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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24 Comments:

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

3 October 2009 at 15:51  
Blogger evielyn said...

Hi Robin- As always another excellent article.
As you say the whole storyline does indeed show Richard's calibre as an actor that he was able to do his best with such appalling scripts and storylines that did indeed bring about the cancellation of the series .
I have often wondered how many people actually contacted the BBC to register their disappointment about the a)alteration of the storylines & b) the cancellation
of the series.
The public and watchers of the programmes will ever be told a thing that's for sure

4 October 2009 at 15:36  
Blogger Clement of the Glen said...

Great summery Robin.

He was for me by far the most interesting character in the series.

I wonder what sort of a Sheriff Mr Armitage would have made?

4 October 2009 at 18:41  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Evielyn,

Good question. But perhaps the reality of a failing show is that rather few people are left who care that much. Also of course, these days very loyal fan sites spring up overnight for young actors. So those fans can look to future projects.

The reality here in Nottinghamshire is that, if you visit the Major Oak (Robin Hood's Tree), you won't find a single trace of the Jonas version amongst the souvenirs. And it was pretty much that way all along.

5 October 2009 at 01:10  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi Clement,

I wouldn't have liked Guy as the Sheriff. Success like that would have tempered his anger and frustrations too much.

Unless of course it had been a completely different show from the start.

5 October 2009 at 01:13  
Blogger WoodsyLadyM said...

I've only watched the first season and a few episodes of the second but I always thought that Gisborne was the most interesting character on the show. Robin always seemed too immature for me as a character in spite of his being a veteran of the Crusades. I also thought Gisborne should have been running with the outlaws long before this 3rd season and replaced Jonas Armstrong Robin Hood because there was so much more chemistry between Marian and Gisborne. I understand that Lucy Griffiths leaving probably precipitated Marian being killed but there was the option of replacing her. Marian could have redeemed Gisborne and I'm sure Armitage would have had chemistry with just about anyone.

5 October 2009 at 16:49  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi WoodsyLadyM,

The first season was, I think, the best. (I haven't bought any of them yet. Maybe surprising considering these blogs and all the other versions of Robin Hood on my shelf).

I support the choice of Jonas as Robin Hood (future post), but I agree he was scripted "immature" at times. The character who came home from the Crusades, kissing the girls and back flipping from balconies, soon became something else entirely. Not, I think, due to Jonas himself.

The jury would appear to still be out over whether Lucy left or was pushed. Both accounts seem to have been fairly "official". But let's not go over old ground on that one.

I do agree replacements are possible in the manner of Robin of Sherwood. But that would have been a hard role to replace bearing in mind the huge impact she made with fans. Whilst the "Man in the Hood" can be seen as a title to be passed on, Marian is not quite as easy...

5 October 2009 at 18:21  
Blogger WoodsyLadyM said...

I didn't know there were rumors that Lucy had been pushed out. Why would they do that? I thought she grew into the role just fine.

6 October 2009 at 17:23  
Blogger robin hood said...

I no longer have the links, unless they're buried back there amongst the Series 1 and 2 blog comments. But her reasons for going were never expressed with the same directness or clarity that Jonas gave for his own exit.

Official announcements conflicted. I remember Tiger Preoductions saying the character had reached the end of its potential (or words to that effect), whilst the Lucy camp cited things like "amicable parting" and "exploring new ventures".

6 October 2009 at 19:23  
Blogger evielyn said...

Hi Robin- I know its Richard's spotlight but whilst we are mentioning Lucy none of the so called "new ventures" seem to have come to pass do they or have I missed something? (if she was pushed or jumped she seemed happy enough to do the finale with Jonas)

6 October 2009 at 19:41  
Blogger WoodsyLadyM said...

Not sure how Marian, being such an integral part of the legend, could reach the end of her potential, but whatever. The producers of this show are totally whacked anyway. Considering the mess they made of this series, they shouldn't be allowed near another job in this industry.

6 October 2009 at 21:30  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi evielyn,

Lucy has been working on things, as have they all. Her fan club site will have information.

I think, because she did such a good job as Marian, "we" all expected her to go on to higher profile stuff straight away.

7 October 2009 at 00:07  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi LadyWoodsyM,

You say: "Not sure how Marian, being such an integral part of the legend, could reach the end of her potential".

Amen to that.

She could have (should have) joined the outlaws full time in Sherwood, as happened in Robin of Sherwood. Not to mention the potential in the Night Watchman. (What a great spin off series that would have made).

But enough about Lucy / Marian. Maybe one day we'll get to know the full story...

7 October 2009 at 00:10  
Blogger WoodsyLadyM said...

Speaking of spinoffs, although I've only watched the first episode of the 3rd season, I just noticed from the pictures on your site how much the actor that plays Archer looks like Errol Flynn. I'll bet they chose him on looks alone if they were planning a spinoff. I have no idea if he's a good actor, but if he can act as good as he looks, that spinoff might have been successful with some halfway decent scripts.

7 October 2009 at 00:39  
Blogger LadyKate said...

Thank you for an excellent essay. I've been waiting for your finally essay on Guy of Gisborne, since I have at times quite strongly disagreed with your analysis of the character in Seasons 1 and 2 (I really do not agree about the inconsistent writing, except perhaps very early in Season 1 before they had quite figured out where they were going with the character). If anything, I felt that Guy's character development in Season 2 was more plausible than some of the things in S3. I'm going to be writing my own essay on the topic one of these days. In the meantime, just wanted to congratulate you on the very nice wrap-up.

8 October 2009 at 09:18  
Blogger LadyKate said...

Oops, make that "final essay."

8 October 2009 at 09:19  
Blogger robin hood said...

Hi LadyKate,

And thanks.

I think it's good that people "quite strongly disagree" from time to time. Certainly these comment boxes have been witness to some really interesting (and in depth) discussion; always expressed in a civil manner even though not always in total agreement.

Best wishes.

8 October 2009 at 19:55  
Blogger LadyKate said...

Well, it would be a very dull world if we all agreed! :) I'll come back later with more comments.

8 October 2009 at 20:02  
Anonymous kitty said...

Gisbourne was one of the reasons I watched Robin Hood . This was odd as the combination of Armstrong and the confused Robin writing totally failed to hook me yet I really enjoy the principle of the whole Robin Hood concept.
Gisbourne worked for me ultimately due to Armitage `s portrayal .But it is totally beyond me the logic around the attempts to develop subject analysis in a series which is ultimately an adventure series .

9 October 2009 at 22:43  
Blogger LadyKate said...

I don't see anything wrong with analysis. I wouldn't have watched the show if it was just an action/adventure series. It was the characters, the relationships, and the deeper themes that drew me in.

9 October 2009 at 23:05  
Blogger robin hood said...

My own personal fascination with Robin Hood, and why I don't see it as simply an adventure series, emanates from the fact I grew up as a child just about 4 miles from Robin Hood's Tree, the Major Oak. So Sherwood Forest was my playground.

That's why I think the very best interpretations of the legend have been Robin of Sherwood and the 1990 version, "Robin Hood", which lost out in the ratings to the inferior "Prince of Thieves", but is worth a watch. These versions explore more the notion that Robin Hood was the "Green Man" of the forest, and Marian the maiden. (Albeit that only becomes really apparent in the last third of the 1990 film).

But even so, I think analysis (maybe too strong a word) is very important. After all, the programme was trying to retain the sophisticated Doctor Who audience between seasons. If it was only ever going to be a "shoot-em-up" goodies vs baddies this blog wouldn't be here. The attraction for all when it comes to Robin Hood is that the outlines are never clearly drawn. He is after all both Outlaw and Hero at one and the same time. Almost unique. So one cannot help but be intrigued and want to investigate further.

9 October 2009 at 23:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guy was the reason I watched the show. RA is an incredible actor. His scenes with Marian and the ones dealing with his guilt of killing Marian were the most stirring in the show. I cheered when he chose to do the right thing and said, "Make out with him now!" to Marian on the screen (Which unfortunately never happened). Not that I thought it would have been good writing (Marian would have seemed like a player) but because her chemistry with Guy was explosive compared to hers with Robin which was non-existent. The first episode of series 3 he was EXCELLENT. For all the faults of the show, casting Armitage was a definite right choice.

21 November 2009 at 01:09  
Blogger LadyKate said...

Well, she did sort of make out with him in 2x08 ("Get Carter")...

21 November 2009 at 01:16  
Blogger robin hood said...

Anonymous

Really enjoying RA in Spooks at the moment. Superb.

21 November 2009 at 22:51  

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