Saturday, 14 November 2009

Robin Hood Series 3: Spotlight on Jonas Armstrong as Robin Hood.

I still stand by the opinion I’ve expressed all along, that Jonas Armstrong was a great choice for the role of Robin Hood. Youthful, contemporary, capable of the physical demands of the role, and of conveying a greater range of emotion and grief than perhaps any previous actor who took on this part in the past had been asked for.

Jonas was not the first “contemporary” Robin Hood, and neither was Michael Praed (Robin of Sherwood). The first version to really break with all swashbuckling, Lincoln green tradition, was the fourth and final Hammer version called “Wolfshead” (Click on link to see review). There are similarities between the style of that film, with its low budget improvised costumes and bleak forest settings, and the Jonas Armstrong / Tiger Productions version. (Note: The DVD often sold on e-bay, under various titles such as “The Legend of Robin Hood” or “Adventures of the Young Robin Hood”, would seem to be a truncated TV edit). But what was “new” about Jonas was his own post-Britpop / boy next door charm. In short, to new audiences of the post millennium decade, he was believable.

So why am I left with so few memories of him from the third and final series of Robin Hood? Why am I left struggling to say more about him than what I’ve already said at the conclusions of series 1 and 2?

The underlying theme of the third series should have been (some might argue actually was), Robin Hood’s coming to terms with Marian’s murder, retreating from his role as protector of the people, before returning to his former heroic status, and even finding new and meaningful love. But instead, Robin’s passage through these 13 episodes is too often sidetracked by other issues, including the introduction of other characters, and I feel the title role is diminished. As a consequence, as far as this series is concerned, I tend to remember Jonas Armstrong more as a sequence of effective snapshots, such as burying the ring, and spitting the soup (episode 1), or flirting with Isabella, and escaping with her from the flooding dungeons (episode 7).

Series 3 had a lot of really good episodes (an opinion endorsed by my reviews below), but I do feel that, having lined Robin Hood up for what should have been a really interesting “come-back” from the depths of despair, the spotlight was too often shone elsewhere, and Jonas was simply pushed into what I have referred to in the past as his action adventure comfort zone. The result of this was that Robin Hood was either a bit player in his own show, or a rather shallow character in comparison with others. A good example being episode 9 in which his sudden love for Kate is compared frame by frame with Guy’s affection for Meg. Whereas Guy finds redemption in Meg, we are only left wondering why Robin has forgotten Marian so soon.

Of course this is only my opinion, and one might suspect from comments Jonas Armstrong himself has made, that the final episodes of Series 3 in particular were amongst those he enjoyed best, charging about with Richard Armitage, and clearly working hard to lay the foundation for a subsequent series with a new “Robin” called Archer. (We know Jonas was sorry to see the show cancelled).

In the end I think not only Jonas Armstrong, but Robin Hood, deserved more. When the final exit came, Robin Hood would fire no last arrow into Sherwood Forest, and there would be no comforting arms from his faithful friend Little John (or in this case Much). As with all three series, such superior stories from the original legend would be scrapped in favour nothing particularly imaginative. I couldn’t believe Much’s love and respect for his “master” (let alone John’s and Kate’s) would have allowed Robin to go off and die alone. I found the body posture as he slumped against that tree (not to mention the wobbly lily) vaguely amusing at a time I didn’t want to feel amused. And, although this will be an unpopular thing to say, I felt sorry for Jonas himself, that even in this his final hour he had to share the spotlight with someone else. Robin Hood’s death scene was “stolen” by Lucy.

However, to close on a more positive note, Jonas Armstrong certainly left his mark on the film and television annals of Robin Hood. Taking all three series as a whole one can certainly say that, in those episodes when he was given most opportunity to shine, then shine he certainly did. As with the rest of that original, young, enthusiastic cast, the reason for the show’s somewhat premature cancellation could never be laid at his door.

******


Robin Hood goes on. As do Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Guy of Gisborne, Alan A Dale and the Sheriff of Nottingham. It is a rich and ancient legend, the popularity of which is no doubt sustained across the decades because of its fascinating links with contemporary affairs. Green issues? Environment? Recession? Banker’s bonuses? It’s all in there. Even, sadly, issues concerning East / West wars.

Robin Hood crosses all faith systems and cultures. If you care to visit the souvenir shop at Sherwood Forest Visitor’s Centre you will see children of all colours and creeds donning their Crusader costumes, or pink Maid Marian frocks, or buying their replica English long bows with rubber sucker arrows, and go charging about the forest paths. And yes, to such children Robin Hood still stubbornly wears his Lincoln Green cap. (Not even Jonas could change that).

But this particular blog now comes to and end.

Thanks to all who engaged in comment and debate, particularly at the height of the series. I shall leave all such comment boxes open for the immediate future. I myself will of course continue to review other Robin Hood films in the rest of my blogs. (See links in the sidebar).


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