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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Saturday, 16 May 2009

Who would mourn for the Sheriff of Nottingham?

What will we remember the Sheriff of Nottingham for? His canaries? The coach he seems to have imported from Transylvania? His black silk pyjamas? No doubt if Marian were still with us she'd remember him for an all too public hair appointment, whilst Roy would remember him for a cut more painful even than that. Alan will remember the Sheriff for hanging his brother ahead of schedule, and ahead of rescue. When word of the Sheriff's demise reaches the Scarlet family home in the Holy land, Will will reflect upon his father's death at the hands of the Sheriff's men. Matilda might consider herself lucky that her encounter with the Sheriff was nothing more terminal than the Witch's ducking chair. Guy might remember him for the acid he poured on his tattooed arm, together with an endless stream of humiliations, or maybe he'll remember the Sheriff for a particularly good shoulder massage…

I think the makers of Robin Hood will surely remember him as the satellite of experience around whom the younger members of the cast at the start of Series 1 could gravitate and find their feet. What about you?

Welsh born Keith Allen's life would seem to have been as eventful as the Sheriff of Nottingham's. Possibly more so. He has served time in both Borstal and Pentonville Prison; fathered 7 children by 5 women (an 8th is on the way); was thrown out of drama school for "student union activities"; worked as a stage hand at the Victoria Palace Theatre where, to get his own back on an allegedly mean Max Bygraves, turned up completely naked in the chorus line during Bygraves's performance. As Keith himself would say: “I've always maintained if you want to act you should get yourself a life first“.

British audiences first encountered his work during the post-punk "alternative comedy" movement, not only appearing in programmes such as "Comic Strip Presents", but also sharing the writing. During the 1990s he co-wrote New Order's hit "World In Motion", as well as forming a solid friendship with Brit artist Damien Hurst. In fact, Keith Allen is on record for saying he hates actors and much prefers the company of artists and musicians. And who will ever forget his 1998 Football song parody, "Vindaloo"? (see THIS LINK, though I've been desperately trying to forget it for years now!) But let's cut to the chase here: Keith Allen has an on-screen presence rivalled by very few Brits when it comes to the "bad guys". In “Robin Hood“, with tremendous skill, he walked that line between "pantomime villain", and a down right nasty piece of work. In fact, there are numerous scenes, especially early on in the show, where the less experienced cast (as they were at the time) seem genuinely unnerved by him.

My previous review of Keith Allen as the Sheriff of Nottingham (posted on THIS LINK), still holds true. That post contains links to previous incarnations of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and makes relevant comparisons to previous interpretations of the role which I won‘t repeat here.

Known to be an actor who needs a director willing to leave him some space in which to develop and incorporate his own ideas as they occur. For example, I'm willing to bet much of the routines with his false tooth, after Richard Armitage had knocked out real one in a sword fight, all came from him. Keith Allen's work in Series 1 and 2 is that which he will most be remembered for by the Hoodies. It is no secret he expressed his "boredom" at continuing with the project much beyond that, preferring to move on to new challenges. (He was Long John Silver at the Theatre Royal, London, towards the end of 2008). So, whether the wily Sheriff escaped death (as he said to Gisborne: "Nothing is as it seems"), or whether that shaky hand was simply a post-death spasm, I think we can assume Keith Allen won't be back. Unless of course it is to commit one final dastardly deed…

Note: I am sometimes asked if Nottingham still has a Sheriff. Yes we do. but these days the post is really intended more to boost tourism due to the obvious links with Robin Hood. So today our Sheriff is less likely to be burning down Loxley, but rather spending his time promoting tourism and local businesses. Our first of 5 female Sheriffs was in 1931, and the most recent in 2006.

More posts about the Sheriff of Nottingham can be found on this link:

http://robinhoodresources.blogspot.com/2007/11/sheriff-of-nottingham.html

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Saturday, 9 May 2009

Robin Hood. Series 3, Episode 7: Too Hot to Handle.

Above: Prince John sees Isabella fraternising with Robin Hood. Below: Guy of Gisbourne sees the same.
Below: Isabella Gisbourne shows her true colours.

The story: Great episode this one, which starts out in Nottingham as it is undergoing a severe drought. But away from the sweltering heat outside, Isabella is entertaining Prince John in her usual flirtatious manner. They are interrupted by Guy of Gisborne, who wants to talk business. Guy is getting impatient for Prince John to keep his side of their bargain, and appoint him Sheriff of Nottingham. When Isabella leaves them to their conversation she is met outside by Robin Hood, carrying a gift of fresh strawberries, which they then share; their body language speaking volumes.

However, unbeknown to them both, Isabella’s little meeting with Robin is being secretly observed by Prince John and, when she re-enters, the Prince tells her she will accompany him back to Nottingham Castle and see the dungeons there. (Ominous words from the Prince, who does like to tease his prey somewhat.) During that visit to the dungeon, Isabella is shaken by the sound of screams in the background, whilst Prince John informs her of his latest plan to win the love and affection of the villagers: He has dammed the water supply to Nottingham, using one of his underground chambers. He believes that, when he chooses to release this water, the people will love him for it. Only when the Prince is alone with Guy, does he tell them that Isabella has been meeting Robin Hood, and that a trap must be set so that Robin can be caught at the same time, and then both executed.

In Loxley Village the people are suffering badly through lack of water; in particular one baby boy who has been given the name Robin, after the famous Outlaw leader. (Although Robin is at first teased, and made to think it is simply after the bird). There is a touching scene here between Much and Robin, the latter of whom is feeling sad that these domestic scenes around him can never be his own. “I envy them their lives”, he says. But at this stage, Robin doesn’t mention Marian. (Stay tuned!)

Whilst the outlaws are helping the villagers as best as they can, Kate returns and tells them she has located where the Prince stores his own personal barrels of water, and the outlaws make haste to steal some, and distribute it around the village. Then a message arrives from Isabella. She wants to meet with Robin Hood. But Tuck in particular still doesn’t trust her, and argues with Robin, warning him not to go. However, Robin being Robin, he goes anyway, and meets up with Isabella in a clearing in the forest. Whilst there, Isabella tells Robin of Prince John’s dam under Nottingham Castle, and how it is stopping the water supply. But what neither of them know is that Guy has followed her, and is watching this little clandestine meeting from the bushes!

Prince John rides into Loxley with a wagon full of water barrels. He wants the villagers to love him for his gift, but instead he catches sight of the barrel that was stolen from him earlier by the outlaws, and flies into a right Royal rage. One villager confesses the barrel was brought there by “Hood”, but his confession is promptly rewarded by him being drowned in the barrel itself.

And where is Robin Hood? Well his romantic interlude is soon to be shattered when Guy springs from his hiding place and quickly locks a chain around both Robin Hood and Isabella, shackling them together by the wrist! Isabella pleads for mercy, and at first Guy seems to weaken. “We all make mistakes”, he says. To which Robin Hood replies: “A pity you didn’t give Marian that option instead of running her through!”

That comment serves to increase the tension as Guy offers Isabella her freedom if only she will kill Robin there and then, and he extends her his sword. Well, suffice to say, a fight breaks out in which Guy and Robin Hood attempt to strike each other, whilst Isabella, still chained at the wrist to Robin, is caught somewhere in the middle. Indeed, there are moments when it is unclear exactly where Isabella’s loyalties may lie. However, when Guy is knocked out, she puts the tip of his sword to Guy’s throat, wanting to kill him for the way he sold her into a loveless marriage at such a young age. But Robin stays her hand, saying that killing her own brother would be something she’d never quite recover from.

What we then start to see, as Robin Hood and Isabella leave Guy tied to a tree, and make their way to a blacksmiths to have the chain removed, is Isabella’s true nature. Her remarks to Robin, as they bicker about certain things which were said during the fight, rapidly start to lose their humour. One begins to suspect this lady is not so much "hot" for Robin, but rather a full-on "bunny boiler". However, there comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for, when Isabella asks Robin Hood about the girl her brother mentioned. Robin replies that Marian did nothing to merit Guy’s attentions, and that he himself just wants to forget.

Back in Loxley, the drought conditions are once again hitting hard, and Tuck decides he can wait no longer for Robin Hood to release the dam under the Castle. He decides to take action, and lead everyone to the River Trent. But along the way, they are attacked and although they escape, Kate goes missing. She has in fact been taken prisoner, and brought before Prince John, who wants information about the relationship between Isabella and Robin. But Kate is her usual brave self, and insists that Robin dislikes Isabella. For her pains, she is thrown in the dungeon.

Free of their chain, Robin Hood and Isabella reach Nottingham Castle, and gain access to the underground chamber from which the water supply has been dammed. They quickly release the water, but as the level rises in the chamber, a grinning Guy looks down from above and locks them in! Satisfied they will both be drowned, he goes to Prince John and tells them he has killed Robin Hood, and asks the Prince to keep his side of the bargain. This the Prince does, and for one small moment at least in Robin Hood History, Guy of Gisborne is officially made the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Isabella and Robin Hood now cling together, desperately treading water as it rises. She tells him of a dream she had, in which they were married to each other and raising children. Robin Hood enjoys hearing the dream, allowing himself to forget for a while his duties as the Outlaw Leader of Legend. But then something catches his eye: Beneath the trapdoor high above is a metal ring. Quickly he tells Isabella to take off her dress so he can make a rope from it (yeah, right, nice line Robin). He then attaches that rope to an arrow, and on the third attempt (well, he is floating in water), the arrow finds its mark. Robin Hood then pulls himself to safety, and Isabella with him.

Once outside their watery cell, and standing in the corridors of the dungeon, they see Kate imprisoned. But Isabella’s head is filled only with her dreams of running away with Robin Hood. She cares not for releasing Kate, but only of escaping to a new life with Robin. He tries to explain that, although he likes her a lot, he has a greater responsibility to the people of Nottingham and England beyond, at which point Guy and Prince John walk in together.

So now Prince John is mad because Robin and Isabella are still alive, and hates Guy for that; Isabella hates Robin for rejecting her, (yep, “bunny boiler” for sure), as well as Guy for what he did years ago; Guy hates Prince John because he has now revoked his Sheriff title… Okay, okay, you get the idea, and for the second time in this episode we get a really well choreographed fight sequence, whilst Kate (soon to grow big time in popularity?), manages to secure the dungeon keys and escape with Robin. What happened to Isabella? Well, last seen, she was falling headfirst back down into that chamber, along with Prince John. Methinks (hopes!) we haven’t seen the last of her yet.

Comment: Fantastic episode. Superb twist on Isabella, a Gisborne through and through. Mad as a box of hatters. And great to see Jonas in such fine form, sparking off of Lara Pulver like that.

We’ll all be pleased to hear Robin Hood speak of Marian at last. No, he didn’t say much. But he didn’t have to. I like the concept of a “tortured hero”, on a mission, having to put personal thoughts and feelings to one side. But more than anything I liked the portrayal of Robin Hood in this particular episode, as a Heroic character, with more than a dash of the “swashbuckling rogue” to lighten those often oppressive “dark” tones of recent times.

And of course there was that little kiss on the cheek from Kate at the end. Perhaps the kind of small gesture which leads on to deeper relationships, whilst the full-on heat from the likes of Isabella quickly burn out...

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Saturday, 2 May 2009

Robin Hood. Series 3, Episode 6: “Do You Love Me?”.

Above: Prince John sets the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne against each other. Below: Isabella looks on disturbed as Prince John puts a torch to Loxley Village.

Above: Kate takes one for England. Below: Robin Hood shows scant regard for the regards and concerns of his outlaws, over riding their protests and leading a Gisborne into their camp.

Above: Grizzly Gisborne delivers the Sheriff of Nottingham's tooth to Prince John as proof of his death.
Above: Robin Hood and Isabella Gisborne kiss. Did he ever kiss Marian like this?

The Story: Night time in Loxley Manor, and Gisborne’s nightmares are interrupted by Prince John’s soldiers, dragging him from his bed. He soon finds himself brought before the Prince himself, who is obsessed with only one question: “Do you love me?” The Prince goes on to say he thinks Guy would make an ideal Sheriff for Nottingham, and encourages him to kill the Sheriff as proof that he loves his future King.

The next day, the Sheriff is restlessly pacing the corridors of Nottingham Castle, not sure these days as to where he stands with Prince John, and growing increasingly suspicious of Guy’s loyalties. When Guy enters he does indeed attempt to draw a dagger on the Sheriff, but Isabella interrupts them. The Sheriff then announces there will be a banquet that night in honour of the Prince, and that they are both invited.

In Sherwood Forest the Outlaws discover an increasing number of Prince John’s troops making camp. They deduce that the Prince must be on his way to Nottingham in order to buy the favour of various noblemen, thereby securing his path to the throne. And that can only mean one thing: Gold. However, when they launch an attack on the carriage they assume to be carrying the Prince, they find only a decoy in the form of the Prince’s physician, Benjamin Palmer, and no gold. Not only that, but in the fight to overpower the guards, Kate has taken a serious knife wound near to her heart. Tuck is reluctant to remove the blade for fear of causing further injury. (Where’s Djaq when you need her?) But Benjamin turns out to be quite a good guy after all, and assists Kate, by tending to her wounds.

In recounting his own personal story, Benjamin mentions a rare disease called “Scrofula”. (I’ve never heard of this, and neither has my pc’s spellchecker. But expect a Government pamphlet through your letterbox any day now!) Apparently Prince John is obsessed with Scrofula, on account of the fact that people who have the divine right to rule, can simply cure it by a laying on of hands. Anyway, after establishing this important little fact, (I’ll be asking questions later!), Benjamin is allowed to go free, blindfolded.

Benjamin arrives back at Nottingham just after Prince John, who is openly disappointed to find the Sheriff still alive, and more or less tells him so. However, it isn’t long before the Prince is taking the Sheriff himself to one side with his usual question: “Do you love me?” and persuading him to kill Gisborne! Obviously then, the Prince is setting one man against the other in a test of loyalties. When they leave the room, Guy is standing outside, and both men surely draw the same conclusion. As for the physician, Benjamin is soon imprisoned for simply passing on the insults Robin Hood made about the Prince.

The next day, Prince John visits Loxley with Isabella at his side. He happily blesses a couple waiting outside the church to be married, but then even more happily sets fire to the church once all the villagers are inside. As the villagers break free from the raging flames he tells them it is their punishment for helping shelter Robin Hood. The Prince departs, although Isabella remains behind to assist all she can with putting out the flames. Word of the fire soon reaches the outlaws, who rush to the village. But it is too late to save many of the buildings, and certainly not the church.

Robin Hood is impressed by the way Isabella has stayed to help, and he is even more impressed by the purse she extracts from beneath her dress, and donates to the village. She teasingly asks if there is anything else he’d like, and what follows is probably the “hottest” kiss of all three series so far. (He never kissed Marian like this).

Isabella is now allowed (albeit blindfolded), into the Outlaws camp. They all hatch a plan to embarrass the Prince by offering a voluntary Kate as a supposed Scrofula victim. He of course will try to heal her in order to prove his “divine rights”. To carry out this plan they will of course need the help of Benjamin and Isabella, who now returns to Nottingham, pretending to have been somewhat ravaged by Robin Hood (which may or may not be true!)

That night at the banquet, the Outlaws carry out their plan, and of course Prince John is made to look foolish when Kate, faking disease, is not miraculously healed by his touch, However, the real action here is going on behind the scenes.

As the banquet progresses, Guy and the Sheriff have finally locked swords in earnest. (And I do mean earnest!) Their dual to the death takes them gasping from the interior of the Castle, up the staircases, and onto the battlements. The fight could go either way, as Guy staggers around with the Sheriff’s dagger protruding painfully from his leg. Indeed, it seems like it’s all over for Guy when the Sheriff pushes him up against the precipice. “There was a time I loved you like a son”, he says. “And you loved me like a father”.

The Sheriff then actually pushes Gisborne over the side, but Gisborne manages to catch hold of the ledge, and lunge his own blade deep into the Sheriff’s gut! With his dying breath, the Sheriff looks up at Guy and says “Don’t trust him. Nothing is what it seems”.

(Whew!!!)

Upon returning to the banquet, Guy places the Sheriff’s false tooth before Prince John as proof of his success in carrying out his wishes. The following morning, in the courtyard below, the Sheriff’s body is loaded unceremoniously onto a cart and covered with an old sheet. But as the body leaves, was that a twitching of the fingers we saw?

Comment: No doubt about it, this show comes to life most when Richard Armitage is on the screen. I’ve been critical of the writing of his character in the past, but never his ability, nor his obvious charisma. I think Guy is written much better now, and I’m loving it. (Although I would agree it would be nice to see more of Joe armstrong agin in particular).

Also, Isabella certainly turned up the temperature there with Robin. I often think Jonas functions best when opposite someone who brings him “out” a little. As an actor, he reacts superbly, rather than be himself the instigator. His scenes opposite Joe Armstrong (when Allan was a traitor), and Keith Allen (especially at the start of series 1), and Lucy Griffiths‘s “almost” death scene at the end of series 1, are all examples of this. I think Lara Pulver will prove a most effective foil for our Jonas.

Good episode. Lots of new avenues to explore in the week’s ahead. Not the least of which is the "Romeo and Juliet" angle that Robin and Isabella come form two feuding familes...

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