Sunday, 29 March 2009

Robin Hood Series 3, Picture Gallery 1:

Above: Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong) and Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) both driven to new heights of rage in the wake of Marian's death. Below: Could it be that Brother Tuck's cooking tastes as bad as Much's?
Above: The Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) enjoys a game of Dungeons with Much ("Screaming" Sam Troughton). Below: Villiany incarnate...
Above: Tuck and Robin observe the oppressed villagers of Loxley. Below: Brother Tuck hatches a plan.

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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Robin Hood. Series 3 Episode 1: Total Eclipse.

The story: A man dressed in the style of a monk or priest, comes ashore alone on an English coastline. He is a black man, with the physique of a warrior and an educated accent. He has come looking for Robin Hood.

Robin himself is dashing through the forest towards Nottingham, hell bent on revenging Marion’s murder, but with John, Much and Allen in pursuit, all pleading for some measure of cautious restraint. But Robin cannot be pacified: “Robin Hood is dead”, he screams. “He died in the Holy Land with Marion. All I have is vengeance!” He dismisses his outlaw band, leaving them behind, and crying out “Gisborne dies today”.

When Robin Hood reaches Loxley it is with bow already drawn for action, and a final kiss to Marian’s wedding ring on his lips. He fires an arrow through the window of the Manor House Loxley took from him; his arrow finds his arch enemy waiting. In response to Robin’s challenge, Gisborne seizes his sword and runs eagerly to accept the fight, whilst the mysterious “priest” looks on from the sidelines. However, always eager to make use of any evil advantage in order to gain the upper hand, Gisborne seizes a small girl from the crowd and runs with her to a high ridge overlooking the river, threatening to throw her over the side unless Robin surrenders. Robin tells the girl not to be scared, to which she simply replies “I’m not scared. You are Robin Hood”. Such is the faith the people of England have now placed in the man who has become a living legend.

In the ensuing fight Robin strikes his head on a stone, then to be quickly seized by Gisborne and cast over the side, down into the waters below. Much surges forward to seek revenge by killing Gisborne in return, but is quickly overcome and arrested by Gisborne’s ever present minions, whilst John and Allen make their get away. Only now does the pace of this opening episode to Series 3 of Robin Hood, drop down a gear. It has been an exciting and action packed re-launch.

Whilst John and Allen search in vain for Robin Hood’s body, a messenger from Prince John delivers an ultimatum to the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Prince is angry at the Sheriff’s blunders in the Holy Lands and as punishment is insisting that Nottingham pay higher taxes, or a new Sheriff will be appointed. Guy informs the Messenger that Robin Hood is now dead, and offers Robin’s outlaw pendant as proof. But if he’s really dead, where’s the body?

Once back in the dungeons, the Sheriff tortures Much in an attempt to find out where Robin Hood has been hiding his loot, and simply won’t believe Much when he says it was all given back to the people. Playing for time, Much leads the Sheriff into the forest, promising to show where the loot is buried. Of course, once in that forest, it isn’t long before John and Allen come to the rescue.

It is of course the priest, now introducing himself as Brother Tuck, who finds the body. Robin Hood purists might dismay at being deprived of the old tale of the Friar carrying Robin across the river, and engaging him in combat (just as we were saddened not to have Robin Hood fight Little John on a bridge in Series 1), but we do get to witness Robin and the Brother at loggerheads when Tuck takes Robin to a cave, and ties him up whilst attending to his wounds and spoon feeding him soup. Tuck finally explains his motives to Robin. He tells Robin that the once proud people of England are now “broken”, and that only one name seems to bring them, hope; that name is "Robin Hood". And so it is his desire to see Robin Hood once more lead the fight against oppression. But Robin will not be persuaded: "I gave everything I had", he protests, “I even gave the life of the woman I love”. But Brother Tuck is both persistent and eloquent in his response: “I have nothing in my life but my God and my country”.

This is a nice touch. The Legend of Robin Hood will always be relevant to current affairs, and one can argue that this is particularly so in recent years. So, to have a “Brother” of ethnic descent be the one to say those words, and to go seek out the man who can raise England’s hopes and aspirations once again, is to my mind a particularly good bit of writing.

As Robin Hood continues to insist that he wishes to be regarded as dead, Tuck hatches a plan based around a scientific manual in his pocket. First he informs Gisborne that Robin is secretly buried at Dead Man’s Crossing, and then informs the Outlaws that Robin is alive and well at that same place. Of course, when the two sides meet up at the crossing, the Outlaws are arrested and thrown in the dungeons. (Editor: If the Sheriff charged these guys rent for all the times they stay in those dungeons he wouldn’t have to raise taxes!) When Robin Hood hears from Tuck about their arrest he is of course eager to help them, at which point Tuck tells him of the rest of his plan…

The following day the three Outlaws are facing execution when, without warning, a full eclipse of the sun begins. Brother Tuck tells the crowd it is God’s punishment on Nottingham for what the Sheriff has been doing, and a degree of panic ensues in which John, Allen, and Much escape. Then, as the moon passes and the sun streams down into the castle courtyard, a familiar silhouette is standing on the battlements with bow drawn. The Legend that is Robin Hood has returned once more to defend his people! But first to Gisborne, now pinned helplessly to a door by Robin’s expert arrows. Will Robin Hood kill his enemy? “I live in Hell”, confesses Gisborne, almost welcoming the prospect of death…

Later on, deep in the forest, under the very trees where he once proposed to Marian, Robin Hood kneels alone and buries the ring she wore in death. “I’ll never stop loving you”, he whispers.

Comments: Much better than we expected? I think so. Full honours straight away to Richard Armitage. I think his new look in this episode at least is absolutely brilliant, and his performance excellent. One has the feeling his character (and script), has much more clarity now. A tour de force.

And Brother Tuck? Well, traditionalists like me have been wanting to see a “Tuck” reinstated since the start, and David Harewood is well suited to the part. I did find the “science book” all a bit predictable by now (shades of Djaq), and would have liked his anger to be a bit more convincing. I’m hoping he has some serious flaws in his character. (Like Michael McShane’s Tuck in the otherwise generally disappointing “Prince of Thieves”).

What’s missing (apart from Lucy)? The element of mystery which the Night Watchman provided; and the charisma of Djaq. Also, the humour of Much, Allen, and the Sheriff was not quite as evident as before. But overall, a really good start to Series 3. Above: The silhouette of a Legend. Below: One final kiss of remembrance.

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