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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