Monday, 12 September 2011

Robin Hood series 1 and 2 links:

Robin Hood series 1 episode guide, reviews and pictures can be found here: Robin Hood series 1.

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

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All other Robin Hood blogs are in a process of being updated for their information, pictures, and historical content.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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Saturday, 9 July 2011

Richard Armitage (Lucy and Jonas) clips

I'm sure you're all aware of http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/

If not, there are some nice Robin hood outtakes and interviews on THIS LINK.

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Saturday, 14 November 2009

Robin Hood Series 3: Spotlight on Jonas Armstrong as Robin Hood.

I still stand by the opinion I’ve expressed all along, that Jonas Armstrong was a great choice for the role of Robin Hood. Youthful, contemporary, capable of the physical demands of the role, and of conveying a greater range of emotion and grief than perhaps any previous actor who took on this part in the past had been asked for.

Jonas was not the first “contemporary” Robin Hood, and neither was Michael Praed (Robin of Sherwood). The first version to really break with all swashbuckling, Lincoln green tradition, was the fourth and final Hammer version called “Wolfshead” (Click on link to see review). There are similarities between the style of that film, with its low budget improvised costumes and bleak forest settings, and the Jonas Armstrong / Tiger Productions version. (Note: The DVD often sold on e-bay, under various titles such as “The Legend of Robin Hood” or “Adventures of the Young Robin Hood”, would seem to be a truncated TV edit). But what was “new” about Jonas was his own post-Britpop / boy next door charm. In short, to new audiences of the post millennium decade, he was believable.

So why am I left with so few memories of him from the third and final series of Robin Hood? Why am I left struggling to say more about him than what I’ve already said at the conclusions of series 1 and 2?

The underlying theme of the third series should have been (some might argue actually was), Robin Hood’s coming to terms with Marian’s murder, retreating from his role as protector of the people, before returning to his former heroic status, and even finding new and meaningful love. But instead, Robin’s passage through these 13 episodes is too often sidetracked by other issues, including the introduction of other characters, and I feel the title role is diminished. As a consequence, as far as this series is concerned, I tend to remember Jonas Armstrong more as a sequence of effective snapshots, such as burying the ring, and spitting the soup (episode 1), or flirting with Isabella, and escaping with her from the flooding dungeons (episode 7).

Series 3 had a lot of really good episodes (an opinion endorsed by my reviews below), but I do feel that, having lined Robin Hood up for what should have been a really interesting “come-back” from the depths of despair, the spotlight was too often shone elsewhere, and Jonas was simply pushed into what I have referred to in the past as his action adventure comfort zone. The result of this was that Robin Hood was either a bit player in his own show, or a rather shallow character in comparison with others. A good example being episode 9 in which his sudden love for Kate is compared frame by frame with Guy’s affection for Meg. Whereas Guy finds redemption in Meg, we are only left wondering why Robin has forgotten Marian so soon.

Of course this is only my opinion, and one might suspect from comments Jonas Armstrong himself has made, that the final episodes of Series 3 in particular were amongst those he enjoyed best, charging about with Richard Armitage, and clearly working hard to lay the foundation for a subsequent series with a new “Robin” called Archer. (We know Jonas was sorry to see the show cancelled).

In the end I think not only Jonas Armstrong, but Robin Hood, deserved more. When the final exit came, Robin Hood would fire no last arrow into Sherwood Forest, and there would be no comforting arms from his faithful friend Little John (or in this case Much). As with all three series, such superior stories from the original legend would be scrapped in favour nothing particularly imaginative. I couldn’t believe Much’s love and respect for his “master” (let alone John’s and Kate’s) would have allowed Robin to go off and die alone. I found the body posture as he slumped against that tree (not to mention the wobbly lily) vaguely amusing at a time I didn’t want to feel amused. And, although this will be an unpopular thing to say, I felt sorry for Jonas himself, that even in this his final hour he had to share the spotlight with someone else. Robin Hood’s death scene was “stolen” by Lucy.

However, to close on a more positive note, Jonas Armstrong certainly left his mark on the film and television annals of Robin Hood. Taking all three series as a whole one can certainly say that, in those episodes when he was given most opportunity to shine, then shine he certainly did. As with the rest of that original, young, enthusiastic cast, the reason for the show’s somewhat premature cancellation could never be laid at his door.

******


Robin Hood goes on. As do Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Guy of Gisborne, Alan A Dale and the Sheriff of Nottingham. It is a rich and ancient legend, the popularity of which is no doubt sustained across the decades because of its fascinating links with contemporary affairs. Green issues? Environment? Recession? Banker’s bonuses? It’s all in there. Even, sadly, issues concerning East / West wars.

Robin Hood crosses all faith systems and cultures. If you care to visit the souvenir shop at Sherwood Forest Visitor’s Centre you will see children of all colours and creeds donning their Crusader costumes, or pink Maid Marian frocks, or buying their replica English long bows with rubber sucker arrows, and go charging about the forest paths. And yes, to such children Robin Hood still stubbornly wears his Lincoln Green cap. (Not even Jonas could change that).

But this particular blog now comes to and end.

Thanks to all who engaged in comment and debate, particularly at the height of the series. I shall leave all such comment boxes open for the immediate future. I myself will of course continue to review other Robin Hood films in the rest of my blogs. (See links in the sidebar).


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Saturday, 3 October 2009

Robin Hood: Spotlight on Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne

"Robin Hood" could have been re-titled "Gisborne", and Series 3 "The Gisbornes", such was the manner in which it was conceived and written from the outset. This is in no way intended as a slight against other original cast members, all of whom gave outstanding performances when given the opportunity. But, by the producers’ own admission, it was Gisborne's relationship with Marion and subsequent journey towards redemption which interested them the most. Added to this we had in Richard Armitage a man whose skills and charisma provided great entertainment even when the plotlines left the tracks.

My reservations about Guy of Gisborne as he appeared in Series 1 and 2, all of which were based on the script and not the actor himself, have been expressed in the past. (See this link). And all credit to Richard Armitage for his honesty in expressing the same reservations the fans had regarding a Series 3 without Marion. However, subsequent to that decision, it is Richard Armitage more than any other member of the original cast who if anything raises his energy levels to meet the new challenge, totally revelling in "playing the baddie", before going on to run with the outlaws on his road to forgiveness. It is Guy of Gisborne as he appears in Series 3 that I personally find a much better defined character than before, and it is a great performance.

Advance promo shots for Series 3 depicted Gisborne in some dreadful new "gown", hair neatly styled. What a revelation then, and what a relief, to see he him leap from atop his bed (and the screen) in Episode 1 looking like a total wild man after Robin Hood's arrow announces the outlaw leader's challenge to a fight. As I said at the time, a tour de force. (If I were Robin I'd have run back into Sherwood!) Subsequent to that, and before Armitage took a short break from the show, Guy is re-established as a harsh military leader, hungry for power. In fact, if he wasn't so handsome, one would be reminded of Thade from "Planet of the Apes", in the way he controls his men and deals with his victims. When Guy returns in Episode 5, his men are not simply at his command, they are at his disposal.

Episode 5 also sees the start of the Guy / Isabella sibling rivalry, and it is worth noting how well Lara Pulver and Richard Armitage work together in this regard. Discovering that Guy once felt he had to sell his sister Isabella "like a piece of meat" into a loveless marriage with an older man, is the first bit of knowledge the script writers provide in explaining why Guy might be the way he is, and the tension between Isabella and Guy is every bit as entertaining and convincing as the lust driven desire between her and Robin.

The Gisborne character takes the honours again in Episode 6 when the duel we've all been waiting for results in the "death" of the Sheriff. (Okay, we know he comes back. But he shouldn't have!) There won't have been a single actor in the cast who hadn't seen the classic duel between real life best of friends Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and Basil Rathbone’s Gisbourne. (This link). That duel set the bench mark for others to follow, and Armitage vs. Allen does a great job. My only reservation is that, once again, Jonas gets sidelined here. It really should have been Robin Hood's role to defeat the Sheriff of Nottingham like that. However, the moment when Guy returns to the banquet with Vasey's tooth, is pure Armitage. A wonderfully understated moment. (No doubt inspired by the fact he actually knocked Keith Allen's tooth out for real in the previous series).

Guy of Gisborne's dominance in the series reached its peak in Episode 9, the one in which young Meg's emotions for him, even more than his for her, will open up the road to redemption. It is cleverly constructed, cutting back and forth from Guy's growing feelings towards Meg to scenes involving Robin Hood quarrelling and kissing with Kate. But it is more than apparent here that whilst Robin Hood's script depicts him as immature, seemingly having not known a girl before let alone a woman, Guy is portrayed as the deeper character who has apparently suffered the greater losses in life. Similarly, whilst Robin Hood had to leave Marian beneath the hot desert sands of a foreign land (this link), Guy gets to carry the dying Meg into Sherwood Forest. This doesn't sit easy with me and my love of the Robin Hood legend. But you can't blame Armitage for the script, and there is no question he does a great job in gradually and convincingly adjusting the role of Guy as his compassion develops. For me at least, it is this episode which better conveys Guy's regrets regarding his past rather than what is to follow.

As the series reached its dubious conclusion, Richard Armitage then placed his tongue firmly in his cheek and had a great time as "action adventure hero", charging about alongside Jonas Armstrong. Making the most of the moment, and no doubt with a little sadness that their shared filming experiences of recent years were coming to an end, their enjoyment is nevertheless obvious. Also, within the malaise of an ever more complex script, not to mention a returning Sheriff and an extra "Robin", there is one brief sequence worth mentioning. It is when Guy hands Isabella a vial of poison "For our mother's sake", so she can use suicide to escape capture and subsequent torture. Yes, there is a clever irony in who that poison will eventually kill, but the gesture also serves to show how Guy, even at his most tender, can still only truly express himself via the violent instruments of his past. If ever there was a moment when we believe Guy was himself a victim, then this is surely it. I find more pathos in this little sequence than I do in Guy's final exit.

I wanted a better death scene for Guy. There was, I think, some justice in the fact that the woman who killed him was the woman he'd first wronged, even though his intentions had been good at the time. But the show, not to mention the stage itself, had just become too crowded by this point in the proceedings. Also, I think Richard Armitage is such a good actor that his facial expression and gestures alone could have made his feelings clear to Robin Hood without words being necessary. And what were Vasey and Isabella (his sister when all is said and done), meant to be doing just standing about? However, let's not look too closely at the faults which were by now bringing on the cancellation of the series. Let's dwell on what was really good: Richard Armitage. Him we liked. (Or at least "loved to hate").

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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Robin Hood: Spotlight on Lara Pulver as Isabella Gisborne

Robin Hood series 3 was naturally awaited with some degree of trepidation. However, in spite of reservations expressed by many viewers in this blog's comment boxes, there were signs that the show could survive Marian’s murder. Examples being Richard Armitage's re-vamped (and excellently portrayed) Guy; the potential (albeit ultimately unfulfilled) in David Harewood's Tuck; and guest villains such as Bill Ward's Ruthless Rufus. (No, not the Black Sabbath drummer. That's the OTHER Bill Ward). But things were still a little uneven, until that is a certain Lady of noble birth was found racing through Sherwood Forest trying to escape her husband Squire Thornton's soldiers. Between episodes 5 and 9, Isabella Gisborne was the glue which held the show together. Firstly, because her character was the satelitte around which other key players would revolve, whether as brother, would be lovers, rivals for the Badge of Office, or King. Secondly, because Lara Pulver gave her all in a performance which rivalled that of Richard Armitage's "wild" Guy, and certainly put a much needed jolt in Jonas Armstrong’s apparently lagging spark plugs.

Isabella Gisborne (alongside the earlier Night watchman) was one of the only true innovations this version of Robin Hood has been responsible for. (Discarding the idiotic idea of murdering Marian). Not only because she is a female Sheriff of Nottingham, but also because she is Guy's sister. This idea, affording as it does the opportunity for a love affair between Robin Hood and both a Gisborne AND a Sheriff, could well go on into subsequent screen versions of the legend. (I for one hope it does).

The introduction of the character was well conceived. Whilst we'd all been following the "new love interest Kate" stories in the media, Isabella was sneaking in from left field, and straight into Robin's arms (not to mention his lips), within two episodes of their meeting. (See episode 6). Was this too soon for the Lucy fans (of whom I am one)? Yes, of course it was. But this is comic book time. And so it was that most Hoodies, still smarting over losing Lucy and taking a dislike to Kate, warmed to this woman who took a promiscuous purse from her garter for the outlaw leader. Yet more revelations about Lady Gisborne were to follow.

"Too Hot to Handle" (episode 7) was for me one of the best in Series 3, and is the one in which Isabella Gisborne shows her true colours. Whereas Robin Hood's scripted relationship with Marian had fairly studiously avoided any and all "adult" connotations, one needed little imagination to interpret Isabella's sharing of a bowl of strawberries, or offering to take her dress off (albeit in a good cause!), as anything other than sexy. In this respect, Lara Pulver shook Jonas out of what had seemed to become his action hero "comfort zone". And not only that. No sooner are Isabella's passionate advances rejected, than she flies into an uncontrollable rage, revealing her true nature not simply as a Gisborne, but as a victim, having been “sold like a piece of meat” by her own brother. It really is a great character, rich in potential, and Lara Pulver portrays her superbly.

There are other memorable moments which define her: In episode 8 Isabella's ambitions have her throw herself in front of Prince John, taking a hit from Guy's arrow, rather than lose the Prince who might support her as the new Sheriff. And then the all telling conflict with Meg (episode 9), who she sees at first as a victim much like herself, only to swing wildly to the other extreme after observing Meg's love for Guy, which reminds her of a happiness she herself was deprived of by the marriage Guy sold her into.

And sadly, that was it. After episode 9 it was all over for Isabella Gisborne, just as it was effectively all over for the show itself. Episode 10 attempted to redraft the entire show, the consequence of which was only too apparent in already falling viewer ratings. Lara Pulver would give another great performance in episode 12, plotting against Kate in one final attempt to break her away from Robin, but the suggestion made in episode 10 that Robin Hood already knew Isabella from childhood (and had just failed to recognise her so far in the series), simply undermined a lot of her character's credibility. And there would be one further insult to injury.

Isabella Gisborne deserved her own final exit; her own iconic "death scene". Even if it was as ambiguous as Keith Allen's had been (making a 4th series possible), Lara Pulver had done more than enough to merit that. But in the end she had to share the spotlight with the unnecessary return of Vasey.

Historical note:

The first female Sheriff of Nottingham was Mrs. C. M. Harper, who had previously worked on the Nottingham Council. She held office for the year 1931/32. No doubt her methods were somewhat more democratic than our Izzy Gisborne's.

For much more information and pictures about the Sheriff of Nottingham, follow the links on THIS PAGE.

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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Robin Hood: Spotlight on Toby Stephens as Prince John.

One thing surely everyone can agree on about Robin Hood Series 3 is that it had an fine succession of great villains. Perhaps the best villains of the entire three seasons. Who can forget the creepy Scrope (Kevin Eldon), like a Dickensian Uriah Heep, or the brutal Ruthless Rufus (Bill Ward), leering at Kate as she endured her humiliating dance. Whilst I still think it a shame the direction of the show favoured guest stars over regular cast members in its scripting (and its budget?), I confess I’m glad to have encountered the likes of Big Bertha along the way.

Honours for Baddest of the Baddies would of course have to go to the Terrible Trio: Guy and Isabella, (both of whom we’ll cover in future posts), and Prince John.

Whilst researching Toby Stephens I was surprised at how many films and shows he has appeared in, and which I would have seen without me making the connection. So versatile are his acting and facial expressions that I didn’t link him to his previous outings as Gatsby, (“Great Gatsby” 2000), Rochester ("Jayne Eyre" 2006), or Bond villian Gustav Graves ("Die Another Day" 2002). (Note: He was also Bond himself for a BBC radio production of "Dr No" in 2008). But I did remember him from "The Wild West - Custer's Last Stand"; a must see drama documentary which often plays on the history channel, and which fans of his portrayal of Prince John will certainly enjoy.

Both Prince John and King Richard can be difficult to script as they relate to the Legend of Robin Hood. For example, in the past King Richard has tended to be shown as some blond haired, white robed, holier than thou character, often turning up in the final scenes to perform the marriage ceremony over Robin and Marian. (It's enough to put any self respecting Hoodie of their venison). I think it’s to the credit of this show that King Richard was treated more ambiguously than that. (For a great portrayal of King Richard see Richard Harris’ psychopathic role in “Robin and Marian”). Prince John, on the other hand, has always been thought of as a baddie, but even so, the combination of “camp” and cruel which Toby Stephens injected into the proceedings was a delight to see, especially at a time when compensation for the exiting Sheriff Vasey was needed.

The arrival of Prince John was cleverly anticipated in the story by having Sheriff Vasey send Guy to him as a scape goat for punishment. (Episode 2). When Guy returns in episode 5, not only unscathed but with a small army of his own (not forgetting the lion!) one is left speculating as to what Prince John is going to be like. In episode 6 we find out, as he happily waves to a wedding congregation outside Loxley Church, only to gleefully set fire to it once they are all inside! (He also does a great party trick using nothing but a barrel of Royal water and one upside down Loxley villager).

Toby Stephens made such a strong impression in the series that one might assume he was in most episodes. In fact it was only three. But the manner in which his Prince John played the other key villians against each other in their desire to be the new Sheriff, responding to the Prince's eternal question "Do you love me?", would be a key element of series 3. I think this particular theme was was one of the better written and impressively enacted ideas throughout the series.
As I sit here now typing this on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest, I can only wonder at how different my life would be if this particular Prince John had got his way and made Nottingham the capital of England...

Historical note: In 1191 Prince John seized Nottingham Castle. So when King Richard returned from the Crusades he came to Nottingham in 1194 to recapture the Castle, still held by John's supporters who refused to surrender. (Thanks to Clement of the Glen for bringing this to my attention).

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Saturday, 15 August 2009

Spotlight on David Harewood : "Brother" Tuck.

Above: Robin Hood's "Merry Men" as they seemed set to appear at the start of a Series 4. Certainly a more sombre group of individuals than the youthful gang who leapt in the air at the end of Series 1.

When we first heard the news that “Robin Hood” was going to get its very own Friar Tuck after all, I was delighted. And when I heard it was going to be the fabulous David Harewood, I was even more excited. So what happened?

Way back at the start of Robin Hood Series 1, the attitude at Tiger Productions was that Friar Tuck was no longer politically correct. I won’t repeat my earlier post regarding Friar Tuck’s importance to the “Merry Men”, and what his true contributions had been over the years (see THIS LINK), but Tiger were wrong. Friar Tuck was never simply a “fat” glutton. Far from it. That was Billy Bunter. (Okay, before your time no doubt!) And what’s more, 96% of polled readers agreed with me that they should re-instate Tuck. Interestingly, it would seem the BBC controller of the time agreed with our readers because, as Series 2 was getting under way, he went on record as saying Friar Tuck was to be included. However, as we all know, that didn‘t happen. (Maybe that boat journey to find Robin took longer than anticipated).

“Brother” Tuck’s appearance launched Robin Hood Series 3, and at first it seemed well worth the wait. An experienced, established actor of considerable reputation, David Harewood was yet another indication of the kind of investment the BBC was willing to make in this post-Lucy series. Also, as I said at the time, the choice of a black actor for this particular role was refreshing, and continued the trend started in the mid-1980’s of incorporating a mixed ethnicity in the Merry Men (and Women!) I think that important.

In an interview dated March, 2009, Harewood indicated that his Tuck would have a “dark back story about how he has become disillusioned about the church”. (See THIS LINK). If that was ever going to be the case, then perhaps I missed something, because what we got in the end was the most annoyingly self-composed, stable, well mannered Tuck of all time.

Make no mistake, in terms of the plot “Friar” Tuck is one of the most important characters in Series 3, because it is he who brings Robin Hood back from the brink of self destruction following Marian’s murder. The Robin Hood that Tuck finds when he comes ashore in England is a rebel without a cause; a man seeking only revenge, with little or no thought about once noble causes such as the plight of the poor. So it is Tuck who we see nurturing the outlaw leader back onto the tracks. It would have been nice if the series could have indulged itself in this aspect a little longer. For example, by the second episode so fast is Robin’s recovery that Much is already proclaiming “We’re back!”, whilst Alan says during Robin’s absence: “You’re the leader Tuck”.

One accepts the time frame within a TV show has to move on quickly, and perhaps a longer period of “recovery” for Robin under Tuck’s guidance, was not possible. But what was sorely missing in this Tuck was any sign of temperament. At every stage he is like an indulgent parent amongst the outlaws. Put simply, he’s too “perfect”. In combat he displays the measured skills of the martial arts. In battle he may even sit before his enemy with the composure and non-violent protest of a medieval Ghandi. But nowhere does he “lose his cool“. And therein lies my own personal disappointment in him. Great actor. Disappointing script.

Tuck needs to be cantankerous, given to bursts of anger. Yes, he is the one to go to when it comes to matters of spiritual guidance, the Law, counselling. And we know from legend that Tuck was a swordsman of outstanding ability (second only to Robin), and well placed within Nottingham to spy on the Sheriff’s misdemeanours. But we need to see the “darker side” of Tuck; the one which that interview with Harewood hinted at. (The one which Michael McShane portrayed so well).

You know how Johnny Depp appears to be “doing” Keith Richards in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and David Bowie in “Sweeney Todd”? Well, whenever I listened to David Harewood’s Tuck I couldn’t help thinking of Chris Eubank: A great warrior in the ring, always speaking in the clipped measured tones of a gentleman outside of it. And never a hint of anger.

When Robin Hood spat that soup out in the cave, I wanted a more contemporary Tuck, one who would have given him a slap before continuing with the spoon feeding. Maybe even a Tuck whose temptations of the appetite were not so much based on food as for the sight of a pretty ankle (as was the case in the old ballads when he first appeared). I remain a David Harewood fan, but not particularly because of this role. My Five Favourite Friars remain unchanged on THIS LINK.
Above: Harman and Frogatt receive the news that Series 4 is cancelled. They take it badly. But you can't keep a good man down. David Harewood landed a role in The Mountaintop, a new play about the life of Martin Luther King, which opened at Theatre503 in London on 9 June 2009.


More information about the many versions of Friar Tuck can be found on THIS LINK.

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Friday, 3 July 2009

Spotlight on Joanne Frogatt : "Kate".

I really liked Kate, although I am aware that tends to place me amongst a minority where the Hoodies are concerned. But hear me out: I do concede that she represented at one and the same time what was both good and bad about "Robin Hood". The good part is Joanne Frogatt's talent, and the producer's decision to cast her in the role of a rebellious outlaw. The bad part is what that role needlessly came to represent.

Born in Yorkshire, our "fiesty village girl" became an established face on British TV via her three years in our most successful soap opera, "Coronation Street". I never watch it. But I do know her role was that of troubled teenager Zoe Tattersall, having come to the attention of the producers via her portrayal of a pregnant teenager in "The Bill" (another hugely successful U.K. "soap"). The Zoe Tattersall character is credited as being an important influence on "Coronation Street", appearing at a time when the series was being given a more contemporary dynamic. Such "rebellious" and "troubled" roles would then become part of Joanne Frogatt's stock in trade.

Joanne's debut in Episode 2 was awaited with some anticipation. The furor over the loss of Lucy Griffiths still hadn't settled (I don't think it has even now), Richard Armitage had pleaded and been granted a "not guilty" verdict by expressing his own concerns about Marian's murder, and so someone else's head had to role.... Enter Kate.

In my review of that episode I said at the start that Joanne exhibited more energy than most of the rest of the cast combined, who all seemed to be taking a long while to get back into the swing of things. Her broad Yorkshire accent totally fit the bill, and her motivation for ultimately joining the outlaws was sound: Wanting revenge for her brother's murder.

I think the first non-Marian girl outlaw to be added to the Legend (albeit briefly), was played by Billie Whitelaw, in December 1957, during the hugely successful "Adventures of Robin Hood" TV series. So this wasn't a new concept, particularly as we'd had the fabulous Djaq herself in Series 1 & 2. But whereas Djaq (Anjali Jay), had inherited the by now established "Saracen Outlaw" role, and had all that Eastern knowledge and mystique being written into her script, Kate was only being given "anger" and a desire for revenge which made her (understandably) hot headed and impulsive. Joanne Frogatt deserved to be given something more than simply that and a Britney-esque hair slide. The "something more" turned out to be one of the nails in the show's coffin: "Robin's love interest".

Why on Earth, when we all knew Jonas was leaving anyway after 13 episodes, did the producers think it anything like a good idea to have Robin Hood seemingly forget all about his savagely murdered fiance / wife in such record time, AND begin relationships with two other women? It was a complete no-brainer from the start, the effect of which sealed Kate's fate with fans, totally shut down the development of her character, and made Robin Hood appear a much shallower figure than he had in the past. So instead of exploring the possibilities of a romance with Much or Alan (plotlines which would have been enriched all the more by including Joe Armstrong and Sam Troughton), Kate simply became the "girlie liability" of cliche. I think there was so much more to offer than that, especially with an actress of Joanne Frogatt's calibre.

Best Kate moments: Screaming "heretic" and slapping Robin whilst secretly passing him an arrow head so he can cut himself free from the burning stake; Enduring the indignaties of being made to dance by Ruthless Rufus; Chained up and flirting / arguing with Alan A Dale; And (for me at least) any time she ran through Sherwood Forest in that green dress...

Here are some external links about Joanne Frogatt and Kate.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/celebs-on-sunday/2009/04/19/five-fashion-minutes-with-joanne-froggatt-115875-21278042/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/people/joanne_frogatt_person_page.shtml

http://www.tiscali.co.uk/tv/switched-on/5-minutes-with/interview/joanne-froggatt.html

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Thursday, 2 July 2009

BBC axes Robin Hood. It's Official.

Above: "Archer" (Clive Standen), the half brother standing in the wings to take over, is no longer needed...

Yep, that's it folks. The show is well and truly over. After ratings for Series 3 "plummeted", the BBC has decided to axe the show. Here is one link relating the news:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/02/bbc-axes-robin-hood

My initial thoughts? I personally am not suprised. I think the makers of this show, rather than feed the Golden Goose, turned it into a Turkey. No matter how great the cast (and they certainly were!), one cannot simply take a centuries old legend and hack it about seemingly at random. The show included some great innovations, such as the Night Watchman, a contemporary "post-brit pop" Robin Hood, and even a traitor Alan A Dale. It also developed other ideas we'd seen in the past, such as the recruitment of Djaq. But then went on to test the patience of its strong and loyal fan base with ever more contradictory story lines.

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Sunday, 28 June 2009

Robin Hood: End of an era picture gallery.

Above: Guy of Gisborne's final moments. Below: A symbolic moment, assuming Archer will indeed take over from Robin Hood.

Above and below: Robin Hood's "final arrow". Not perhaps the one of legend, but final at least for him and Sheriff Vasey. Did Isabella manage to escape down some secret tunnel of her own?




Above and below: Robin Hood's final moments in Sherwood Forest.

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Saturday, 27 June 2009

Robin Hood, Series 3. Episode 13: “Something Worth Fighting For” Part 2.

The Story: As Alan A Dale’s body is placed in a casket, Robin hood is busily marshalling the outlaws and men of Nottingham into some kind of coherent fighting force. Robin and Guy then ride out to meet Sheriff Vasey, both sides issuing final demands and challenges. But Vasey is more keen to demonstrate his new weapon: A fleet of trebuchets armed with the Byzantine Fire he purchased from Archer.

Once back inside, Robin Hood gives Guy of Gisborne the chance to leave should he so desire. But Guy decides to stay and fight as long as Sheriff Vasey is alive. Then, before making their final preparations for battle, they “honour the dead” by cremating Alan’s body.

In the dungeon, Guy visits his sister Isabella, questioning her about her knowledge of Sheriff Vasey being alive, to which she expresses no prior knowledge. Guy also gives her a vial of poison “For our mother‘s sake“. He knows she will be shown no mercy after the battle, and that suicide might be her least painful option. Meanwhile, Kate has taken it upon herself to leave the city and go to Loughborough where she knows King Richard’s men are waiting for him. John assists her down from the battlements as she leaves saying “I’ll be back with an army”, words which will prove only too true…

Back in the Hall, the Outlaws are of course squabbling as usual, having found out that the Byzantine Fire was sold to the Sheriff by Archer. Archer in turn accuses them of causing more innocent deaths than he ever has, by virtue of them all being “untrained peasants”. Robin Hood then decides the only way to defeat the army beyond the gates is to destroy the trebuchets, a task he, Tuck, Guy, and John swiftly accomplish before escaping back to the castle. (The story is full of such little incidents which make you believe more is happening than actually is). However, during the fight Tuck has retrieved a bottle of the Byzantine Fire, and starts to analyse it so he can produce more.

Now without the use of their trebuchets (so what was the point in them?), the army ram the gates down and gain access to the city as the men of Nottingham fight them in the streets. Below those streets, Isabella has tempted a guard to set her free with the promise of a few sexual favours before she dies, but of course stabs him instead.

The advancing army is too powerful for the untrained peasants, and before long it is breaking through the Castle portcullis itself. Not only that, but they have captured Kate and now held hostage in return for Robin Hood’s surrender. Vasey also has news for Robin: King Richard has been taken prisoner and being held to ransom; a ransom that will bankrupt the country if paid. So now Robin knows that Richard’s men in Loughborough will not be coming to the rescue. Nevertheless, whislt he stands talking to Sheriff Vasey, Much has devised a way of pulling Kate up into the battlements and to freedom. Unable to gain access, Sheriff Vasey turns back, intent on using the “secret tunnel” instead.

Inside the castle, Brother Tuck discovers a few barrels of Byzantine Fire, and so he doesn’t have to make any himself after all. (Another useless dead-end detail in the story). Then, to the sound of the army breaking through the portcullis, everyone retreats to the main hall whilst Isabella is spotted leaving by a secret doorway. Guy and Archer go to investigate. The tunnel had of course been blocked last week by her own instruction (using Archer’s “knowledge of the East” no less). But when Guy and Archer hear Vasey’s explosion in the distance, they assume it is the tunnel being cleared, so Archer goes back to convey this knowledge to Robin whilst Guy searches for Isabella. When he finds her he learns she was in collusion with the Sheriff after all, and before too long Vasey, Isabella and the Sheriff’s captain, are locked in a fight against Robin Hood, Archer, and Guy. “Brother in arms”, one shouts.

During the fight Guy saves Robin Hood from Isabella’s blade, which still manages to knick the outlaw leader’s neck. In the process, Guy himself is fatally wounded and, although Vasey, and Isabella are ably standing by, Guy still manages to compose and deliver a few final words: “Marian, the love of my life, but she was always yours”, he says, looking up at Robin. “But because of you, I die proud”. As Guy passes away, Robin Hood is forced to face his own mortality: The blade Isabella cut him with had been smeared with the poison Guy gave her, and therefore Robin Hood will be dead by nightfall. Speeches over, and Vasey and Isabella scamper away.

When Vasey and Isabella return to the castle with their army, they find Robin Hood and all his followers have managed to escape. (So who was in charge of the tunnel?) Sheriff Vasey’s attention is caught by a stash of barrels, but in the same moment he identifies them as containing Byzantine Fire, Robin Hood’s flaming arrow finds the top barrel and the whole of Nottingham Castle is blown sky high.

Back in Sherwood Forest, celebration soon turns to “time to say goodbye” as Robin Hood bids each individual farewell. To Much he says: “You are more of a man than I’ll ever be. You are my best friend”. To John he professes “It is a good day to die”, whilst to Tuck he expresses his opinion that they will find a new leader. Kate he addresses as “Brave Kate”, before telling them all he has to “do this alone”, and walks away into the forest.

Now out of sight, and resting by a tree, an angelic chorus announces the arrival of Ghost Marian. “I have waited for you”, she says, taking his hand. “The greatest adventure is yet to come”.

End bit: Brother Tuck gives one of his speeches (of course), about Robin Hood “goes on”, as they carry their leader’s body (complete with Huge Lily), deeper into the forest.

At the close of the show the announcer made no statement about Robin Hood coming back next year.

Comment: Okay, these past few weeks, after what had been a really good series from episodes 4 - 9 inclusive, I’ve been approaching these reviews with some trepidation. I know others who’s faith in this show has been far less tested than my own, might disagree with what I write in these reviews (although in truth, the comments boxes herein tend to be even more critical lately than myself). But I can only express my own honest opinion:

The really important scenes in this episode, indeed the most important scenes in the whole 3 series, should have been the deaths of Robin Hood, Guy of Gisborne, and maybe the Sheriff of Nottingham.

They were squandered.

Just look at how many silly “red herrings” pad out this story. We have trebuchets? Whoops, no we don’t. Tuck is going to make some Byzantine Fire? Oh look, no need to, we’ve found a few barrels. Kate’s off to bring an army? Whoops, she’s captured. Is she a hostage? Well, only for about 10 seconds. And on and on. Action adventure or the Keystone Cops?

What the fans of this show wanted was to see these characters who they’ve grown to admire and form fan clubs for, given the space and opportunity to make a more significant final exit. What would have been so wrong about seeing Robin Hood shoot a final arrow into the forest? Marian would have still been able to find him there, and I’m sure the heavenly choir wouldn’t have been far behind. Who thinks the Giant Lily on his chest was a better “interpretation of the Legend”?? Who??

Yes, it was nice to see Lucy. (We all guessed that scene would happen long, long ago). Yes it was nice to hear Robin make his peace with Much. But these words and scenes could have and should have been much better screened and presented.

Thank you all for your patience regarding the “comment moderation” of this past week. (Now lifted). Whilst the BBC were circulating rather specific details of the script well in advance, and others claim the glory on YouTube, I prefer to “wait and see“. I guess I’m just an old fashioned “traditionalist” in the end. (I wonder how many times Jonas burst out laughing with that Giant Lily on his chest?…)

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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Alan A Dale, R. I. P. : A Tribute to Joe Armstrong.

When I was a small boy I hated Alan A Dale. You see, whilst it was relatively easy to make my plastic Little John toy “soldier” fight my plastic Sheriff of Nottingham, as Robin Hood fired his imaginary arrows and Friar Tuck bought his club down on their arch enemy, Allan A Dale could be made to do little else but stand there and sing a song. No wonder plastic Marian kept running away. (See this link).

Alan A Dale was really popularised by elaborate book illustrations, decades ago; the ballad singer who could relate the tales. The only filmed version of Robin Hood to successfully incorporate the singing outlaw in anything like his original manifestation was Disney’s "Story of Robin Hood", where he functions very much in the style of a narrator. Apart from that movie, versions such as Errol Flynn’s tended to merge Alan’s minstrel qualities with the bright attire of Will Scarlet, and the “foppish dandy” version of Scarlet was born whilst Alan A Dale all but disappeared. (There was one notable exception in “A Challenge For Robin Hood”, but any film which had Robin Hood’s toupee as a co-star was doomed to failure).

If the Tiger Productions / BBC version of Robin Hood has one positive lasting legacy, something totally original which had not gone before, it will surely be Joe Armstrong’s Alan A Dale. Whilst some of the very best Robin Hood stories, like the meeting on the bridge with Little John, were being cast aside, the character of the singing outlaw was brilliantly re-drawn, but with respect to his origins. The outlaw who once sang his tales in ballad form around the camp fire, would continue to tell his tales, but this time of a different nature. Alan A Dale would be the teller of “tall tales”; “little white lies” designed to get him out off a sticky situation, or indeed talk him into one of benefit. And if his silver tongue and wide blue-eyed innocence failed to save his skin (as was usually the case), then his frustration turned to “one liners” which cut his enemies down to size in other ways, leaving their dimmer witted minds unsure how to respond. For example, who else could have gotten away with his comments to Gisborne in Series 2 and survived? The casting of Joe Armstrong in this laddish, street smart, wise cracking, jack-the-lad role was inspired, and Joe certainly seized the opportunity and ran with it.

When Alan turned traitor in Series 2 I thought I’d have problems with the idea. But it turned out to be perhaps the best thing about that second series. We all remember it for the stupidity of Marian’s murder, or the frustrations of following a de-railed script which put Marian back in Nottingham straight after her engagement. But the backdrop to all this was a series of outstanding performances from Joe Armstrong, culminating in those scenes in the cellar fighting Robin Hood. A few weeks ago I think I set the train of thought in motion that Jonas Armstrong is at his best when placed opposite a strong actor. Well, those scenes opposite Joe are ample evidence of that.

I wish there was more to say About Joe Armstrong’s performances in Series 3 but, sadly (and has been mentioned many times in our comment boxes), he was largely neglected in the scripts. The temptations and jealousies of having a girl living in the camp would have been perfect subject matter for Joe’s Alan to explore in greater detail. Better still, the fact that Gisborne is now living and fighting alongside the outlaws would have been a great opportunity for some Alan style jibes at his former boss. But more importantly than that: Alan’s previous treachery and disillusionment are what happens when leaders pursue “lost” and dubious causes, neglecting the needs of those closer to home. Alan wasn’t the only outlaw to have left Robin Hood, even though the extent of his desertion was the most extreme.

As the end approached, and perhaps for the first time in his life, Alan A Dale was lost for words. His large blue eyes filled with tears as he pleaded his innocence. No-one wanted to know. Ironically, only Guy’s expression seemed to show a hint of understanding, as if it said “Hey, this is not my team, I’m not involved”. But even after that rebuttal, together with his own long held conviction that King Richard’s return would never prove beneficial to a common outlaw like himself, Alan still turned back to try and warn Robin Hood about Prince John’s approaching army. And at the very end, he was shot in the back, as if from an enemy afraid to face his cutting sarcasms any longer.

Alan’s lifeless form was placed with some degree of care and respect at the gates to the City of Nottingham. Yes it was intended as a show of power on the part of Sheriff Vasey. But as it lay there it took on an iconic quality, a symbol which spoke not of the impending invasion from the enemy without, but of the strength and resolve of those within. Alan’s body became the demarcation zone; the “line in the sand” which said: “Over this you will not pass. It ends here”.

Alan A Dale, R.I.P. "Him, we liked."

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For more Alan A Dale posts and information see links here:

http://robinhoodresources.blogspot.com/2007/11/alan-dale.html

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Saturday, 20 June 2009

Robin Hood, Series 3. Episode 12: “Something Worth Fighting For”.

The Story: This action packed episode begins on the North Road as Robin Hood shows off to Kate his prowess with a “three arrows at once” shot intended to stop the passage of one of Isabella’s messengers. The messenger is carrying a letter to Prince John, telling him she has been forcefully enlisting soldiers with which he can fight against King Richard, whose return seems to be imminent. Wasting no time, Robin Hood and the outlaws run to Loxley and immediately engage in battle there against Isabella’s troops, after which they escort their freed village men into Sherwood Forest.

Whilst this worthy cause is being fought, Archer (revealed in recent episodes as Robin Hood’s and Guy’s half brother), is looking for personal gain. He locates Isabella, and tells her he is her half brother. Ever defensive of her mother’s reputation, Isabella orders him to be locked away, but Archer goes on to tell her his “I have travelled far and wide” story, explaining that he knows many “exotic ways” to kill a man, and that he can help her kill Robin Hood. She is not impressed and Archer is arrested, but escapes the guards on the way to the dungeon.

Sheriff Isabella (in fine form in this particular episode), then conceives a plan of her own. She sends for Kate’s mother, offering her safe passage to Doncaster in exchange for her services. Isabella’s plan involves breaking one of her own mother’s lockets in half, and then having Kate’s mother give one half to Kate and the other half planted on Robin Hood. The idea is that the two halves symbolise a “love pact”, and that if Kate discovers Robin has a half of Isabella’s locket then she will think he has betrayed her. (Are you with me so far? It sounds more complex than it is). Kate’s mother agrees to the plan, and carries it out as instructed.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham, Archer is looking for a way to raise enough money to buy his way out of the city. He consults an old informant he knew, and learns of a secret tunnel into the Castle; a tunnel built by Guy of Gisborne using prisoners. Simultaneously, Guy is telling the outlaws about his tunnel, persuading them it is the route by which they can enter the Castle and prepare to defend it against the advancing soldiers who have been conscripted in neighbouring villages. Kate is totally against any plan which comes from Gisborne, but her objections are overruled. Not only that, but later when she is alone, she finds the half locket by Robin Hood’s possessions, thereby believing he must love Isabella, and leaves for home.

Isabella now launches a second cunning plan. (Was Vasey ever this clever?) She has it announced in the streets of Nottingham that Alan A Dale has been given a full pardon. This results in Robin Hood and all of the Outlaws thinking Alan has betrayed them again. As a consequence they tie him up and leave him in camp whilst they embark for the Castle. When they later assemble to say “This might be the last time we will see each other”, Allan is sadly not in their number.

Archer reaches the tunnel before them, and sneaks up on Isabella. Once again he offers her his services, telling her about the tunnel, and of the risk that Guy will surely use it with Robin Hood to attack her. In return for money he constructs a trap within the tunnel. (No doubt something he learned during his wide travels in the wide, wide East). However, when she pays Archer for his work, she is so insulting towards him that he begins to doubt what he has done.

As Robin Hood, Guy of Gisborne, and Much, are entering the tunnel, Brother Tuck and John are readying to approach the Castle gates. Kate herself is pouring her heart out to her mother about her unrequited love for Robin. Seeing how upset she is, her mother tells all about the locket, at which point the “feisty village girl” (I love her), runs to join the rest of the outlaws.

Beneath the Castle, Archer’s trap springs on Robin, Guy, and Much, as limestone cascades down from the ceiling to “drown” them all. (Limestone being what an executed prisoner’s body would be cast into). Willing to sacrifice himself for his one time “master”, Much screams out that it is Robin Hood who has to live, and he and Guy join arms to lift the outlaw leader towards the grate above whilst the white chemical swiftly engulfs him.

Outside the gates Brother Tuck is about to launch into his third “sermon” (err, sorry), speech of the day when the rescued men from the Village of Loxley come to support them. Tuck had been wanting to train them to fight, but John saw the folly in achieving that. So now Tuck turns to Ghandi for his inspiration, (okay, he doesn’t actually say “Ghandi”), and arranges for a peaceful “sit-in” demonstration when the army arrives. (Don’t worry. It’s better than it sounds, and I resisted going off to make a cup of tea).

Back at camp, Allan has been able to cut himself free from his bonds, and is leaving. He is obviously upset at not being trusted. However, he is soon defending himself from an attack by soldiers, and determines to reach Robin Hood and warn him of their gathering presence. But it is a journey he will not complete, as arrows begin to fly from out of the surrounding forest, finding their mark deep in his body. With his last breath Allan looks up to see who is responsible. We do not see the face of the person who has led this attack, but Allan recognises them: “You!”

Brother Tuck’s methods are successful in blocking the Castle gates, and the troops themselves are reluctant to draw their swords against the seated peasants. (Not how it was in Gisborne’s tongue cutting days). Whilst Archer looks on from the sidelines, Isabella appears on the battlements. She is impatient, and shoots a crossbow bolt into Tuck’s arm. (A pity it wasn’t his larynx). But still the soldiers will not fight. However, when Kate turns up, Isabella instructs one soldier to kill her or die himself. This is the moment Archer can idly stand by no more and, as he throws his Eastern style throwing thingy into the soldier’s back to save her, all hell breaks loose and the battle begins.

Archer and Kate then run to save Robin. Pulling the three of them from the limestone, Kate tells Robin about the locket plot, and all is well. In the Castle above, Isabella’s captain is deserting her. The captain’s words are ominous: “You don’t realise what’s happening here do you? It’s over Isabella”, and away he rides.

Having taken possession of the Castle, Robin Hood is renewing his vows on justice to the people, but their victory celebrations are cut short when a tearful Much brings news of a grim discovery. Allan’s lifeless body has been delivered to the gates of the city. Not only that, but a mighty army has assembled on the horizon. And guess who’s leading it: Vasey! Yes folks, our beloved Sheriff of Nottingham is back. Not only that, but Isabella’s captain is with him, and turns to him saying: “The plan is in place”.

Comment: Putting aside all our grievances and concerns of the last few episodes, in which the entire history and premise of the show seemed to have been turned on its axis, this episode was a guilty pleasure. Full of action and (apart from Tuckie), quite stirring. I think the reason I enjoyed it is simply because I finally got to see all the “merry men” getting involved for a change. For once, the cast which is at the heart of the show’s success, were given chance to interact. (There was a nice little moment when they were all embracing prior to battle, and Guy stood and observed their camaraderie).

Lara Pulver’s Isabella continues to impress throughout, and I’m keen to see her meet her predecessor. I suppose, given the more ridiculous aspects of the show’s track record, the simple fact that Archer chose Kate to rescue Robin with him, means she and Archer will be "involved" before Jonas even exits by the stage door. (And is John wearing make-up on his eyebrows now?) But hey, fans of Archer, and this “new direction”, will have enjoyed watching tonight for sure.

And what can we say about Joe Armstrong? I shall save a more embellished review for a future post, but suffice to say his scenes here were what we’d been waiting for. Albeit relatively short in duration, Joe once again conveyed the richness of the character he’d developed and made his own. He’s already been much missed this series, and now will be so for the series to follow. Another original cast member who won’t ever quite be replaced.

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Saturday, 13 June 2009

Robin Hood, Series 3. Episode 11: “The Enemy of My Enemy.”.

The Story: Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne are riding side by side through the forest, heading for the Outlaw’s camp, and arguing about their respective parents. A fight ensues, which is observed from a distance by Alan A Dale. Alan then runs to inform the rest of the Outlaws that Robin must be in trouble, thinking other soldiers must be near by. When the Outlaws reach Robin and Guy, it is Kate who manages to loose the first arrow directly at Gisborne’s heart. But Robin Hood pushes his former arch enemy out of the way just in time, and commences to explain to them all that Gisborne is now ”one of us”. The two outlaws that protest most strongly are Kate, who’s brother was killed, and John, well, because he’s John. (Even though he’s looking more like Roy Wood by the hour.)

Robin Hood tells everyone about their half brother, Archer (Clive Standen), awaiting execution in York, and also that Archer has “travelled widely” and has “knowledge of weapons brought back from the East”. (Oooooooo….) As Robin and Guy prepare to leave for York, Kate kisses Robin and asks him to “come back safely”. A little later on, whilst riding to York, both men are spotted by one of Isabella’s informers. She becomes concerned about what could have brought two sworn enemies together like this, and sends word to the Sheriff of York that they are on their way, offering a reward into the bargain.

Meanwhile, in the dungeons beneath York Castle, Archer is called out by the guards. The prisoners assume it is to be hanged, but the truth is that naughty Archer is administering a bit of what he’s brought back from the East to the Sheriff of York’s wife, between the bed sheets. He is hoping that his services here, plus a promise of knowledge in Alchemy, will soon save him from the gallows. But when he is later given chance to prove his ability to turn a rusty nail into a nugget of gold before the Sheriff of York, it isn’t long before his ruse is discovered and he is thrown back in the dungeons.

John cannot be pacified regarding Guy of Gisborne’s collaboration with Robin. Tuck tells him the collaboration makes Robin Hood seem all the more powerful that his enemies are persuaded to join him (yawn), after which Kate herself does an about face and supports Robin’s decision. At this point John symbolically drops his staff and leaves. Alan later goes in pursuit and, after a skirmish with Isabella and her troops bound for York, John is naturally persuaded to return to camp and warn the others of where she is headed.

When Robin and Guy reach York they devise a plan to have one of them captured, so he can locate Archer within the cells. (Although that plan makes no sense at all, the scene helps show a little male bonding and good humour). It turns out to be Guy who is captured, who in turn soon locates Archer and identifies him by his birth mark. Archer is not impressed to have found he has a half brother, especially one with a titled name but no money. Meanwhile, outside the Castle, Robin Hood steals some expensive clothing, and enters the Castle pretending to be a nobleman apologising for Guy’s behaviour and come to buy his freedom. The Sheriff of York accepts the bribe and Robin is shown the way to the dungeon to fetch Guy. However, whilst he is below, Isabella’s man informs the Sheriff of York about Robin and Guy and the alarm is raised.

As for Isabella herself, well she and her troops are still riding full pelt towards York, but strangely enough, the Outlaws (on foot) have overtaken her and now wait in the bushes. Kate lets fly an arrow at Isabella, (it would seem to be “Get a Gisborne Day“ for the feisty village girl), but Isabella manages to knock it to one side with her sword. (Like you do). So now, with the Nottingham contingency taken care of, it’s onwards to York the Outlaws stride.

Having to fight their way out of York Castle gives Archer a chance to display his skills, and provides another platform for a little more male bonding and bickering. Suffice to say Archer himself is even less impressed by finding one of his half brothers is a poor outlaw than he was that the other is a man with a meaningless title. When the fight becomes hopeless, Archer attempts to bribe his way out of the situation by holding a knife to Robin’s throat and offering his life as a bribe. But in the end all three end up side by side on the gallows.

At this point enter the Outlaws, refreshed from their jog. Archer and Robin Hood are quickly freed, whilst Guy is left waiting at the end of a rope. However, arrows fired simultaneously by Robin and Archer cut him loose, as Robin looks across at Archer seeing he’s met his match where marksmanship is concerned. During the fight in which everyone escapes, Guy significantly saves John from an attack, whilst Archer steals Guy’s white horse and rides away into the distance, preferring the mercenary life…

End bit: Back at camp Robin Hood persuades Kate she has to “move on”, giving himself as an example of someone who has had to do this in relation to Marian. Kate agrees to try, but confesses she can never trust Gisborne.

The best line in the show is the last one: Guy turns to the Outlaws and says, “So where do you want me to sleep?” (I loved that bit. Breaks me up every time).

Comment: How does one judge this show any more? On what basis are we to judge anything? Any and all comparisons to the Legend of Robin Hood, are of course null and void. But so to now are any comparisons to Series 1 and 2, because of the total lack of continuity. Do you know what this most reminds me of? (And I’m showing my age here). “Dallas”. When Bobby Ewing died in a car crash, but then one series later stepped out of the shower and it had all been a dream. However, I shall try to be constructive:

Positives: Although much of what I like about the way Gisborne was being written during Series 3 has now been changed, Richard Armitage himself is doing a great job; albeit (it seems to me), with tongue firmly in cheek and a glint in his eye. I’m enjoying watching him purely on the basis of an entertaining adventure, with no regard for the show’s history.

Negatives: Archer just doesn’t work for me. It’s over the top. Bedding the Sheriff’s wife; “widely travelled in the east”; etc., etc. A recipe of clichés, shaken but certainly not stirring. Pass. On top of which, Tuck's "worthy speeches" induce sleep so rapidly he's set to put Horlicks out of business.

If this was an entirely different show, (which of course it now is), and was called something else, I’d be fine with it and fairly entertained in a light hearted kind of way. It’s not a show I would consider following over time.

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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Robin Hood, Series 3. Episode 10: “Bad Blood”.

The story: In Sherwood Forest (which seems to have undergone a change in season since last week), Robin Hood makes a chance encounter with Guy of Gisborne. Guy assumes Robin has been following him, and that more Outlaws are at hand, but this is not the case. So Guy puts down his bow and draws his sword, eager to engage in a duel to the death with Robin. Robin is at first reluctant to do so, saying that Guy is in no fit state for such combat. (Why should he care?)

Anyway, as their swords are about to clash, “poisoned darts” fly out from the forest, hitting both men in the neck, causing them fall drugged to the ground. As they lie dormant, a shrouded figure steps out from the trees.

Robin Hood and Guy awake at nightfall, bound and tied by a camp a fire. The shrouded figure is seated nearby, and tells them both they must listen to his story in order to “save a life”. After some bickering, this they agree to do, and the rest of the show is related in flash-back style to a time 20 years previous, recounting how both Robin Hood’s and Guy of Gisborne’s parents really died.

20 years previous: In Loxley, Lady Gisborne (Guy’s mother), has been having an affair with Lord Loxley (Robin’s father), whilst her husband Lord Gisborne is away on the Crusades. She believes her husband has been killed in battle, and (as a means of establishing a way by which her new relationship can be brought out into the open), states that her lands should therefore be acquired by Lord Loxley to maintain.

As the villagers are commemorating the loss of lives in the Holy Lands, the young boy Robin is showing off his archery skills to the boy Guy. (Yes folks, he already has a Saracen bow, which I assume was brought back from the Crusades by his father.) Robin’s behaviour causes a fire to break out, which in turn seriously injures a priest. In an attempt to stop Robin, young Guy grabs the bow from him. But the result is that the villagers then assume it was Guy’s arrow that started the fire, and so he not Robin is blamed for the priest’s injury. Not only that, but an opportunistic Bailiff, who wants the Gisborne property for himself rather than let the French Lady Gisborne inherit them from her dead husband, decides to hang the boy Guy there and then. And all this while, young Robin Hood is denying it was in fact he who caused the fire, seemingly only too willing to have Guy take the blame. (Yep, you get it. They want us to like Guy more than Robin).

At which point enter Sir Roger of Gisborne, Guy‘s father. It turns out that he is not dead after all. In defence of his son Guy, Sir Roger draws swords against the Bailiff. He wins the fight, and Guy is released when the priest’s injuries are seen not to be fatal. But during the fight a curious thing is observed by the crowd when the Bailiff’s blade goes clean through Sir Roger’s hand seemingly causing him no pain.

The boy Robin later confesses to his father, Lord Loxley, that the fire had been his fault, but receives no more than a little fatherly style talk for his wrong doing. Lord Loxley also continues his affair with Lady Gisborne, regardless of her husband’s return. During one of their secret meetings, Loxley informs her that only leprosy could account for the lack of pain in her husband’s hand when the blade passed through it. She in turn informs Loxley that she is pregnant. (Hmmm, from leprosy to pregnancy in one sentence.) All of this is observed from a safe distance by the dastardly Bailiff.

Lord Loxley (being the sensitive type that he is), tells Lady Gisborne to inform the village that her husband is a leper, because in that way her marriage will immediately be dissolved. After that, he suggests she could go away and have the child she is expecting, before returning later to unite with him. (Are you still with me?) All this she agrees to, but when she returns home her husband Lord Gisborne is waiting. Much to her surprise, he is not angry at her affair, wishing only that she has found someone to take care of her when he dies. This makes Lady Gisborne sorry for the plan she has agreed to, but it is too late to stop it now, and the Bailiff soon arrives with various other authority figures, who march the leprous Lord away to the edge of the village, where a ceremony banishes him for ever.

When leaving, the noble Lord Gisborne asks only that Lord Loxley take care of his family, but the boy Guy is far less forgiving, and the seeds of future discontent are clearly being sown. Now, with Lord Gisborne out of the way, the Bailiff intends to take the Gisborne property for his own. Only this will keep him from telling the village that Lady Gisborne is pregnant with Loxley’s child. So Loxley hands over the land, believing it can easily be reclaimed when he weds the Lady. However, the marriage is doomed never to happen, and so Guy will lose those lands.

Unbeknown to Lord Loxley, Lady Gisborne continues to go into the forest and take aid to her dying husband in a small leper colony there. This causes even further resentment from Guy, who feels he is being cut off from his father. Guy’s choice at this point would be to return to France. But whatever plans he and his mother might embark upon are interrupted by the premature birth of a son. (Are you all still with me? So now Guy and Robin Hood share a “half brother”).

The baby has an arrow shaped birth mark on it’s chest, and so is given the name Archer before being taken to a safe place. (Hey, I didn’t write this stuff. I’m only reviewing it). Then, in an attempt to stop the marriage between his mother and Robin’s father, Guy goes to the leper colony to inform his father of the intended event. However, he is only angered more when he learns his father condones the marriage so that his wife will have someone to take care of her. So why (and I really don’t get this bit), in the very next scene, does the leprous Lord Gisborne go striding back into Loxley to try and stop the marriage!? (Answers on a post card please. It makes no sense to me).

As the leprous Lord enters the village, the boy Robin starts shouting “The leper is back! The leper is back!” (Don’t you just love this kid? No??) Suffice to say a fight soon breaks out between the two Lords, during which yet another accidental fire breaks out (how many is that so far?) this time started by Guy. Not only that, but Lord Loxley accidentally causes the death of Lady Gisborne in the process. (Kind of clumsy I guess). Outside the manor the dastardly Bailiff tells the villagers the fire must have been started to rid the place of disease. And so everyone readily takes up their burning torches to further that end, causing the deaths of those inside. To cut a long story short, after his father’s assumed death in the fire, the boy Robin takes possession of the Loxley Estate.

Now we go forward 20 years to see Guy’s and Robin’s reactions to this information regarding how their parents really died. “All these years I though it was my fault”, says Guy of his accidental fire starting that day, and we see a little more of the reason for his character.

Whilst Robin and Guy ponder their thoughts the mysterious man who has been relating this tale removes his cowl, and stands revealed as Robin Hood’s father. It transpires that he escaped the fire, but is now himself dying of leprosy. Furthermore, the reason he has tracked down Robin and Guy is that he needs them to “save a life”. (Yep, you saw it coming didn’t you?) Their half brother, the one with the arrow shaped birth mark on his chest, is about to be hung in Yorkshire, and they are expected to go save him. “I need you to unite,” he says. “Forgive each other to save a brother”. And then he shoots them again with his darts.

When Robin Hood and Guy next awake, it is Guy who first extends his hand to Robin as they depart for Yorkshire. (A move which will please Yorkshire Hoodies, and facilitate the change from filming the “Nottingham Castle” in Hungary to a different “Yorkshire Castle” apparently in the UK).

Comment: This episode will divide the fans for many reasons. Obviously the intention is to establish a premise for a new Robin Hood in Series 4. However, whilst I can accept the idea of a half brother inheriting the role, or a distant relation, I cannot accept any other part of this highly contrived episode which, in my opinion, undoes all the good will which the previous few episodes had helped restore.

What we have here is another appalling attempt to “re-invent” of the Legend, amounting to as much of a travesty as the murder of Marian was at the end of Series 2. Not only that, but the whole “story” holds as much “corn” as your average breakfast cereal. An arrow shaped birthmark? Calling the baby Archer? Guy accidentally meeting Robin just as Robin’s leprous father accidentally finds them both together, and informs them of their parent’s accidental deaths, soon after Robin had accidentally nearly killed a priest? Not to mention all the other little gems you have in stall if you haven’t watched it yet. (Look out for the Saracen bow on the Christian cross gravestone).

What would have been better? To perhaps see a young girl Marian in Robin Hood’s boyhood, or maybe a boy servant, Much. What I personally am left with is an overwhelming desire to go see a new Robin Hood film, (the Russell Crowe one can’t be far away); something to wash this crass nonsense all away.

Sorry Hoodies. I hated this silly concoction beyond intellectual comment.

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Saturday, 30 May 2009

Robin Hood. Series 3, Episode 9: A Dangerous Deal.

The Story: What is perhaps the single most well written episode in the Show’s entire history starts with Robin Hood creeping up on Isabella, the new Sheriff of Nottingham, whilst she is sleeping. He is there to offer a deal: If she keeps him informed of Prince John’s plans, he will in return protect her in her position as Sheriff. But she refuses his offer, and Robin is forced to make a speedy exit via the window.

Isabella does however state that she intends to be the best Sheriff that Nottingham has ever had, and the following day Robin Hood and the Outlaws go into Nottingham to see her in action as she presides over the case of a young girl called Meg. Isabella identifies with the way Meg has been mistreated by men, and sets her free, proclaiming at the same time that Nottingham is to be a fairer place in which to live. She also informs the crowd that her brother Guy is to be executed for his deeds. But the applause her comments induce is interrupted when her husband Thornton steps forth, announces himself as Sheriff, and has his men escort Isabella inside. Isabella has to surrender to Thornton simply because she will be perceived by Prince John to have broken “God’s Law and Man’s law” by running off and leaving him. But just as he is about to have Isabella locked up, Meg attempts to reciprocate her earlier kindness by “buying” Isabella’s safety with information about the whereabouts of some Viking treasure. So it is Meg who is then put in the dungeon whilst Thornton takes Isabella (spade in hand), to investigate. And who does Meg find in the cell next to hers? Guy of Gisborne! Meg knows who Guy is, and taunts him about his fall from grace. She expresses the hope that he will go to Hell, to which Guy responds that he is already there.

Meanwhile, another couple have been embarking on quite a different relationship. Kate and Robin stayed behind in Nottingham after listening to Isabella’s speech as the new Sheriff, and it wasn’t too long before a heated quarrel turned to passionate kisses. So now, as they observe what Isabella and Thornton are doing in Sherwood Forest, Kate raises the subject of romance. Robin feels that would be “difficult”. Kate wonders if he cares for Isabella, or is it his concern for Much which makes him hesitant? At this stage nothing is resolved, but it is interesting that Marian’s name is not mentioned once. Whilst they continue to observe, Isabella and Thornton are successful in finding the Viking treasure. Furthermore, Thornton’s violent conduct towards his men, makes Robin Hood decide he has to be got rid of.

Back in the dungeons the situation between Meg and Guy is taking a different course. Her questions begin to disturb him, as she talks about being prepared for death, and having a clear conscious: “Is your life so empty that you don’t care if you live or die?” she asks, whilst Guy’s emotions begin to unravel. By way of answer he makes the simple gesture of dusting the soil from her crust of bread and handing it to her. “There must be some good in you yet”, she says smiling, and perhaps for the first time in his life Guy of Gisborne forms a friendship.

In Sherwood Forest, Thornton is preparing to take the new found treasure back to Nottingham, as Kate has a quiet word with Much, asking him to make it clear to Robin that they are just good friends, thus leaving the way open for Robin and her to become lovers. Much barely conceals his hurt, but agrees to do as she asks. But, as the Outlaws then attack Thornton’s troops, Much is so distracted by his emotions that he lets the Treasure slip away. After the fight, when the Outlaws catch up with Isabella who has fled into the forest, she is petrified at what Thornton may do to her, and agrees to work together with Robin Hood in order to gain his protection. Kate looks on, wondering if her feelings of jealousy are justified or not.

Whilst escorting Isabella back to Nottingham, Little John tells her that he thinks Robin Hood only has eyes for Kate. (Not a good idea, John!) Isabella later goes on to release Meg at the first opportunity, but is enraged when the girl asks for Guy’s freedom also.

When morning comes, it finds Much sneaking away from the Outlaw’s Camp unnoticed, having decided to leave them for pastures new. Back in the dungeon, Meg visits Guy and offers him food. Guy thanks her for her supportive gesture: “You’ve made me think about someone I used to know”, he says. “She made me a better man, but I destroyed her”. And he hangs his head remorsefully. At this, Meg returns to Isabella’s quarters and steals the keys to Guy’s cell, but when she tries to release him, Isabella catches her in the act and determines to have them both executed together.

In Sherwood Forest, Much’s absence causes very little attention as the Outlaws prepare to meet up with Isabella and take possession of the Viking treasure she has promised them as part of the deal for the protection she will be given. Little John uses the opportunity to have a quiet word with Robin: ”She’s worth more than treasure”, he says of Kate. “Don’t let her slip through your fingers”.

In Knight’s Glade, where they meet up with Isabella, it is of course a trap and fighting breaks out. Just when the Outlaws seem out manoeuvred, Much appears from the trees and saves the day. They then decide to venture into Nottingham, where Guy’s execution will provide the perfect distraction for them whilst they steal back the treasure. (Wouldn’t you have thought Robin Hood would want to see Guy lose his head?)

Standing before the chopping block, Guy pleads for Meg’s life, but Isabella refuses to listen. Then, as the axe is about to fall, Robin Hood’s arrow sinks into the executioner’s side, causing his blade to go spinning wildly into the air. But where will it land? As the axe hurtles down towards the bare skin of Meg’s neck, a second arrow from Robin Hood causes it to change direction and it sinks into the guillotine next to Guy. But the excitement sustains when Thornton himself reappears from out of the crowd to resume his position of authority over his wife, and the Outlaws make a break for it with treasure in hand.

Once again, the two leading couples in this story take centre stage: Just as Guy seems to have broken free from the executioner‘s platform, a soldier thrusts at him with his spear and, attempting to save him, Meg takes the blow in her side. Simultaneous to this, Robin Hood has told Kate she must go with the Outlaws whilst he re-enters the Castle to ensure Thornton doesn’t kill Isabella. (He needn’t be concerned, Isabella has found enough courage to deal with her evil husband on her own…)

End bit: Guy of Gisborne carries the dying Meg to safety, coming to rest deep in the forest. “I’ve always quite liked you”, she manages to smile through the pain, and their all too brief relationship is sealed with a kiss to her dying lips as Gisborne lowers his head in grief. Meanwhile, around a camp fire somewhere, it is an altogether happier Robin Hood who is telling Kate how “Brave, and beautiful” she is. However, within her Castle chambers, a solitary Isabella is now vowing her next murder will not be Robin Hood himself…

Comment: Outstanding writing by Michael Chaplin. One can only imagine what the original cast could have done with scripts like this.

Lara Pulver continues to excel. She is absolutely fabulous; so much so that I don’t even care to get pre-occupied by the concept of a female Sheriff in that century. Also, full praise to Holliday Grainger in the role of Meg. (Yet another in the long list of characters we would all like to have seen much more of, but alas it's not to be.) And, for me at least, the Kate - Robin romance now seems perfectly believable. Yes, I know, the concept of Robin Hood having a different love than Marian remains a tricky one if not down right wrong historically. But sadly, these are the cards the previous poor writing / direction, left us with. So, taking that into account, I think a fantastic job of recovering this series has been done by all concerned. Excellent stuff all round. More please!

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Saturday, 23 May 2009

Robin Hood. Series 3, Episode 8: the king is dead, long live the king

The story: In a London artist’s workshop, Lord Sheridan stands behind the unfortunate genius who is about to complete the last work of art he will ever produce: A waxwork face of King Richard. As he applies the finishing touches, Sheridan’s dagger finds it’s target in his back, so there can be no witnesses to the plan which is about to develop miles away in Nottingham.

Later, Sheridan arrives in Nottingham at the head of a column of troops escorting a coffin which is draped with the Royal Flag. He proclaims that King Richard has been killed in battle, whilst Prince John (in true melodramatic style), drapes himself over the coffin sobbing. Of course it’s not too long before the Prince makes a full recovery, announcing himself King, and sending for the Archbishop to perform the Coronation right there in Nottingham (the city he intends to make England’s new capital). Robin Hood cannot believe the news. He insists to his Outlaws that he would be able to feel it if his King was dead. So he determines to break into the castle and see the body for himself.

When the Archbishop arrives at Kirklees Abbey he is shown the face of Richard and, although he seems reluctant to do so, agrees to performing a Coronation. Soon after they leave the crypt, Robin Hood, Much, and Kate enter. They are of course at first upset to see their dead King’s face, but then the heat from their candle begins to melt one ear, and Prince John’s plot is revealed.

Meanwhile, Isabella is attempting to work her charms on Prince John. Her ambition is to become the new Sheriff of Nottingham. But Prince John’s favourite for that post is clearly Sheridan, and she realises her goal will not be an easy one. Later that night her troubles are at first compounded by a visit from her brother Guy of Gisborne, but it is a visit she soon seeks to turn to her advantage. Guy is at first intent upon killing her (of course. It’s what Guy does best). But Isabella points out that the death of Richard could place her in an advantageous position when Prince John seeks new collaborators. The following morning, Guy asks for further clarification about how he stands to gain from any advances in position Isabella might make with Prince John. She herself makes just one request of Guy; she asks him to apologise for selling her into a loveless marriage. But Guy is unrepentant, and says it was her fault she failed to gain from a situation she could have manipulated to her advantage. Guy’s reward for this rebuff is a poisoned chalice, after which he is bound and gagged.

Meanwhile, King Richard’s fake body is being escorted out of the city. In a fit of rage (and after the waxwork has served its purpose), Prince John has smashed its face in. So he now wants to destroy the evidence of his plan. But once into the forest, Robin Hood and his outlaws intercept the coffin as it is being burned. However, they are too late to save the wax face, and now Robin has no proof of Prince John’s trickery to show to the Archbishop. Therefore he hatches an alternative plan: To stop the Coronation he must steal the crown.

Returning to Nottingham, Robin Hood sits in the Trip (now known as the Trip to Jerusalem, the oldest pub in England). He knows Sheridan will be drinking there, and indeed they both raise a glass to the King. It was Sheridan who once taught Robin of Loxley much of his fighting skills. But Sheridan cautions his old student against causing him any problems when he becomes Sheriff. At that point Kate enters, dressed to kill as a drunken serving wench. It is her job to spill beer over Robin, causing him to make a convenient exit, so she can further distract Sheridan whilst Allen A Dale steals the keys from his belt. All goes to plan, until Allan starts to get overly jealous, and Sheridan realises he’s been tricked.

The keys facilitate Robin Hood and Brother Tuck’s entry to the dungeons where the crown is heavily booby trapped by a combination of a deadly arrow shooting Chinese puzzle and hidden scorpions. (This is a good scene, and one in which Jonas’s physical skills serve him well. It does seem more and more that the show’s direction has settled on Jonas as action hero, whilst the character actors lay elsewhere in the stories.)

Without the crown the Coronation cannot take place, and so Sheridan and his dogs are dispatched into Sherwood Forest to retrieve it. At first the Outlaws lead him on a wild goose chase, but Much’s protective conduct towards Kate causes more problems of the kind Allan’s had earlier at the Trip, and before too long Robin Hood and Sheridan are engaged in a duel.

During their fight, Sheridan explains why he has betrayed King Richard. It is because Richard only offers him “retirement” rather than a worthy position. He also says (with some accuracy!) that if Richard cared for England he’d be there. With the help of his troops, the older man beats his one time student, but because of their shared past, decides to deport him rather than kill him. So, as surely Sheridan takes the crown back to Nottingham, Robin Hood is soon escaping from the back of the wagon meant to contain him.

Isabella, meanwhile, is having problems of her own. She has taken Prince John into her chamber to show him the tied and bound Guy. In this way she hopes to prove herself worthy of the post of Sheriff of Nottingham. But of course Guy has escaped, and Sheridan is standing close by with the prized crown. Not only that, but for his reward, Sheridan chooses to take Isabella for his own, an arrangement which Prince John finds wholly pleasing.

Before making their way to Kirklees Abbey to break-up the Coronation, Much and Allan squabble about their recent conduct. Both express desires towards Kate, who in turn expresses her impatience with their protective attitude saying “we must keep our minds on the mission”. This they then do, by taking a number of highly polished shields to the Abbey. Standing in the doorway, reflecting the sun’s rays, the congregation at first think it is King Richard’s men standing there, (yeah right), and a slip of the tongue from Prince John and Sheridan lets the Archbishop know the body was a fake. (Rather a clumsy bit of writing here chaps. Kind of an anti-climax after all the good stuff which preceded it).

At that point Guy of Gisborne steps out of the aisle where he has been hiding and points his crossbow straight at Prince John. A classic Mexican stand-off follows as Robin Hood points his bow at Guy, pleading for the Prince’s life. His reasoning is sound. As much as he hates Prince John, without a Royal leader, England will soon descend into anarchy. So Prince John is needed only as long as it takes Richard to return. Guy refuses to listen. He stands nothing to gain, and let’s fly his shaft!

Isabella, seeing her possible future benefactor in danger, leaps in front of Prince John and takes Guy’s shaft in the arm! Robin Hood‘s arrow, although too late to stop Guy, finds an equally less fatal target in his arch enemy. The Archbishop decrees that there must be no blood letting inside the Abbey. Fair enough. So a huge fist fight breaks out, after which the Outlaws escape with the Crown. (Later to be handed back to the Archbishop).

End bit: Both Sheridan and Guy are in chains, as Prince John escorts them away from Nottingham. It would seem Isabella has been made Sheriff after all? And she promises Prince John that Robin Hood will be on the gallows before long.

Comment: A good episode. The overall format of the show does seem a bit “familiar” now, but it‘s a sound and entertaining one for a Saturday evening: Robin Hood as the physical adventurer, fighting against the wicked Prince John, whilst the deeper characterisations, such as the Gisborne Family tiffs, are allocated elsewhere.

Lara Pulver is excellent in the role of Guy’s sister, and the scene with Richard Armitage (albeit brief), gave further evidence of her ability to bring the plot lines to life. They are totally convincing together, and imbue their scenes with something special.

One last point, although the show has made various statements about Robin Hood and the Outlaws not killing anyone, it does seem like the guys in shiny body armour are as fair a game as turkeys at Christmas. Shooting people in the back? Hey, sign of a true outlaw!

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