In the UK: Saturdays, BBC1, 7pm. Repeated Sundays and Fridays, BBC3.
In the US: BBC America, which co-funded it. No air date yet.
As a dyed-in-the-wool lover of the first two seasons of Robin of Sherwood, I was expecting to hate this. From the trailers and the casting, I was expecting something truly awful and sickening to watch. Even during the first few minutes of Saturday’s episode, I could feel my “I knew it!” reflexes kicking in.
But you know what? It wasn’t awful. It was actually all right. Nothing truly special, nothing ground-breaking (unlike Robin of Sherwood), but a regular piece of family entertainment that’s an enjoyable way to spend an evening, probably with a couple of kids lodged at your feet.
Robin, Earl of Huntingdon, returns home from the Crusades with his manservant Much to discover that everything has changed. There’s a new Sheriff in Nottingham who wants to bleed taxes out of the populace and doesn’t seem to care much for the law; Sir Guy of Gisborne is policing his lands and lopping off the hands of anyone doing even the slightest piece of naughtiness; and everyone is scared or in hiding, even Robin’s childhood pal Marion, who hasn’t yet married, he notices.
Robin’s not pleased. After proposing the kind of impractical ideas that would get any noble of his time a quick invitation to see the bottom of the king’s dungeons (“How about we don’t pay the king any taxes?” Sure, that’ll work pre Magna Carta…), Robin is forced to make a decision: stay on the right side of the law and kill the innocent; or lose everything he owns, become an outlaw and fight for all that is good and true.
Guess which one he picks.
Is it any good?
For something that’s basically a more sophisticated version of a pantomime, it’s actually pretty good. It has relatively high production values, the stunts don’t suck totally and the plot’s not too bad. Historical authenticity is just a pipe dream planned for seven series’ time, but let’s not worry about that too much: compared, say, to The Outsiders, it’s a masterpiece worthy of Shakespeare.
The acting? On the one hand, it’s good to see they’ve taken the whole Nottingham thing on board by not casting a bunch of Southerners in every role, although most of the nobles would of course have French accents if we were really going for authenticity.
On the other, they could have picked a few supporting cast members capable of acting: you can indeed see the wood for the trees.
The leads that we get to see in this episode don’t fare too well either. With his portrayal of Robin, Jonas Armstrong doesn’t exactly conjure the image of a soldier who’s been fighting Saracens for five years in ungodly heat. Nor does he adequately convey the passion that would cause such a man to give up everything as soon as he arrives home, just to help the serfs on his land.
We see little of Lucy Griffiths as Marion – only enough to make us go “Oh, she’s that one off Sugar Rush!” – and Little John, played by everyone’s favourite ex-National Lottery host Gordon Kennedy (all together now Absolutely fans: “Stoneybridge!”), is only going to put his giant head above the parapet next week, so that’s most of the leads we still have no real idea about.
But then there’s Keith Allen. Clearly knowing that he’s going to be spending the rest of the series shaking his fist and shouting “I’ll get you Robin Hood”, he sets the tone early and hams up his part from the very first scene. While his performance could scarcely be called acting – he’s just Keith Allen again – you just know kids are going to love him, and he’s certainly the most entertaining part of the programme: if there’s one thing every portrayal of Robin Hood in television history has shown it’s that the Sheriff of Nottingham always has to be more interesting than Robin Hood – buck this rule at your own risk.
Still, as this is pantomime, expecting Olivier is probably the wrong thing to do. Robin Hood looks good, does exactly what you’d expect it to and keeps the kids occupied for 45 minutes. They’d probably sing and dance in the aisle if they could. If you’re expecting more, discount DVDs of Robin of Sherwood are available from Amazon. Otherwise, the new Hood is perfectly acceptable (and 8.2 million of you agreed, apparently).
Trailers and more are available from the BBC web site
Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong)
Marian (Lucy Griffiths)
The Sheriff (Keith Allen)
Sir Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage)
Will Scarlett (Harry Lloyd)
Little John (Gordon Kennedy)
Allan A Dale (Joe Armstrong)
Much (Sam Troughton)
Roy (William Beck)