascist black shirts in the same way that Darth Vader's helmet has World War 2 overtones. All good stuff from the time honoured traditions of the “baddie’s wardrobe“. But where was the script? Where were the passages that convinced us he loved Marian? Or indeed that she could ever desire him? I suggest that script was only ever in the minds of the fans.
That Gisborne, the one that I believe was being summoned up more in the imagination of the fans than the actual scriptwriters, would never have stabbed Marian. He would have given her a good slap, thrown her across his horse, and rode off with her for a date with a riding crop in the barn! But he doesn't do that. He runs a huge sword through her stomach and then, in exactly in the same manner by which Marian was swept away from the altar by Robin, Guy himself now holds on tight whilst the Sheriff of Nottingham carries him away from her death scene.
No wonder Richard Armitage himself questioned the writers about this mess. But what of the rest of Series 2; were there any other clues as to how Guy and Marian might feel?
Episode 3, "Child hood", is interesting, because we see Marian observing a bare chested Guy, and clearly enjoying the view. (Shaven chested guys being a rarity in the 12th century!) It's a good scene; believable in as much as this young, inexperienced woman is certainly going to find that figure of a man attractive. And the idea is continued nicely into Episode 4, "Angel of Death", when Guy comes knocking at Marian's door like a big bad wolf, testing the lock. At that point in time it seemed like the love triangle concept was progressing. As indeed it does when, in the subsequent episode, Guy offers her an escape route from the Castle in order to prevent her being “given” to Winchester. But then what happens? Guy leaves her room, and encounters the Sheriff in the corridor. The Sheriff makes him shed a tear, and even wipes that tear away for him. It's undeniably a very powerful moment, but it's just not consistent with what we've witnessed only moments ago on the other side of that door.
The natural ending to this Jonas Armstrong version of Robin Hood is Episode 7 ("Show Me the Money"), the one in which Edward dies and Marian rides off into Sherwood Forest. In that episode Guy still continues to display some convincing regard for Marian by giving her back the dagger her father used to kill a guard and, for a trained assassin at least, does show a modicum of emotion when he attempts to console her on her father's death. In my opinion this also marks the end of any character development as far as the love triangle is concerned. I concede Armitage’s script has been much better in this respect than it was in series 1, but I also fear that the paucity of ideas beyond that love triangle sidelined other main players like Harry Lloyd’s Will Scarlet and Anjali Jay’s Djaq, and precipitated the crisis in plot developments yet to come.
Gullible Guy, who could stand one side of Robin Hood’s “dead” body on a cart, believing that Marian, Hood’s fiancé standing the other side, doesn’t hardly notice it, would still have his moments. Stone deaf Guy, who speaks to Robin Hood up a tree for about half an episode before he realises Marian is up there to, would still get his chance to redeem himself, as when he chooses to defend Nottingham alongside Marian, against the army intent on avenging the apparent death of a “missing” Sheriff. It’s another fine moment, but to get there we had to have Marian leaving the fiancé she’d become engaged to only hours previous, and hear a Will Scarlet (still unforgiving of Allan’s treachery), suggest she marry Gisborne for her own safety!
In my review of Episode 11 ("Treasure of the Nation"), I wrote that that show “wipes clean the previous slate on Marian and Guy's relationship to draw it afresh". Guy had discovered her identity as the Night Watchman, and his shock was well delivered. He didn’t kill her in a rage. He ran from the barn, unable to cope with the surge of conflicting emotions in his mind. Armitage is brilliant in these sequences, producing the small blade, demanding to see the scar from last year. Here he is a really great anti-hero, and not just a two dimensional monster. But the Gisborne character as a whole, always in my opinion built on shaky and inconsistent foundations, is about to tumble down.
It is not Allan A Dale’s slip of the tongue which actually reveals Marian’s secret identity to the Sheriff of Nottingham, it is Gisborne. And so it is that all the players come to be in the Holy Lands at once; where Guy’s troubled dreams take on a most unholy (or at least puzzling), nature.
I’m sure there’s a good reason Why Guy was having dreams about Allan’s massage techniques in episode 12, but they completely eluded me. When it turns out to be the Sheriff’s hands on his bare shoulders, commenting “I hope you’re not too disappointed”, the tone is certainly more sinister than previous funny quips such as “Why don’t you ever kiss my ring?” Even more sinister is the way the Sheriff refers to the deserting Allan as Guy’s “boy”. Within the context of the whole series I’ve been watching to date, this dark scene makes no sense to me at all. Furthermore, I would be slightly concerned if suggestions about a character’s sexual preferences were linked by implication to their “evil, villainous deeds” in a show which screens during a prime time slot for children. I am not saying that is what’s happening; and I certainly love Keith Allen’s interpretation of the Sheriff (as already stated in my introduction about the “camp“ tradition of the role). But it is an example of how Series 2 left the rails as it drew to it’s conclusion.
We all now know what that conclusion was. Guy of Gisborne could have accepted Marian’s proposal, killed the Sheriff, and returned to Nottingham with her as his bride. It would have drawn reprisals from Prince John, but he was willing to stand against that army before. Instead he remains loyal to the Sheriff, informs on her yet again, and only asks that he be allowed to take Marian "by force" upon their return to Nottingham. When the Sheriff decides otherwise, and has Marian bound to the same stakes as Robin Hood, Guy has no objection. Why were we even surprised he ends up slaying her with the blade when he has already left her for dead in the desert?
Why? Because “we” still imagine the talented, handsome Richard Armitage, in all his leather suited splendour, to be Lord Byron, or Heathcliffe, or any number of such tall dark handsome figures from the annals of Gothic literature. But Armitage was never given that chance. That was never the Guy of Gisborne in his script. A pity.

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Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Joe Armstrong as Alan A Dale.

Robin Hood is a Legend; "a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history, and to possess certain qualities that give the tale the appearance of being true or real". (Wikipedia). That status is not the consequence of one TV show that runs for a couple of years (or a staggering 5 years and 143 episodes in Richard Greene's case!) So I make no apologies for continuing to review the current Jonas Armstrong adaptation within the greater context of that Legend, and how it has developed and changed over the years. Much as I admire the work of Jonas, Lucy, and Harry, the story of Robin Hood has been around for centuries before them, and will doubtless be around for centuries to come.

Great stories thrive and survive because the basic elements of that story are solid and well constructed; each character contributing something unique, heroes and villains alike, which goes to make the group's whole greater than just a sum of their parts. And such was certainly the case with Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Occasionally, that legend will be added to, as when writer Richard Carpenter introduced Nasir, a veritable stroke of genius that every subsequent version of the legend has duplicated in its own way. And, although virtually every Maid Marian of film and television has been more than able to take care of herself with either bow or sword, Lucy Griffith's Night Watchman may well prove to be another addition to the ages old story which we will now see extended into the future. A less attractive proposition, I suggest, would be the continuation of Alan A Dale as a traitor.

Recently I wrote about mine and my readership's admiration for Sam Troughton's performance as Much. I also think the other almost unsung star of Robin Hood Series 2 has been Joe Armstrong as Alan A Dale. What a great performance.

Before Series 1, Joe Armstrong had certainly acquired more television experience than the other young cast members. The "strike a pose" directorial style of that first series (very noticeable to all of you taking screen shots!), suited Joe down to the ground. He exhibited the characteristics of a young Michael Caine, keenly aware that it's not always what you do in front of the lens, it's what you don't do, and he had the ability to catch and hold the camera's attention really well. In terms of script, his big moment came when the Sheriff of Nottingham hung his brother ahead of schedule (and ahead of Robin's attempt to save him), and it would have been nice to see that scene played out a little more. However, greater challenges were ahead.

In Series 2, Alan A Dale changed sides. We all knew he was growing increasingly concerned about his future with Robin Hood; the Lord of Loxley who would return to silk sheets and fine wines upon the King's return, leaving the outlaws in something of an unknown predicament. But we truly never expected the man who had seen his brother hanging at the end of the Sheriff's rope, to now join up with the Villains of the piece like some latter day Judas. It's still a ridiculous idea. It doesn't work. But from an actor's point of view the idea is of course manna from heaven. Everyone wants to be the baddie because of the possibilities it involves. And Joe Armstrong certainly more than rose to the challenge.

Alongside Lucy Griffiths, I would rate Joe Armstrong as the other star of the show who's performances really stood out in Series 2. Yes I hate the idea of Allan A Dale being a traitor, but the way Joe enacted the role, with his "cheeky chappie" one liners ("I'm good with nuns"), his audacious backchat with Gisborne (especially when Gisborne tells him to saddle his horse), and his opportunistic money spinning attitude, somehow seemed to stay in character with what had transpired before, and his yarn spinning linked well with the story telling Alan A Dale of legend.

Perhaps more than anything, Alan A Dale is effectively used in the show to illustrate how Robin Hood has lost the command of his men just as Much shows how Robin has lost contact with his people. As Alan says: “You’re always in the sun, Robin. I’m always in the shade”. The tension behind the two duals between Robin Hood and Allan, one above the oil vat and one in the cellar, comes from the fact that this is a fight between two men that were once on the same side. There hasn't been a fight between Gisborne and Robin to match either of those sequences (mainly because Robin runs away!), and Episode 7's sequence in the cellar is simply breathtaking.

Joe Armstrong has a solid fan base of his own. (Visit this link). Within the comments boxes of this blog he might not yet have gathered the same level of teenage attention as that bestowed on Harry and Jonas, but I'd put my money on him as a star of the future.

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Thursday, 31 January 2008

Robin Hood, Series 2, Picture Gallery 16.

Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong) keeps an eye on Sherwood Forest, whilst Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage), does the same in Nottingham.
Marian (Lucy Griffiths) stands revealed as the Night Watchman, and Gisborne demands to see the scar he inflicted on her a year ago. (See sidebar for a picture of that scar).
Robin Hood gets down on one knee to propose to Marian in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Little did they know how sad the circumstance of their final wedding vows would be, taking place as they did on the blood stained desert of the Holy lands.
The Sheriff of Nottingham seemed ever too eager to drive a wedge between Guy and Marian. On route to Plymouth the Sheriff discloses that Guy was indeed the assasin who atempted to kill King Richard.

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Saturday, 26 January 2008

Sam Troughton is just Too Much!

This latest TV version of Robin Hood has received a LOT of negative comment recently. Most of it in response to the ending, but to be honest, quite a bit of it had been building up since about half way through the second series. So I thought I'd offer a couple of posts emphasising positive aspects which, in my opinion, continued to shine.

Sam Troughton as Much was a favourite character of mine from the outset. Troughton himself has a gift when it comes to delivering his lines, showing the comic timing of a real pro. A good example would be his comment in Episode 6, as they pass the guards dressed as minstrels. When the guard's curiosity is aroused at the unlikely sight of Little John in all that garb, Much quickly retorts "he's the drummer". And Troughton also knows exactly how to react to the teasing comments directed against him, as when the boys in Episode 3, identifying each outlaw in turn, say "oh you must be the servant".

But of course it's not just the humour that we get from Sam Troughton's character. In a series which featured only two female roles, both reluctant to exhibit their softer side in the male domain of Sherwood Forest, Much was never afraid to wear his heart totally on his sleeve. He would worry terribly about Robin Hood's often reckless courage, as when he was dodging the booby traps in Episode 2, and he would frequently seek reassurance that Robin still cared for his companionship, especially after hearing of the leader's engagement to Marian (the news of which brought unseen tears to Much's eyes). Amidst all this pathos, as Much increasingly deliberated upon his future as "the lone outlaw", it was only ever Djaq who took a moment to express her friendship and gratitude to Much with a simple kiss on the cheek.

And yet, more than all of this, I think there is another reason why Much has been so well conceived in this series:

As stated elsewhere in my Robin Hood blogs, Much was only ever a small but significant part of the legend. Whereas the other outlaws line up like a positive medieval team of super heroes; the giant Little John with his staff, beautiful Marian the spy, Friar Tuck (sadly missing here) with a bible in one hand and a sword in the other, it befell Much (the Miller's Son) to simply be the common man. Much represented what Robin Hood was fighting for; indeed the very reason he became outlawed, when saving Much from the Sheriff of Nottingham's men after being caught poaching.

All that changed of course in series 1 which introduced a new Much; Robin of Loxley's servant and subsequent Brother in Arms. But that's where the new concept gets particularly brilliant, whether by intention or default. As opposed to being the symbol of what Robin Hood's cause should be about (remember "rob from the rich and give to the poor"?), he became a barometer of Robin Hood's worth as a leader. And, I'm sad to say, this Robin Hood was found lacking.
Jonas Armstrong's Robin Hood was a poor leader of men, and one who lost sight of the common man. He neglected to pick up on the signs that Allan A Dale and Will Scarlett had such concerns about their future that Allan even deserted him altogether (both outlaws having already left him once in the past). Little John and Marian also engage in acts of defiance, trying to return to the basic cause of serving the people of Nottingham, but Robin Hood is blinkered in his blind faith that the clue to the future is King Richard. And as he looses sight of the common man it is no wonder he loses sight of Much.

When the outlaws play Djaq's honesty game, whilst preparing to make their last stand, they all nod in agreement when Much expresses his feeling that he has been taken for granted and undervalued. The greatness of Sam Troughton's Much is in the fact that he has learned from the horrors of war, and returned a better man. (Remember the tears in the bathtub at the start of series 1?)

Sadly, this Robin Hood has not. He responds to Much's comment by saying he is afraid to confront those horrors for fear it will impede his abilities to be the leader. He doesn't realise it would have strengthened them. And it is the new Much character through which we now not just illustrate what traditionally Robin Hood was all about, but judge his current failure.

Sam Troughton was absolutely brilliant at realising all aspects of his role.

Find out more about Much (the Miller's Son) on this link

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Sunday, 20 January 2008

Robin Hood, Series 2, Picture Gallery 15.

Guy of Gisborne promises Allan A Dale his services will be rewarded. We all know that Gisborne's rewards are invariably a blade in the gut. Allan seems to be the gullible one this time.
Marian contemplates the gallows, whilst Allan A Dale plays the Night Watchman.
The King's Mother takes a curious interest in Djaq, a Saracen amongst the Saxons.
Marian is foolish enough to think she can influence and control Gisborne, but only the Sheriff of Nottingham is ever capable of that.
Marian's last smiles. For many more pictures of the death of Marian follow this link to the Robin Hood Pictures blog.

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Saturday, 12 January 2008

Djaq and Will went down the hill?

Will Scarlet quietly makes his mark.
By the end of Robin Hood series 1, Harry Lloyd's dark good looks had certainly established him as probably the most popular male cast member with the teenage viewing audience. However, his Will Scarlet character was still lacking in definition. The direction he received from the producers often seeming to amount to little more than "strike a pose". So, along with the Harry fans, I awaited Series 2 with interest; wondering how Will Scarlet would develop.
I had wanted an "angry" Scarlet, of the kind Ray Winstone instigated with "Robin of Sherwood". After all, the producers of Robin Hood had made several disparaging remarks about that earlier series, and so surely they were going to show us how it should be done? Well, not exactly. Poor or inconsistent character development would be a running criticism of the programme.
Between Robin Hood Series 1 and 2, Harry Lloyd appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who as the "possessed" school prefect Jeremy Baines, and he was really good. Given a well defined, well directed role, I actually think that performance was his best to date. Therefore, when Robin Hood returned to our screens, we anticipated that both Harry's popularity and proven ability would merit a higher profile. We were wrong.
Will Scarlet's big moment came in episode 4, "Angel of Death", when he witnessed the murder of his father. For that one episode, I at least got the "angry Scarlet" I had wanted. But you know what? Good performance though it was, it just wasn't quite right for Harry Lloyd.

Then, for the next eight episodes Will Scarlet became a figure in the background, as plot lines increasingly revolved around Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong), Allan, A Dale (Joe Armstrong), and Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage). This lack of attention to Will's character is precisely why "that love scene" between him and Djaq in episode thirteen was so painful; neither the viewers nor the actors had been given the opportunity to find it at all convincing. A little prior development would have been all it needed to make it work; a walk in the forest, or a few exchanged "looks". But all we got was Djaq's response to Will seeing her in a dress. Fans were otherwise left guessing as to whether or not he seemed to be sitting rather close to her in any given ambush scene, and as soon as the script relies on the wishful thinking of the viewer, rather than the written page, trouble looms. (Witness the Gisborne / Armitage divide for example).
To end on a positive note, now the series has ended, I find myself more aware of Harry Lloyd's version of Will Scarlet than I had been during its transmission. And maybe (like Gordon Kennedy), this is where Harry Lloyd's strengths lie; making a lasting impression through a succession of small opportunities. I find myself really liking this new angle on Scarlet; an inventor, the person who designed and constructed the hide out in Sherwood Forest; the person who turned musical instruments into deadly weapons; the outlaw Robin Hood most confided in (above Much and John), when it became apparent a traitor was in their midst. I may not have got my "angry Scarlet" (and thank goodness I didn't get a 1930s / 50s style minstrel in a red coat!), but I did get a new interpretation of the outlaw that has proven more interesting in retrospect than was perhaps apparent at the time.

Question: Harry Lloyd is in the upcoming Richard the Lionheart mini-series, playing "Lucas". Does anyone know if this is a totally new character, or is it meant to be Will in disguise? Also, If Lucas is indeed Will, where does Djaq fit in?Djaq, missing in action.
What happened to Djaq? After Robin Hood series 1, she and Much were probably my favourite characters. Anjali Jay in particular had proven most impressive in taking on the role of the Saracen outlaw that began with Mark Ryan in the 1980s, and which in 2006 (given the world situation as it is), had become an even more important role.
When I visit Sherwood Forest I see children from all manner of cultural and religious backgrounds buying their souvenir Robin Hood bows, arrows and hats. That's precisely the way it should be. Robin Hood is a hero of the people. All the people. The early legends about Robin Hood were never linked to King Richard's Crusades and, especially after Michael Praed's Robin of Sherwood dropped all that baggage long ago, I think it bordered on crass stupidity in 2006 to drag such links up again.
So for me, the Saracen outlaw tradition is not only an important one, but one that carries a certain responsibility. More so when that character is also an intelligent, independent, woman of action. At the outset, Anjali Jay absolutely shone in the role. The contrast between her scientific mind, and the superstitions of the Saxon outlaws, was good humoured and well written. One might say "It's only entertainment", but entertainment is where we get a lot of our ideas from, and can be a powerful tool in breaking down barriers.

After Robin Hood Series 1 Anjali Jay had a lead role in "Blind Dating", in which her ability to balance comedy with drama came across well. And certainly when Robin Hood returned to our screens for a second series we all expected to see more of Djaq, the woman who had "saved" Marian's life. We were wrong.
I hate what the writers and producers did to Djaq in series 2. Suddenly this strong female "warrior" was wearing a fitted waistcoat to enhance her curves, before making her only real subsequent contribution to series 2 in episode 2 (The Beauty and the Booby), when she was required to use her cleavage to distract the guards. And as if that wasn't enough, to add insult to injury, the very woman who had been able to perform surgery on Marian in Series 1, was now totally unable to help deliver a baby in Series 2.
Anjali Jay was wasted in Robin Hood Series 2, whilst the character of Djaq was systematically destroyed.
Okay Hoodies, over to YOUR opinons. The comment box beckons!

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