Monday, September 12, 2011

BBC Robin Hood series 2 & 3 links:

Robin Hood series 2 episode guide, reviews and pictures can be found here: Robin Hood series 2.

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All other Robin Hood blogs are in a process of being updated for their information, pictures, and historical content.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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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Robin Hood Series 1. Exhibition, Nottingham Castle 2007 / 08

Whilst cities in the U.K. such as London and Birmingham get a large number of TV and/or science fiction related exhibitions, the rest of the country (in spite of excellent venues), get rather too few. So the modest Robin Hood Exhibition at Nottingham Castle, timed to coincide with the second series, came as a welcome treat.
The pictures here of the costumes require no explanation. The video clips are posted for publicity purposes only, without profit, and to support this and future similar initiatives. Apologies for the poor sound quality, but they were filmed as "live" amidst conflicting events.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Robin Hood picture gallery 18

Robin Hood picture gallery 17

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 9: Keith Allen.

Whilst we all say The Sheriff of Nottingham it is worth pointing out that in the original tales of Robin Hood, Robin killed at least two Sheriffs! Or, maybe it was simply that the writers of those accounts gave different versions of how the Sheriff met his grisly end. (Beheading seemed immensely popular in those tales!) But how ever many Sheriffs there might have been in Robin Hood's day there is no doubting that the Sheriff of Nottingham was Robin Hood's arch enemy. As with Van Hesling and Dracula, Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, or Captain Kirk and the Klingons, Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham are destined to do battle across the landscape of our imaginations for all of time.
The position of Sheriff was neither by election nor Royal Appointment. One became Sheriff simply by buying the privelige with an annual sum given to the King. After this the Sheriff would be expected to earn his own income via taxes and confiscations of outlaw properties. So the system was always going to be open to abuse. In fact the most historically correct film version of the Sheriff of Nottingham could well be that of Douglas Fairbanks's silent movie: A shady yet rather non-discript character, hovering in the background, but taking every opportunity that came along to benefit himself and further his advantage.
Of all the characters in the legend of Robin Hood it is the Sheriff of Nottingham that has been portrayed with the most consistent level of excellence. The original source of much of this was certainly Alan Wheatley in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Wheatley defined the character as dastardly, scheming, cruel, and as camp as a row of scout tents. You can still see his influence in the excellent work of Nickolas Grace (Robin of Sherwood), and Alan Rickman (Prince of Thieves). But there have been other fine interpretations, such as Peter Cushing and Robert Shaw, who both depicted him as a military man in chain mail, keen to engage in combat. (Note the gory duel between Robin and the Sheriff which ends Robin and Marian).
Keith Allen, swishing about in his eastern style silk "pajamas" amongst the bird cages, still belongs firmly (I'm pleased to say), to the tradition of a dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham that we love to hate. If at times he has come perilously close to being a pantomime villian (and let's not forget this show goes out at an early hour), he has the skill and experience to pull back from the edge and get genuinely unsettling again. Who can say they weren't shocked by his early hanging of Alan A ' Dale's brother? The torture of Roy? The cutting of Marian's hair? (Not to mention the canary!)
Known to be a very creative actor, keen to explore ideas if they arise rather than simply accept a given script, his skills have proved a solid corner stone around which the younger cast have been able to develop their own craft. For example, the bedroom scene in episode 3, in which Robin Hood has the Sheriff at knife point; just look at Jonas's face. Robin Hood might have the knife, but he's not at all in charge of that situation. There's a feeling of tension there, as if neither are sure what will happen next, and they're enjoying it immensely. Similarly with Lucy Griffiths; in several episodes, when Marian stands next to the Sheriff she looks genuinely concerned and/or afraid. Understandable when you look at Keith's previous "bad guy" films! The casting of Keith Allen has been an inspired and invaluable part of the success of this series. Internet searches and fan club sites are naturally bound to revolve around the younger cast members, but Keith Allen has been the backbone of the series.

To see the place where the real Sheriff of Nottingham once lived click here. For more Sheriff of Nottingham pictures and info visit the links on THIS PAGE.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 8: Joe Armstrong.

Unlike most of the other outlaws, such as Little John and Tuck, Alan A Dale's first meeting with Robin didn't involve a challenge or a fight. In the legend, Robin came across Alan A Dale when Alan was heart broken and forlorn at the prospect of the woman he loved becoming the bride of a rich and powerful knight. It's likely that Robin had seen Alan before around Nottingham, singing his topical ballads about the events of the day, or telling a good tale in an Inn. And so, to see him looking depressed was probably what aroused Robin's curiosity and led him to extend an offer to Alan to join his Merry Men. Someone who could tell a good story around the campfire at night would boost moral, and be an excellent addition to the gang.
Alan agreed to join Robin on the condition that they first rescue his girlfriend Ellen. This they did, interrupting the wedding ceremony itself, after which Little John is said to have put on the Bishops clothes and wed Alan to Ellen. The happy couple then both join the outlaws and live in Sherwood Forest. (Robin of Sherwood devoted an episode to a loose interpretation of this story, but didn't have Alan A Dale join the outlaws at the end).
Alan could take care of himself in a fight, but he was most useful as a good woodsman (hunting, trapping), and of course as an entertainer. This has made him a difficult person to cast in films and television shows. On the printed page Alan A Dale became a very popular aspect of the legend, but on screen no-one really wants to see the action interrupted by old English folk songs. In fact there is really only one Robin Hood film which gives Alan a high profile, and that is Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood. Here the Alan A 'Dale character is used to move the plot along by appearing periodically to sing a verse, much like the way an old English ballad itself is structured. This technique was very effective in its day, and expertly handled by the American folk singer Elton Hayes. The only other significant appearance by Alan A Dale would seem to be Eric Flynn's role in A Challenge for Robin Hood. This is certainly not a great Robin Hood film (although John Arnatt gets to reprise his wonderful TV version of the Sheriff of Nottingham), but Alan A Dale's character in the film is interesting if only for the fact he is the angry leader of the outlaws before Robin comes along. Eric Flynn gives a really good performance, until the second half of the film when he breaks into song...
The BBC has wisely avoided all musical links with their modern Alan A Dale, and as such Joe Armstrong has been given the opportunity to re-invent the role and make it his own. Joe's outlaw replaces song with "tall stories" and exaggerations, as in episode 1 when he tries talking himself out of being punished for poaching. He is excellent as the "cheeky chappie", "one of the lads" type, with a fairly easy come easy go attitude. For example, in episode 12 when he thinks a life with Robin Hood is coming to an end, he persuades Will to join him for a new life beyond Sherwood. (How appropriate that it was the optimist in the group who first noticed Marian was breathing). Alan A Dale provides an excellent balance between Much's constant verbalising and the silence of Will and John, making him a natural spokesman for the team. But Joe Armstrong's character has worked so well because we have also been given a glimpse of his other side, particularly episode 7 when his brother was hung by the Sheriff of Nottingham. It is this opportunity for a fuller development of a character that fans would like to see more of in certain other members of the cast.
To say Joe Armstrong is my favourite Alan A Dale is perhaps not to say too much. After all, there hasn't been much competition for that role in the last 70 years! But perhaps now future film makers will see how this outlaw can be successfully integrated into the proceedings in a contemporary way.

Next week: Keith Allen.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 7: Anjali Jay

Djaq was neither the first Saracen outlaw to feature in a Robin Hood series, nor was she the first girl outlaw. In that respect those critics who derided her role as being motivated by a need for political correctness were quite wrong.The equality of "girls and boys" was explored several times in the 1950s via Patricia Driscoll's performance as the second actress to play the part of Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Occasional stories were also given over to the equality theme, one in particular featuring a very young and later to be acclaimed award winning actress Billie Whitelaw. But perhaps of greater significance was Judi Trott in 1984's Robin of Sherwood. Trott's version of Maid Marian was officially outlawed by the Sheriff of Nottingham, actually married Robin Hood in a simple Pagan ceremony, and then lived amongst the outlaws in Sherwood Forest.
The concept of including a Saracen outlaw among Robin's Merry Men is also nothing new and was one of many significant aspects of Robin of Sherwood. Mark Ryan played the part of Nasir, a mercenary who was originally meant to kill Robin but, having witnessed his character and tested his skill in a duel, decided of his own volition to join him. Nasir was a man of very few (if any) words, and his character soon gained a huge loyal following. In 1991 Hollywood incorporated several ideas from Robin of Sherwood into Robin Prince of Thieves, such as an angry Will Scarlet and a Saracen outlaw. This time that outlaw was called Azeem, played by the distinguished actor Morgan Freeman who, in spite of his ability, never really challenged Mark Ryan's version. However, "Prince of Thieves" did explore the clash between Azeem's faith system and that of a very cantankerous Friar Tuck in a most entertaining way. (One of the better aspects of the movie).
And it didn't end there. The third "black" outlaw was the oft forgotten Kemal, played by real life martial arts competitor Hakim Alston. In the late 1990's television series the "New Adventures of Robin Hood", Kemal was a black mercenary who joined Robin Hood for the second series. I wish I could tell you more, but I've never seen the series, nor can I seem to obtain any tapes of it. (Much to my regret!) However, I think the point has been made that the inclusion of a "black", Saracen, or Arabic outlaw has probably been the most important and popular innovation to the whole legend during the 20th century. When the Jonas Armstrong version of Robin Hood began in 2006 such a character was absent. Thankfully she arrived in episode 5 when Robin Hood rescued Djaq (Anjali Jay), from a wagon bound for Gisborne's mines and a life of slavery.
Djaq is the most educated of the outlaws, and does not share their Saxon fears and superstitions about sorcerers (episode 10), or Turk flu (episode 5). She also has knowledge of the "black powder" (episode 9) prior to its arrival in Nottinghamshire, and exhibits an awareness of basic medical procedures in advance of those around her. (The scene in episode 12 when she attempts to revive Marian is at one and the same time thrilling, heartbreaking, and hilarious). There are occasions when Djaq wonders if Robin values her less because she is a girl, such as episode 8 when his urge to kill Gisborne seems more important than her safety. But in the end, Djaq serves as a symbol of Robin Hood's redemption from whatever actions he may have undertook in the war, and he clearly values her friendship and respects her cultural background. For example, when the outlaws vote to throw the formula for the "black powder" into the fire, he sees Djaq retrieve it but doesn't get angry. The outlaws were fearful and superstitious about the powder and its consequences. But Robin had been in agreement with Djaq that knowledge should be preserved and encouraged, and is pleased to see her save the book because he knows she will not abuse it.
Anjali Jay has excelled in the role of Djaq. Those that level accusations of "political correctness" should think again. Where a character can serve as a positive role model, illustrating the fact that the Saracens were neither savage, backward, nor heathens, then I call that a worthwhile education. She has inherited the role first popularised by the great Mark Ryan, combined it with aspects of Judi Trott's girl outlaw, and made it her own. I can't wait to see what a new Friar Tuck will make of her...

Next week: Joe Armstrong.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 6: Harry Lloyd.

Even before film was invented there were already many different accounts of who exactly Will Scarlet (also spelt Scarlett), actually was. Most Robin Hood fans have accepted the version in which his real name was Will Scathelocke (or Scatlock), and was changed to Scarlet for one of two reasons: The first reason is based on the original tale which tells of Robin Hood meeting a stranger in the woods wearing scarlet silks. This seems unlikely, but the word "scarlet" can translate as "rich" or "expensive", and was no doubt taken as literally bright red in the earliest costumed plays about Robin. The second reason is that Will was both short tempered and filled with bitterness and anger at the death of his wife, caused by the Norman lords; his fits of rage being described as "scarlet".
It is possible to put both accounts together and picture an angry, outlawed man, seeking revenge on the Normans, and given to wearing as trophies those items of expensive clothing he stole from the rich. But there would still remain various other aspects of the complex character with which he has been credited. For example, many of the tales describe him as Robin Hood's cousin, and it was quite common for families to be outlawed rather than just one individual. An intriguing character indeed.
1930's Hollywood depicted Will Scarlet (Patrick Knowles) quite literally in red silk, merrily singing on the river bank whilst Robin Hood and Little John fought it out on the bridge. (This new found musical ability no doubt saved the film budget from having to employ an Alan A Dale!) Thankfully, Anthony Forwood in the first Walt Disney version of Robin Hood toned the character down somewhat. And note how, in all these versions, and many which followed, Will Scarlet is Robin Hood's closest friend long before he even meets Little John.
We never got to see an angry Will Scathelocke / Scarlet until the opening episodes of 1955's the Adventures of Robin Hood. Here Bruce Seton plays the part of scruffy outlaw leader Will Scatlock who robs from the rich to keep for himself (similar to the way the BBC portrayed Little John), until his death puts Robin in command. This idea was ahead of its time, and there wouldn't be another angry Scarlet (with the possible exception of Douglas Mitchell), until Ray Winstone made the role his own in 1984's Robin of Sherwood. Winstone's Will wasn't just angry, he was almost psychopathic with rage at the murder of his wife, a man described as being "scarlet inside", and there's no-one better at playing the small screen hard man than Ray Winstone. Thankfully when the BBC scripted its new version of Robin Hood they avoided trying to compete with Winstone's definitive version (which even Christian Slater could not do), and also avoided slipping back into the old concept of a man dressed in rich fabrics (which not everyone did).
The BBC remained true to some of the original concepts about Will, in as much as circumstances led him to steal and become an outlaw before Robin himself, and I for one much prefer this return to Will Scarlet being someone Robin Hood meets at the point of becoming an outlaw rather then him be a previous long time friend or servant (the role now taken by Much). Harry Lloyd's Will looks up to Robin Hood as someone he has admired for a long time. Even before Robin left for the Crusades it seems his ability with the long bow had made him a local legend with the younger boys and men. Indeed, when Will is arrested in episode 1, he always believes Robin won't let him hang. (He was almost proved wrong!) Harry Lloyd, two years younger than Jonas Armstrong, conveys this sense of loyalty and "hero worship" really well, as he does his innocence and youth. (Note the scene in episode 5 when he sees Djaq topless and soon after declares his love for her). It's refreshing to have a younger-than-Robin Will Scarlet, and Harry Lloyd undeniably has a charismatic presence on screen which has brought many admirers and devoted fan sites. He is really well cast as this inexperienced, young version of the outlaw who is not yet the man.
What we need to see now is a "Harry episode", a story which will require more of his character, in the same way that Gordon Kennedy did in episode 11 when defending his son, and Joe Armstrong in episode 7 when he lost his brother. Will Scarlet, as he stands at present in this new BBC version, is still an unknown character, seemingly content with his lot. But as he matures into manhood in Sherwood Forest what is he thinking inside? Does he think about his late mother? Does he miss home, and feel anger at the way he was treated by the Sheriff? Does he really have a crush on Djaq? We saw the tears at Marian's bedside, but will we ever see the scarlet inside rise to the surface?
To see the church wall against which Will Scarlet was buried click here. To see the stone marker which commemorates the fact Will remains buried somewhere within this graveyard click here.

Next week: Anjali Jay

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 5: Gordon Kennedy.

For long centuries everyone has known that Little John was Robin Hood's best friend and second in command. A giant of a man, his real name was John Little, which the outlaws themselves switched around when he joined them in the forest. John was an excellent archer, but his preferred weapon was the quarter staff; a brave choice of weapon which necessitated close combat against metal swords, but a choice made perhaps from poverty.
Little John's first encounter with Robin Hood on the bridge, where neither man would give way, is probably the most famous of all the tales of Robin Hood, so much so that the statue that stands today outside the Sherwood Forest Visitor's Centre still commemorates their good natured fight. And yet, if one looks through the various filmed versions of Robin Hood, it is surprising just how few of them make Little John such a prominent character. More often than not he has to take second place to Will Scarlet, and sometimes even less than that.
The notable exception of course was Archie Duncan in the long running and hugely successful 1950's television series. Duncan encapsulated everything Little John was meant to be: Gruff voiced, quick tempered, stubborn, but inwardly as gentle and shy as a lamb. Indeed the general public’s identification of Duncan with his screen persona was forever consolidated when he saved a group of children from falling scenery on the set of Robin Hood, sustaining injuries in the process. (A stand-in actor had to be used for a few subsequent shows). Archie Duncan's version of Little John still casts a long shadow. David Morrissey and Clive Mantle were both good, but no-one came close to capturing the essence of the character like Duncan did - until Gordon Kennedy in episode 11 of the BBC's Robin Hood.
Unlike a lot of the cast we all knew what a fine actor Gordon Kennedy was from his previous work. So, for him to be given such an important role, and then have relatively little to do for 10 episodes, was frustrating for Little John fans to watch. But all that changed with his tour de force performance in "Dead Man Walking"; here was the giant bear of a man, reduced to tears in the Sheriff of Nottingham's dungeon whilst talking to the son who doesn't know who he is, then later tearing the Sheriff's timbers and chains from his neck in protection of both that son and the woman who no longer loves him. Little John may not have been given much to say in previous of the series’ scripts, but he seizes the opportunity this one presents in both giant hands and expresses much more about the feelings of the oppressed in those times, and how they became outlawed, than many other similar tales put together.
Yes I'm still very critical of the BBC's decision to omit the famous encounter on the bridge, (and if you're reading this BBC, which I know you do, it's not too late to work that scene back in! It doesn't have to be their first encounter); and yes it is hard to give an extensive review of an actor's performance when so much of his time has been spent in the background. But, when one considers how much screen time other Little John's were allotted, just how many had the emotional impact Gordon Kennedy had in that one episode?

Next week: Harry Lloyd.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 4: Sam Troughton.

Ask any Robin Hood fan about the opening scenes of their favourite film, and whether their preference is for Greene or Flynn, Costner or Bergin, Praed or Armstrong, they will tell you it involves Robin of Loxley coming to the aid of a poacher and thereby losing his knighthood to become Robin Hood. And according to legend that poacher was Much; sometimes Much the Miller, sometimes a young boy, Much the Miller's son. So Much is a very significant part of the legend, a symbol of all the poor Saxons of England, and thereby the person Robin of Loxley is willing to sacrifice every thing to defend. But because he is more of a symbol than an individual character, he usually disappears from the story after that point, with the notable exception of Peter Llewellyn Williams in Robin of Sherwood, where he joins the outlaws for the entire series.
When the BBC changed that poacher to Alan A' Dale, and changed Much to Robin Hood's right hand man (a role always associated with Little John, or sometimes Will Scarlet), I had very serious reservations. It seemed they were tampering with the legend just for the sake of it. But I was proved wrong.
In giving Robin Hood a less macho friend than Little John the series has been able to explore many issues which were hitherto not possible: The close friendship between two fellow soldiers returning from the horrors of war; the class divide and loyalties between servant and master; the natural jealousies that arise when friends are shared. In this new version of Robin Hood, Much has been the glue which has held the outlaws together, and Sam Troughton the actor who has practically stolen the show with the impressive range of his performance. Favourite small moments which come to mind would include the tears in the bath tub at the relief of being home and the memories of war (episode 1), the taunting of the outlaws when he mistakenly thinks it safe to do so (episode 2), his look of jealousy when Robin kisses the girl (episode 6), his shy and gentlemanly ways when sharing the bathtubs with a woman (episode 9), the deathbed scenes over Marian's body when Djaq suddenly starts thumping Marian's chest trying to revive her (episode 12), the terrible moment when Robin attacks him verbally in episode 13, only later to be the only outlaw to go and fetch their leader. It seems in practically every episode Sam Troughton has had the ability (and opportunity) to either make us laugh or cry. Before episode 9 there was a lot of debate over whether this version of Much was gay. That may still be a possibility, and it wouldn't be a bad thing if he was. For example, Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer provided an excellent positive role model as a gay character. But we don't need to know for sure. It's good to have a bit of speculation in the series.
This BBC version of Robin Hood has made two notable innovations to the series, both of which are likely to influence future films: The Night Watchman, and the promotion of Much to centre stage. Sam Troughton may not garner the same kind of female orientated fan base that certain other members of the cast do, but his performance in delivering his character has been consistently outstanding. Comparisons with previous versions are not relevant because it is such a new interpretation, but he would have certainly come out on top.

Next week: Gordon Kennedy.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 3: Richard Armitage.

Guy of Gisborne (also spelt Gisbourne or Gisburne), is one of the most interesting characters in the tales of Robin Hood; a character whose "now you see me now you don't" appearances merit some documentation. Originally Gisborne was a just a bounty hunter dressed in animal skins who Robin Hood met in the forest, fought, and decapitated. It could all have ended there, if not for that splendidly villainous name "Guy of Gisbourne", rich with alliteration which rolled from the tongue as ballads were passed around. And so it was that Guy eventually became Sir Guy, a bad knight to counterbalance Robin of Loxley's good. But never in the stories did Guy of Gisborne ever rival the Sheriff of Nottingham as Robin Hood's arch enemy, until Hollywood came along.
The first Robin Hood blockbuster of 1922 relegated the Sheriff to a simple clerk whilst elevating Guy to the status of Robin's number one villain, lusting after Marian and attempting to assassinate King Richard in the Holy Lands. (All sound familiar? Yes folks, if the BBC watched just one Robin Hood film they certainly watched this one). That film proved so successful that it became the role model for Errol Flynn's subsequent 1938 version, in which the Sheriff is once again sidelined in favour of a Gisborne portrayed by Flynn's real life friend and hell raising drinking buddy, Basil Rathbone. The climactic duel between them is a part of Hollywood legend, and Rathbone's splendidly "camp" performance has influenced all the best Robin Hood villains which followed. How ironic then that they would all be Sheriffs: Alan Wheatley (1950s), Alan Rickman (Prince of Thieves), and Keith Allen (Robin Hood 2006), all have a bit of Rathbone about them.
Guy of Gisborne then disappeared from Robin Hood filmdom for almost 50 years before being catapulted back into the public imagination by Robert Addie's definitive portrayal in 1984's Robin of Sherwood. Addie didn't attempt to emulate the slightly pantomime style now associated with the Sheriff, but instead came on strong as a scary, ruthlessly driven, even psychopathic villain. When that blonde haired blue eyed Guy spat out the words "Wolfs head" or "Saxon", whilst trying to dislodge and replace the equally villainous Sheriff from his position of authority, the supposed "master race" references were unmistakable. But most importantly, Addie's tantrums and arguments with the Sheriff still provided a sense of relief and humour against which to balance those characteristics.
In my opinion Guy of Gisborne as he appears in the BBC's 2006 version of Robin Hood, lacks clarity, definition, and this sense of balance. Having opened up so many possibilities which culminated in the emotional (and disturbing) balcony scene of episode 7, in the end he is little more than the two dimensional character of 1922. And, before the Armitage Army string me up in the forest, this is not a criticism of Richard Armitage who is obviously a talented actor. I'd love to see him play Byron or Heathcliffe, where the perceived villain of the piece is in the end the romantic hero. And am I the only person who thinks Bond would be a great role? He has all the attributes of young Connery in the early sixties; that combination of ruthless and romance. (He even looks like the Bond in the books). I know a lot of fans are imagining Armitage's Guy is a romantic heroic type, who only has to sweep Marian into his arms for her to see the error of her ways, but that's wishful thinking and not what's actually been on our screens.
The BBC's version of Gisborne is impressively dressed in classic bad guy style; a combination of Darth Vader and S.S. trench coat. He is an avid admirer and pupil of the Sheriff, equally as happy to witness him cutting either tongues or Marian's hair, whilst his favoured methods of killing are up close, bloody, and sneaky. He is constantly teased, ridiculed and duped by the Sheriff, whether it is lies about the King's return or a bottle of acid to the arm, but he never shows sign of revolt. Neither is he a man capable of tender emotions. When a silk scarf fails to buy Marian's affections he simply ups the "bribe" to a pony. His desire for Marian manifests itself as abusive, threatening that her father's life will be endangered if she refuses to marry him, and when he first attempts to kiss her in episode 11, or indeed succeeds in episode 13, Marian's reaction is that of a teenage girl upset by the unwelcome physical attentions of an older man.
Does this all sound like a really evil villain? Yes, absolutely! But is the character to have no "saving graces" in the name of entertainment? Even canary crusher Keith Allen gets to make us smile when he looses a tooth or gets hung upside down from a rope. There have been so many lost opportunities to develop a fuller character for Gisborne: The baby in Kirklees Abbey which is apparently his; the fact he has TWICE stabbed the girl he lusts after (once on the eve of their wedding night). How would he really feel if he suspected that? As it stands I think he'd simply kill her. Maybe now that his men have seen her gallop off with Robin Hood that's exactly what will happen. As stated, I think ultimately this BBC version of Gisborne has explored the character little more than the silent movie version of Paul Dickey, and as the years go by will fail to dislodge Rathbone or Addie from their thrones. I stand to be proved wrong. Richard Armitage is a fine actor, and there is much potential in the loose ends of these episodes to be explored.

Next week: Sam Troughton

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Robin Hood picture gallery 16

Above: Will any of the men in Marian's life understand her and accept her for who she is?
Above: Jonas, Joe and Harry have certainly proved a hit with the teenage audience.
Above: Will we get to see the Night Watchman working alongside the outlaws next year?

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Robin Hood. Spotlight on the Cast 2: Lucy Griffiths

Prior to Robin Hood being broadcast Lucy Griffiths was keen to point out that her Maid Marian was not going to be a "damsel in distress". What she didn't realise was that Marian has never been just a damsel in need of rescuing. Maid Marian was a combination of English Rose, and original Spice Girl. But it is true that the tales of Robin Hood give so many conflicting versions of Marian (and that differing film versions have only ever selected small details from these), that it has become difficult to bring the whole person into focus. However, one can edit all these various accounts down to a now commonly accepted portrait, and see just how Lucy Griffiths provided such a fine portrayal of the role.
As the title "maid" suggests, Marian was in inexperienced girl, very much of the people and for the people. America's Hollywood got it totally wrong when they escalated her status to that of an aristocratic Lady. In that respect Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's awful portrayal of Marian in Prince of Thieves, and Olivia de Haviland's faintly ludicrous parade of exotic gowns in the Adventures of Robin Hood, both fell wide of the mark. Joan Rice helped restore credibility to America's vision of Robin Hood's mate when she donned the Lincoln Green herself to romp alongside the outlaws through Sherwood, but far better still was Patricia Driscoll's British T.V. version of 1957. Here was a Marian who was not only an expert archer and spy, but also a ruthless protector of the Saxon peasantry, more than willing to hold a dagger to the throat of anyone threatening her man, whilst at the same time beguiling the Sheriff of Nottingham with her charms and keeping secret her links to the outlaws. Later versions of note would include Judi Trott, who actually lived in the forest as a known outlaw with Robin Hood and his men, and Uma Thurman who dressed as a boy to find out more about the man in the hood; (a personal favourite and easily the best non-television Maid Marian of all time). And so you can see, "damsel in distress" is just not what Maid Marian has ever been about.
19 year old Lucy Griffiths successfully portrayed a credible background to the Marian character: An inexperienced girl whose position in life was raised by the election of her father to the status of Sheriff, but who never forgot her roots among the less privileged people she strives to help. Lucy's Marian is also a girl who's first love went off to war leaving not just her behind, but an England increasingly divided in the King's absence by Norman influences; something neither she nor the common people around her would ever fully accept or understand. Lucy did an excellent job of expressing this confusion and unrest, especially during her confrontations with Jonas, where she tries to find justification for his actions in joining the Crusades when so many at home needed him (including her). This questioning attitude is also well expressed in her "generation gap" arguments with her father whom she clearly respects and seeks to defend, even though his "old school" anti-feminist attitudes attempt to suppress her. (One can't help but feel that her father really wants her to marry Guy and settle down on the winning side of the privileged classes). But not only is Lucy’s acting so convincing in this respect, so is her whole screen presence; she seeks not to be glamorous, but simply the "good looking girl next door", exuding a very strong physical presence, rather than the token girlie. This of course has been essential in developing the main innovation the BBC have brought to the series, that of her "secret identity the Night Watchman. Lucy has succeeded in this challenge because she is able to convey how the Night Watchman is first and foremost an expression of Marian’s own conscience and concern for the suffering peasantry, only resorting to fighting when absolutely necessary. And what a fighter! Whilst, during the 1980's, Judi Trott remained fairly swan like and elegant in the midst of battle, one gets the feeling that if Lucy punched you you'd certainly know about it! (I think she could even take Djaq in a straight fight!)

Where criticisms have been directed at this BBC version of Maid Marian they have mostly centred on her "Top Shop" style wardrobe. But that criticism can also be levelled at Guy "the Matrix" Gisborne, or Sheriff of "silk pyjamas" Nottingham, or even Little "have you seen my Harley Davison anywhere?" John! At the end of the day the "Lucy Look" became an entertaining and popular aspect of the series, and something which never distracted from her acting. A lot has been written about her emotional scenes with Jonas, and rightly so, but I would also draw attention to her encounters with Keith Allen. Although much briefer on screen, Lucy's facial expressions subtly convey a sense of genuine fear at the Sheriff's presence. (And where Keith Allen is concerned who can blame her?) The writers gave Maid Marian more opportunities to shine than any of the rest of the cast during series one, and Lucy Griffiths was not found lacking. As with Jonas Armstrong, her character incorporates many themes which have been explored before in Robin Hood filmdom, but she has still made the role her own and I would rank her alongside Patricia Driscoll and Uma Thurman as one of the three best Maid Marians of all time.

To see the place where the real Maid Marian lived click here.

Next week: Richard Armitage.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Robin Hood. Spotlight on the cast 1 : Jonas Armstrong.

Jonas Armstrong was 25 years old when filming the first series of Robin Hood. He was not the youngest Robin Hood ever (Michael Praed was 24), but his youthful appearance was certainly in keeping with the role. Those Robin Hood fans who prefer an older Robin, such as Kevin Costner (36), Errol Flynn (29), or Richard Greene (37), should bare in mind that the average life expectancy for a man in those days was only about 30, and that a Knight who could survive even two years in the Crusades was very rare indeed.
At the start of the 2006 version of Robin Hood the BBC borrowed as much from previous traditions as it infused from the contemporary. For example, Jonas's small beard is perfectly in keeping with descriptions of Robin Hood in the old ballads, and his acrobatic displays when swinging across the Castle courtyard, or jumping from balconies, is very like the classic Hollywood versions of the hero made famous by Flynn and Fairbanks. (Jonas has a cetificate in stage combat!) But what was so very refreshing about Jonas was his broad accent. Born in Ireland, raised in Lancashire, his accent made our Nottingham hero much more believable to today's audience than the somewhat "educated English" tones of previous actors; or worst still the undisguised American accents of others.
But what Jonas Armstrong will most be remembered for was the range of emotions he was required to bring to the part. We've seen many love scenes in previous Robin Hood films, but not the "first love" quarrels and sulks that he and Lucy Griffiths so convincingly enacted, and certainly never a Robin Hood moved to tears. In those scenes where Marian was believed dead, and later doomed to a marriage with Guy of Gisborne, Jonas’s emotional displays gave our hero a dimension not seen before.

If I have any criticisms of the Jonas Robin it would be these, (and neither of them are to do with the actor himself): Robin Hood would never have used an inferior Saracen bow. I know when I first saw that bow I thought it was a good idea in as much as it was a symbol of his respect for his former enemy, and regret at what happened in the Crusades. I thought that if we weren't going to get a Saracen outlaw, then the bow was a good substitute. But Djaq later fulfilled that role. Before gunpowder the English long bow was one of the most powerful weapons in the world. Archers would design their arrows especially to suit different needs; they could pierce chain mail, or bring down a fully grown deer. Robin Hood and the English long bow are inseparable, and I do now agree with those critics who say the BBC was just trying to be politically correct. I also think Jonas's wardrobe in the early episodes was a bit small. Yes, Robin got his name because he was "the man in the hood", but am I the only one who thought that first "hoody" was a size or two too small? In the later episodes he looked fabulous.

I regard Jonas Armstrong as being amongst the best three Robin Hoods of all time (the other two being Michael Praed and Richard Greene), and it will be really interesting to see how all the experience both he and the BBC have gained during series one will be put to use next year. For whole new generations of television viewers, Jonas Armstrong will no doubt always be Robin Hood.

Next week: Lucy Griffiths.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Robin Hood picture gallery 15

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Robin Hood. Episode 13 . A Clue: No.

The story: A gloating Sheriff of Nottingham, Gisborne, and his men, approach the cave concealing Robin Hood and the body of Maid Marian. Feeling he now has nothing to lose, Robin attacks them and several arrows find their deadly mark. The Sheriff loses a tooth in the process, a humorous aside no doubt inspired by the real life event in which Richard Armitage knocked out Keith Allen's tooth during rehearsals. As the outlaws run out of arrows, Will Scarlet and Alan A’ Dale turn up to rejoin their number, and all draw swords to attack. "It is a good day to die", says Little John, but his fears are unfounded when the Sheriff's men run away.
Returning to the cave they begin to pay their personal respects over Marian’s lifeless body, until Alan realises she is in fact still breathing. Djaq recognises the symptom of hemlock poisining, as Marian awakens from her coma before being carried back to Knighton Hall. Marian's father, Sir Edward, has markedly less concern for his daughter than he does the returning King Richard, and tries to persuade Robin Hood to accompany him to Nottingham to protect the King, even though it means letting Marian marry Gisborne. Indeed he is adamant that Robin should "let her go" unless he has a foolproof plan to save her. Robin departs to think things through alone, only to have Much approach him with the same sentiments as Sir Edward, that he should let Marian go. Robin's sarcastic response directed at Much is vicious, and Much soon leaves him alone.
What none of them know is that King Richard is not returning to England. It is all just a ruse by the Sheriff to see who is likely to betray him if such an event took place. The Sheriff plans on killing those disloyal to him, and informs Guy of his plan. Of course Guy is disappointed because it changes the conditions by which Marian agreed to marriage. Marian goes to see Guy and asks him if the rumours about him attempting to assassinate the King whilst in the Holy Lands are true. He denies it and, his passions aroused, attempts a kiss. Later, when Robin Hood visits Marian, she tells him she has spoken to Guy and that she feels Robin might be wrong about him. (A statement this reviewer at least found totally incredulous bearing in mind recent events!) She also tells Robin it is time to say goodbye, and that she intends marrying Guy, at which point Robin leaves. Meanwhile Marian's father is gathering a small force together to protect the King he believes bound for Nottingham, and the outlaws join him but without Robin. It falls to the loyal Much to realise they really need their leader, and to go in search of him. When he does so he comes across the Royal procession bound for Nottingham and realises that all is not well.
On the day of the wedding Marian arrives at the church looking beautiful in her Nottingham Lace bridal veil. Her father of course is not present, and Marian herself has to instruct Guy on the proper etiquette of where to stand. During the ceremony Much arrives, shouting out that her heart belongs to another, and that the King is not really the King. This off course negates her promise to Guy, but he threatens her that if she does not go through with the ceremony her father will be in danger. Marian finally changes her mind with a well aimed punch to Guy's jaw, before leaping onto the back of Robin Hood's horse and riding towards the Castle, gleafully tossing her wedding veil to the dust. Upon reaching the gates of Nottingham Castle Robin Hood calls Maid Marian to his side and forever seals their fate as history's great lovers with a kiss. This is not just a kiss fired by their love for each over, it is also an act of heroic defiance, a symbol of their united stance against all the injustices which plague their England, and as such I would suggest to Robin Hood fans everywhere that this moment between Jonas Armstrong and Lucy Grifiths is unparalleled throughout Robin Hood filmdom.
Comment: Bearing in mind that the BBC didn't know for sure at this point whether a second series would prove popular, I thought this a really good ending to the series. Yes I was a little disappointed at the speed of Marian's recovery, which seemed a bit anti-climatic after last week's heart wrenching scenes, and yes my jaw dropped about a mile when she was prepared to believe Guy was misunderstood. (That bit beggared belief!) But the final scenes, as Robin swept her away on horseback, more than made up for it. Maid Marian cannot now go back. Everyone saw her being rescued by Robin Hood. Guy of Gisborne knows this. Everyone saw the kiss. If the BBC now try and have her living with her father back at Knighton Hall it will just be ridiculous. I also really liked the scene between Much and Robin when Robin was so mean to him. When this series first began I didn't like the fact that Little John was not Robin Hood's second in command, which of course he was in real life. But now I see how it has opened up such opportunities as this in which to explore the emotions and humour between such close friends. That wouldn't have been possible with a character like little John. Good episode. Beautiful wedding dress, shame about the father…


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Friday, December 29, 2006

Robin Hood picture gallery 14

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Robin Hood 2006 picture gallery 13

Below: Late at night when you're sleepin' the Night Watchman comes a'creepin' around...

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