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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Blogger robin hood said...

Joe Armstrong, Alan A Dale.
BBC Robin Hood 2006 Cast:

Robin Hood - Jonas Armstrong
Marian - Lucy Griffiths
Guy of Gisborne - Richard Armitage
Sheriff of Nottingham - Keith Allen
Little John - Gordon Kennedy
Much - Sam Troughton
Alan A'Dale - Joe Armstrong
Will Scarlett - Harry Lloyd
Anjali Jay - Djaq

6:27 PM  
Blogger Clement of the Glen said...

Robin, Elton Hayes was born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1915. I will be doing an article on his life, 'with a small guitar' on my blog.

6:39 PM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Clement,

And thanks (as always) for your attention to detail.

Anyone passing through here who is interested in the films of Robin Hood, rather than just the Jonas Armstrong version, really should visit Clement's blog. It has many amazing and rare pictures. just click on his picture above to go there.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As well as each volume of the series (jonas armstrong that is) coming out separately they are going to do a box dvd of all the dvds from series one. Just thought some people would like to know :). Great information as always robin hood...keep it up, i enjoy reading it

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I aint being funny but'- another great informative piece, thank-you

9:31 AM  
Blogger robin hood said...

Thanks to all the "anonymous" readers.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous rae said...

Just to say thanks to Robin Hood for the fantastic sight. It must take a lot of time to keep it going now even though the series is finished. thanks!!

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah thanks Robin Hood! Loving the site! The pics and the info are very cool!
Hope you keep it up. Its a great site to visit during my lunch hour!
Love from Elle xxx

3:49 PM  

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