Saturday, March 3
Who can forget the image of dashing Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, that virtuous hero who waged guerilla warfare from Sherwood Forest while practicing his own modest form of wealth redistribution? Or his nemesis, the evil but highly inept Sheriff of Nottingham? Who can forget that classic 1938 film? Dominic Minghella and Foz Allan can.
Their new take, though still respectful of the 800-year-old legend, reinvents the outlaw hero with a modern mentality. This Robin Hood, played by Jonas Armstrong, is both a scamp and a principled leader. Maid Marian (Lucy Griffiths) has a feminist streak longer than a lance. Robin's merry men are not quite so merry. Perhaps the biggest transformation, though, is the makeover given the Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen).
In this "Robin Hood," he is not blustery, inept or overconfident. Instead, he is a cunning and worthy foil for Robin. He is a shrewd manipulator, dark and cruel and supremely capable of ruthless skullduggery. Allen brilliantly brings out the sheriff's sociopathic qualities, creating psychological conflict that is more exciting than the staged swordplay, fistfights and other medieval mayhem.
There's a sly wit to this series, a subtle wink to modern pop culture. For example, in the third episode, a mysterious assassin aims at the Sheriff of Nottingham and, for a moment, appears to hit his target. "I shot the sheriff," the mystery man declares. "No, you shot the deputy," the sheriff answers, completing the homage to Bob Marley.
The premiere depicts a time when, to borrow from the title of Mel Brooks' 1993 version of Robin Hood, days were truly rotten. The peasants were starving and brutally treated. Robin of Locksley, returning to his estate after five years of fighting in the Crusades, can hardly believe his eyes.
If there is a chink to this series' armor, it is in the casting of Armstrong in the title role. He is sufficiently athletic and has no problem mastering the dialogue, but he lacks the physical stature to be absolutely convincing. Robin shouldn't be bigger than the ironically named Little John (Gordon Kennedy), but he should be more physically imposing than most of his men, which Armstrong isn't.
Filmed in Hungary, the series looks authentically antique. In a bow to tradition, each episode has sword-swinging, helmet-clanging man-to-man conflict in which, miraculously, the only casualties are the sheriff's men. Still, no matter how many are vanquished, more keep popping up, like some Dark Age video game, but one that is great fun to play.
A Tiger Aspect production
Credits: Executive producers/creators: Dominic Minghella, Foz Allan; Producer: Richard Burrell; Line producer: Hilary Benson; Director: John McKay; Teleplay: Dominic Minghella; Director of photography: Tim Palmer; Production designer: Mike Gunn; Editor: Patrick Moore; Music: Andy Price; Set decorator: Istvan Toth; Casting: Michelle Guish, Grace Browning. Cast: Robin Hood: Jonas Armstrong; Sheriff of Nottingham: Keith Allen; Guy of Gisborne: Richard Armitage; Marian: Lucy Griffiths; Much: Sam Troughton; Little John: Gordon Kennedy; Will Scarlett: Harry Lloyd; Allan A Dale: Joe Armstrong; Roy: William Beck; Djaq: Anjali Jay.