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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