Review: Robin Hood

Robin Hood

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.

The plot

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

Cast

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)




  • Have to disagree with you. I thought it was dire ?��Ǩ��� it felt about three hours long, and they were boring hours. They can’t stage a fight scene to save their lives ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�all that predictable Matrix-esque editing doesn’t cover up the unconvincing swordplay and lack of swashbuckle. Robin is a charisma black hole ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�Kevin bloody Costner was more believable as a man back from the Crusades. Marion is more of a man than Robin is. There was never any sense of danger or peril (like Will Scarlet was going to die! Come on!). Keith Allen is so phoning it in, he’s virtually asleep, and he’s still the best thing in it.
    I will be watching a DVD of Robin of Sherwood at 7 o’clock on Saturday.

  • I agree with you to a certain extent, but the thing is, it’s family entertainment. That’s the escape hatch. If this were adult drama, I’d certainly back you up completely, but from a kid’s eye view, I’d say it wasn’t bad. Tis the lesson of Doctor Who, I’m afraid.
    The stunts weren’t great, but by BBC standards, they certainly didn’t suck.
    Jonas Armstrong was not convincing as Robin, but he’s angling for kid-likeability, not for authentic crusader status.
    So not totally awful. I probably won’t watch any other episodes unless Gordon Kennedy turns out to be good.

  • Why should ‘family entertainment’ be an escape hatch, though? What are we supposed to forgive under the family entertainment tag? Lack of bloodshed? Loads of people die in Doctor Who. Simplistic plotting? Grange Hill does complex plots.
    Surely the lesson of Doctor Who is that ‘family entertainment’ doesn’t have to mean ‘kid’s show’. RH is the same length as Doctor Who and felt twice as long. And?Ǭ�it’s ridiculously soft-pedalled. Even if they develop Much’s post-traumatic stress, this was an episode of Robin Hood where nobody got an arrow stuck in them. Not even a Disposable Norman.
    And anyway, Robin of Sherwood was family entertainment. It was on at teatime on Saturday ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�not aimed at a Battlestar Galactica/Buffy teenage-adult audience.

  • “What are we supposed to forgive under the family entertainment tag?”
    Stuff that makes us go “My God, that’s shit” but which kids love (eg farting Slitheens, Dalek v Cybermen trash talk, etc). Or, in Robin Hood’s case, pantomime villains, heroes that are designed to appeal to kids rather than be what the plot would logically demand, etc.
    “RH is the same length as Doctor Who and felt twice as long”
    That’s because Doctor Who fits in twice as much plot as is comfortable into 45 minutes. I actually thought RH had just about the right amount of plot for an opening episode of 45 minutes, perhaps a tad too little, but about right.
    “Loads of people die in Doctor Who.”
    But not using arrows or anything else that makes people bleed, lose limbs (unless they can be regenerated bloodlessly), etc – at least onscreen. Old school Who, yes; New Who, no.
    “And anyway, Robin of Sherwood was family entertainment. It was on at teatime on Saturday ?��Ǩ��� not aimed at a Battlestar Galactica/Buffy teenage-adult audience.”
    But 20 years ago. Our generation was a lot smarter and had a longer attention span than the kids of today. 😉
    I actually seriously doubt that most kids would sit through Robin of Sherwood these days. Great though it is, it’s now relatively slow moving, far too filmic, spends too much time dwelling on more ethereal qualities and relies on a single character, Much, to attract the younger kids.

  • You’ve been reading Fisking Central again, haven’t you?

  • Excuse me while I Google that…

  • Ah! Got you. Are you pro- or anti-fisking? Or pro- or anti- my fisk?

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  • I’m pro-fisking, in general. Particularly where Fisk is concerned.
    So to fisk your fisk:
    “Or, in Robin Hood’s case, pantomime villains, heroes that are designed to appeal to kids rather than be what the plot would logically demand, etc.”
    That’s would just be bad writing, and it’s not true in the case of RH anyway. Robin’s ridiculously unthreatening ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�who’s he supposed to appeal to? Who is snivelling sidekick supposed to appeal to? Only Marion appears to fit the bill so far.
    “But not using arrows or anything else that makes people bleed, lose limbs (unless they can be regenerated bloodlessly)”
    ISTR lots of neck-breaking in at least one episode of Who series 1. Anyway, the injunction is ‘no blood, and nothing that could be repeated at home’ (so no knives, ever, specifically). Arrows aren’t likely to be found in the home, and RoS’s arrow-strikes were completely bloodless, especially if you compare them with what longbow wounds actually looked like.
    What I’m objecting to is that everything looks like a game. If the writers are trying to make a point about the effect violence has on people ?��Ǩ��� and they seem to be, with Much’s bathtime flashbacks, Robin’s dark comments on the war, Gisbourne’s taunts about the war making him go soft, then surely they have to show us that violence has consequences ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�people are hurt, people die. These are important things for kids to learn. All this no-wounds swordplay, no-hitting-people archery and dangle-by-your-neck-for-five-minutes, get-up-straight-afterwards is giving the opposite signal, surely.
    Not to mention the sheer crapness of the fight choreography, the awful direction and the ham-fisted I-saw-the-Matrix-once editing.
    (And anyway, if they’re so concerned about kids copying the violence they see, I’m pretty sure Marion’s ninjaskillz pin-shuriken move is eminently copyable)
    “Great though it is, it’s now relatively slow moving, far too filmic, spends too much time dwelling on more ethereal qualities”
    It has its longeurs, yes, and you do end up wishing that they’d paid Clannad to write more than three tunes. But I’d argue about the slowness ?��Ǩ��� it packs a hell of a lot in between the misty pans around forest glens. There are lots of vivid characters, and I can remember kids loving Gisburne and the Sherrif (who had a real name!). If you watch Robert Addie and Nik Grace now, they balance campery and menace incredibly well and within the plot. They aren’t just hissable panto villains.
    “and relies on a single character, Much, to attract the younger kids.”
    There’s an interesting argument to be had about whether you need a kids-identification character. I know Oliver Postgate (who surely knows as much or more about kids’ telly than anyone else) disagrees violently. But that aside. RoH had more than Much ?��Ǩ���?Ǭ�Little John was also a very childlike character, emotions close to the surface and volatile, was a kiddy-favourite with my young cousins at the time. Plus, Richard Carpenter made Marion frequently display motherly characteristics, without making her a wet girly.
    As for new RH, who’s the child-identification character here? Maybe it’s going to be the Scarlet boys, but there wasn’t much indication of that (and there wasn’t much indication of any characterisation, either). It’s probably Much again, but although he gets the funny lines, he isn’t a child, nor very child-like.
    I’ve just bought RoS series 2. Swords of Wayland! Hah!!

  • “Robin’s ridiculously unthreatening ?��Ǩ��� who’s he supposed to appeal to?”
    Readers of “Non-Threatening Boys” magazine – ie certain teenage girls?
    “Who is snivelling sidekick supposed to appeal to?”
    Kids. He’s a comedy figure.
    “If the writers are trying to make a point about the effect violence has on people…”
    Who knows? But surely therefore they’re trying to say “Don’t be violent”, which is where the bloodlessness of Robin and co comes in. They want kids emulating Robin in the playground from day one, so anything that involves twatting people with sticks until they bleed is bad.
    “What I’m objecting to is that everything looks like a game”
    It’s a panto. That’s what it’s supposed to be. Anything more than that is designed, I suspect, to try to keep adults interested. Whether it works or not is another matter, but it’s the panto that’s supposed to keep the main audience – kids – while parents sit with them, content in the knowledge there’s nothing objectionable to frighten the kids (eg blood, people’s necks being broken when hanged, etc)
    “But I’d argue about the slowness ?��Ǩ��� it packs a hell of a lot in between the misty pans around forest glens.”
    You’ve obviously been skipping over most of Alan-a-Dale, Seven Poor Knights from Acre, etc in your DVD collection. They do fit in a lot of stuff, but pretty slowly by modern standards, albeit quickly by the standards of The Adventures of Robin Hood. We can cope, but we had our stamina built up by Fingerbobs; 1950s people had Muffin the Mule to do likewise.
    “Much again, but although he gets the funny lines, he isn’t a child, nor very child-like.”
    He’s supposed to be, I reckon, but they’re build up the kids in later episodes. But Much in RoS wasn’t a child, either, even though he was “simple” – he was the same age as Robin, more or less. He was just there for the younger kids.
    I’d probably have sided with Oliver Postgate until recently, but the whole Rose thing in Doctor Who kind of shifted my belief system on that: apparently, teenage girls will only watch sci-fi if there’s someone there for them to identify with. At least, the average teenage girl, etc (subject to focus groups, etc). Ditto Slitheens as fun thing for kids.
    I don’t need an identification point and I don’t think I did when RoS was on; I suspect the same was true when Postgate was producing his stuff, although it should be remarked that adults and non-humans alike in all of Postgate’s stuff have childlike qualities (even Professor Yaffle).
    But is the same necessarily true for today’s kids? I don’t know myself, but I think the ratings for things like Doctor Who are starting to suggest so.
    Cos I remember sitting through season 1 of DW (and indeed parts of season 2), thinking “My God, this is embarrassing rubbish. Surely kids won’t like this. It’s unsophisticated even by their standards.” And guess what? They did. In their droves.
    Have a listen to RTD and co on the podcasts, talking about how Phil’s kids loved this that and the other bit that any self-respecting adult would happily have smashed into pieces. Or check the reviews by kids of all the Doctor Who books that they put on the BBC web site. Completely different set of criteria. It’s amazing.

  • RoS Much is supposed to be about five years younger than Robin, and ‘simple’, as you say. NewRH Much actually looks older than Robin. And posher. And a better actor (but he’s a Troughton, and them’s strong genes).
    I love the idea of having my stamina built by Fingerbobs. It explains a lot. My name is Flash, but I don’t dash. Who wants to run a race?
    You’re certainly right about the childlike qualities in Postgate & Firmin’s characters, and that was deliberate. What really got Postgate’s goat was when they were trying to do a new series of Noggin the Nog, they were told it would have to have Noggin’s son Knut as the main character, because children’s programmes had to have children as the protagonists. He’s still fuming about that, 20 years later.
    “apparently, teenage girls will only watch sci-fi if there’s someone there for them to identify with”
    I think the Buffy effect is important, but has been overstated a bit. In any case, lots of teenage girls will watch scifi if there are no teenage girls, but there are (at least) two blokes who might, or might not, or could be imagined to be, gettin’ it on. Never underestimate the power of slash, and have a look at US scifi shows and tell me it isn’t intentional.
    I’m not debating that kids and adults have different taste. But surely it should be possible to create characters that appeal to both? And surely it has been done before?
    It has, hasn’t it?
    I’m racking my brains, now…

  • “But surely it should be possible to create characters that appeal to both?”
    Avon.

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