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
Labels: BBC review, Harry Lloyd, robin hood, Will Scarlet