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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