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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Blogger robin hood said...

Robin Hood Series 3 Cast:

Robin Hood - Jonas Armstrong
Kate - Joanne Froggatt
Guy of Gisborne - Richard Armitage
Toby Stephens - Prince John
Tuck - David Harewood
Sheriff of Nottingham - Keith Allen
Little John - Gordon Kennedy
Much - Sam Troughton
Allan-a-Dale - Joe Armstrong
Isabella - Lara Pulver

22 September 2009 at 20:55  
Blogger Unknown said...

I see the Jonas-bashing has begun anew. Need I state that Jonas Armstrong is a wonderful actor, who has been involved w/a number of projects post-RH.

Fair warning: anyone who engages in Jonas-bashing will have to answer to ME, and it's not gonna be pretty...

23 September 2009 at 03:24  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Lisa,

"Need I state" that Jonas as Robin Hood has received nothing but support from myself and the vast majority of commenters on these blogs:



If he received a bashing from anyone I feel it was from the producers and writers of the show. But more of those thoughts on a future post.

As this is not a fan site, whatever else Jonas has been involved in is of limited interest, but I wish him well.

23 September 2009 at 10:21  
Blogger Unknown said...

You are very correct in your assessment of what the writers and producers did to not only Jonas, but the legend of Robin Hood itself. It was rubbish for much of Series 2 and all of Series 3.

23 September 2009 at 19:24  
Blogger robin hood said...

Certainly a really fine cast, all of which seemed to spawn loyal fan bases, was sidelined in the end. A great shame.

23 September 2009 at 19:57  
Anonymous Rav said...

Like you say, Isabella was the only real innovative addition to this season (even if her existence as a never-before-mentioned long-lost sibling was taken straight out of a fan-fiction).

But as a "Dark Marian" Isabella fit the bill, and right from the very beginning had an enigmatic air about her as well as the sense that she couldn't be entirely trusted. She had the most interesting character-arc this season (perhaps the only character arc, along with Gisborne) and really was at the centre of all the power-plays that went on. In terms of driving the story (what little there was of it) forward, she was largely responsible for most of it.

I had foreseen all the deaths in S3 except for Isabella's. I felt sure that she would be used as the new Sheriff of Nottingham in the hypothetical Season 4, and there would have been a reasonable amount of storytelling potential in pitting her against her half brother as "the new Hood" (plus a chance for her to finally finish Kate off once and for all...I'm having difficulty deciding what would be more satisfying...Isabella finding Davina's pit of snakes and pushing Kate into it, or Isabella dusting off that giant cauldron of oil and the chicken-drumstick clubs and challenging Kate to a duel...)

I'm a little scared of what Lisa will do to me if I speak badly of Jonas, but I do agree that (based on his performances in the past two seasons) his heart wasn't quite in it this time...unless he was on-screen with one of the Gisborne siblings. And you could tell Lara Pulver put her theatrical skills on display, getting to go from sweet and vulnerable to full-on axe crazy.

And yet...ultimately I was disappointed that the writers decided to paint Isabella as a villain. Taking an abused and victimised woman (sold into a marriage by her brother, abused by her husband and then messed up even further with Robin's mind-games) who clearly had mental problems and holding her up as an irredeemable villain was just as irresponsible as plunging that sword into Marian's stomach.

Why is it that Guy (who has spent most of the series murdering innocent people, including the attempted murder of Isabella herself by trying to drown her in a well simply for fraternising with Robin) gets to find redemption, whilst Isabella (whose greatest crime was fighting back against those who wronged her - admittedly sometimes to an unjustified extent *coughMegcough*) dies without any sense of compassion on the writers' behalf? How come Isabella is punished for her "crimes" and Guy is eventually held up as a "tragic hero?" If he and Robin had treated Isabella with respect and kindness instead of yanking her chain all the time, they would have had themselves a valuable ally.

There are nasty conotations here that a woman with power either can't handle it or will be corrupted by it (even though she was probably the most efficent sheriff the show has ever had). I'm not some stauch feminist (at least I don't think I am), but from Marian's death onwards, I've always felt rather uncomfortable about this show's portrayal of women. Djaq is written out of the show as a maudlin sap, gushing about pigeons instead of the warrior we loved. Female guest stars were often evil, killed off, or both (Davina, Meg, Bertha, evil lycra-clad Saracen assassins). Kate was an emotional infant with no depth whatsoever. And then Isabella...abused by her husband, betrayed by her brother and messed around with by Robin. Don't know about you, but I'm glad she got to take all three of them with her.

24 September 2009 at 10:51  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Rav,

RE Izzy vs Kate. I think if it went beyond 6 rounds the Feisty Village Girl could have taken the title. But it would be close. And my choice of arena would certainly be your "giant cauldron of oil and the chicken-drumstick clubs".

RE Izzy's lack of redemption, I can only assume that might have been left more for a recurring theme in Series 4? (That is if anyone had any kind of production plan, which is unlikely).

RE the depiction of women: This series certainly missed Djaq and the Night Watchman in that respect. Kate was a fighter when the action kicked off, but was too often put into that "girlie makes a boo boo" scenario.

24 September 2009 at 13:05  
Anonymous kitty said...

Yikes -what exactly did people think they were watching -it was Robin Hood
not a Mary Woolsecraft tribute. Although , the writing was illogical , irrelevant and thrown together- there was a loose -I agree very loose cameo interpretation of the role of the female in the dark ages . Issy did well ;she was watchable she was believable she ran around a tad too much but compared with the rest she was great .
My goodness this third series missed Djaq.
Any gossip on the forthcoming Robin the thoroughly ancient film ?

24 September 2009 at 21:41  
Anonymous Rav said...

Maybe I should clarify something: I don't mind the idea of a female villainess (far from it), I was just disappointed at the way the writers chose to get her to that stage. After portraying her as an emotionally, physically and mentally abused wife, it rankled that she wasn't given the help/compassion she obvious needed from her brother and the supposed-hero, and was instead dismissed as a villain.

The fact that her catalyst for "turning evil" was Robin dumping her was just ridiculous. I would have much prefered it had Isabella been conniving and manipulative (and not ashamed of it!) from the get-go, rather than forcing her into the bizarre and infantile gender politics nonsense that the writers tried to pass off as socially relevant.

24 September 2009 at 22:29  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Kitty,

You mean the Ridley Scott movie which WAS going to be called "Nottingham", and star Russell Crowe as a "good" Sheriff? The one which was scheduled to start filming last Autumn when Scott failed to realise the leaves would be brown and so postponed? The one Sienna Miller was going to be Marian in? Only to be dumped in favour of Kate Blanchett? Just as Russell Crowe was alternatively cast as Robin Hood instead, after heated aguments with Scott about being over weight? After which the movie got called "Robin Hood"?

Nope. No gossip. It should be out next May, and some footage of the battle scenes being acted out on English beeches are on YouTube.

I confess I haven't seen anything yet which excites me at all. I think the original concept of a "good" Sheriff, played by Crowe, was far more interesting. Time will tell.

24 September 2009 at 23:17  
Blogger evielyn said...

I was hoping that Izzy was to be the next Sheriff when we were all thinking that there was to be a S4. I think she would have been good there was potential there it would have been good to have seen her with Archer but like everything else with S3 all the good storylines were wasted, and a lot were never developed satisfactorily

25 September 2009 at 22:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey am i the only one who thinks that Isabella looks like Nelly Furtado???

27 September 2009 at 19:32  
Blogger Unknown said...


27 September 2009 at 19:52  
Anonymous Annie said...

I'd like to second Rav's assessment of the portrayal of women on Robin Hood. As it happens, I am, a staunch feminist, but I don't think you have to be to object to the representation of women on RH. While I take Kitty's point that RH is intended as light entertainment, it's also the case it was light entertainment aired during the family hour when young girls are watching. For much of the first two series, Marian's character was portrayed as someone who had the potential to save Guy--in short, to save someone who coerced her into an engagement she didn't want, threatened her and her father, abused the peasantry to which she was devoted, tried to kill the king she served, and who ultimately told the sheriff he was willing to take her by force. In cases of spousal or partner abuse, the abuser often sees the partner, in most cases a woman, as someone who is responsible for her own abuse. She could save him if only she were good enough. That Marian as a character often falls into that role is a damaging message to young girls.

Marian it's true is portrayed as "feisty," a word I wish could be dropped from the lexicon of TV blurbers. But "feisty" is not the same as empowered. Her character was continually in the double-bind of being dependent on her abuser for protection in the castle--she has to appease Guy to ensure the safety of her father and herself. That she is ultimately murdered by her abuser is a tragedy that mirrors what all-too-often happens in cases of domestic abuse--tellingly, the writers have Marian return to Nottingham. Tragically, victims often return to their abusers, either because they have nowhere else to go or because society has convinced them the abuse is their fault. Again, if only they were good enough, the man in their life would not have to hurt them.

That Isabella is also a victim of domestic abuse and is portrayed as evil is more than a little disturbing. It suggests the show-runner(s) are morbidly obsessed, whether consciously or unconsciously, with female characters who are victimized by men and pay with their lives.
If it seems I'm making too much of this, I would like to remind people that children spend a lot of time in front of the television. They are introduced to culture largely through the stories they watch. That Robin Hood embeds a message that men can be redeemed by the women they abuse and that women are obligated to forgive their abusers is a problem. Isabella's "sins" were not nearly as serious as Guy's, and yet there's never a suggestion that she's worth redeeming. Women are always held to a higher standard of behavior, while "boys will be boys."

This is not to take anything away from Lucy Griffiths or Lara Pulver, both of whom are fine actors. I just regret the writers did not do right by their characters.

One last point, I don't find the argument that women in the middle ages were unempowered, so Robin Hood is being authentic here, persuasive. First, that characterization of women in past centuries is an oversimplification. And second, since when has Robin Hood made any claims to authenticity?

3 October 2009 at 14:57  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Annie,

I shall read and digest and comment further at some point.

I do agree when you say: "While I take Kitty's point that RH is intended as light entertainment, it's also the case it was light entertainment aired during the family hour when young girls are watching".

3 October 2009 at 15:58  
Blogger robin hood said...

Re The abuse of Marian: I've aligned myself with this point before. That is indeed why Armitage's Gisborne (in my opinion) wasn't as good as Robert Addie's. I stand by what I said in the past, great though RA is, the "love" aspect was in viewers' imaginations or the producer's wishful thinking. It wasn't in the script. However, regarding Marian's character as one who "had the potential to save Guy", in spite of what he'd put her through, I guess one could argue that's some kind of Christian attitude of forgiveness? (I wouldn't really know).

Re Isabella becoming evil as a result of abuse, I think in a 4th Series that could have changed. She did show good qualities up until Robin Hood's rejection (after he'd enjoyed a good "snog" or two), and even looked like helping Meg at first.

But I am in broad agreement with what you're saying here, and many opportunities were missed.

Ironically, even the actors in their pre-release promo interviews brought to their perception of the roles that oh so familiar "She's not a damsel in distress" cliche. I know, I know, I've gone on about this before. (Many times!!) But the great thing about Maid Marian is that she was NEVER a damsel in distress. She was actually the power behind the man in green.

(I'm not even going to mention the way Djaq turned overnight from Saracen warrior scientist type, to housie wifey in a skirt. And all for a teenager who looked little more than half her age. For goodness sake, what would that pair ever have to talk about?

3 October 2009 at 19:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was an uncomfortable undercurrent of sexual violence to the whole series this year, starting with Kate being ordered to "dance" for the bad-guy tax collector and even including Robin's encounter with Isabella at the very end of he first episode. If there had been any follow-through, it could have been interesting and dramatic and given a lot of depth to the characters, but it was dropped, like every other interesting idea this series. Instead, there was an unsavory taste of, "oh, well, rape's just one of those things bad guys do" to it all. In fact, I'll take Rav's argument further and say that Isabella wasn't just "punished for her 'crimes'" but was actually deemed an enemy and a literal "murderer" by the great hero of the show for daring to fight back against a man who had pretty obviously raped her in the past and was about to do so again. I haven't heard it myself, but I understand that Dominic Minghella and/or Foz Allan referred to Gisbourne's killing of Marian at the end of Series 2 as a "consummation." That would fit in with so much else that we saw regarding women in this third series. Normally I'd blame it on Minghella, who wrote the death of Marian, but he wasn't involved in Series 3 so maybe it was down to Allan after all.

19 October 2009 at 21:26  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think Allen had the last word in all the scripts in all the RH series.

20 October 2009 at 06:00  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi DC,

As you say, several "dark" ideas were floated and dropped, leading to sometimes unpleasant ambiguities. Possibly, if the show had screened later in the day, such ideas and themes could have been brought to a more satisfactory conclusion?

20 October 2009 at 09:25  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Lisa,

I'm not a "Foz Allan" fan.

I cannot see how being the producer / executive producer of "Casualty" (for all its success), translates into being given the chance to write the third Series of Robin Hood?

Go figure...

But I'll return to that point in my future Jonas Armstrong post.

20 October 2009 at 09:42  

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