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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent comments on one of my favourite characters, 'a good day ta die' Great!

10:59 AM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Thanks anon.

I loved that scene when John and Much came out of the cave to defend themselves against all the odds. I wonder if everyone here knows that "It is a good day to die" was originally a North American Indian phrase?

1:10 PM  
Anonymous rae said...

cant wait for harry lloyd! thanks robin for the great site! xxx

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much robin hood for another excellent article and i really can't wait for harry lloyd's one.
luv amy xxx

ps i love harry lloyd

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one can wait for Harry's review it appears.... I hope you're primed Robin Hood!

Liked the review, when Gordon has a chance to get his teeth into a good script - which primarily was in that one episode - he took full advantage of it.

I just hope that an actor of his strengths can be given more to say than "We go to Nottingham!" at regular intervals. It's a criminal waste of his talents.

I generally thought that the part was very underwritten to put it mildly. Why they cast an actor with his experience and then do nothing with him is beyond me.


6:39 PM  
Anonymous rae said...

hi bonnie

i think that little john was left in the background a bit because they were trying to do something new. they were using the main characters from previous stories and using them for supporting roles. like in prince of theives much was a really quiet character. i only remember him from one scene, whereas in the 2006 series much was a main character. i like little john but it is nice getting to know the characters that were usually left in the background.


7:42 PM  
Anonymous Sadhbh said...

I love little john, he is a softie really. Gordan is a great actor, look forward ot when he gets some really good scripts.
All he seems to have ot say is "... we do not like"
He has a lovely smile too.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes you do have a good point Rae, I think you may be right, this new series has turned a lot of things on it's head - the creation of the Nightwatchman, the bolder more "girl power" non "lady" Marian, Much as Robin's best friend and war comrade and so on. So I guess it fits that perhaps in this one Little John should take more a back seat whilst the show creators did their own thing.

Still hope he gets more lines though!

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor said...

Yeah I think Little John should get more lines because in one episode he only said, like, one sentence! lol xxx

12:34 PM  
Blogger robin hood said...

certainly a lot of Gordon Kennedy AND Robin Hood fans in general would like more from such an important character.

7:36 PM  

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