REVIEW: ROBIN HOOD, BBC 1, 2006
Just a few thoughts on the BBC's new 13-part series of Robin Hood. This production, rumoured to cost £8m to make, has been scheduled in the family-friendly Saturday 7.00pm slot, effectively replacing Doctor Who - but I highly doubt this will prove to be anywhere near as popular. Pundits claims the SECOND episode is worth the wait; it had better be. This was very average I'm afraid.
First up, the sets are a rather shoddy affair. So, for example, medieval villages are clean, sanitised, neatly presented thatched cottages - no attempt at realist presentation or even a stab at fantasy genre instead.
Acting performances are middling at best. Jonas Armstrong as Robin of Locksley looks like he might grab a microphone and break into a Britpop ballad complete with Mancunian drawl at any given minute. Sam Troughton as cheeky chappie Much, Robin's best mate, is wearing thin already. His laddish banter during the opening scenes with Robin felt desperately contrived. At one point the Sheriff of Nottingham, played here with some panache thankfully by Keith Allen, tells Robin to say goodbye to his little friend 'Mulch' (Much is being dangled from castle ramparts by the Sheriff's soldiers). Robin retorts: 'His name’s Much', to which Allen quips, 'Well, he’ll be Mulch in the minute.' I was rather disappointed when this didn't actually come to pass. On current form he'd be little loss.
Maid Marion seemed a ballsy, lantern-jawed, won't-take-any-nonsense type of lass who even killed a fellow with a sharply-aimed hairpin of all things. So she could certainly prove a useful wee number in the battles we can be sure are soon to come and keep coming against the dastardly Sheriff and his henchman Guy of Gisborne, played rather uncomfortably by Richard Armitage. I didn't get much of a sense of the remaining cast as yet, although they have 12 episodes to flesh them out I guess.
I'm not certain I'll stay the course with this series beyond a few more episodes. It very much depends here on the old-fashioned art of storytelling. I did, however, like the usage of the Robin of Locksley myth, which was also deployed in the Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie. Plus, there was certainly a fair deal of political mileage extracted from this plotline. Robin has returned from the Crusades with a strong distaste for War. In a heated exchange with the Sheriff, Robin claims that the war is 'not our war' but Pope Gregory's. The Sheriff says they stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with the crusaders ... a clearly deliberate echoing from screenwriter Dominic Minghella of the type of lingo used when discussing Britain's role in the Iraq War and Blair's 'shoulder to shoulder' attitude towards US warmongers. But it is clear that our populist hero wants no truck with such wars. While the analogy was pretty crudely effected, it was interesting that such a transparent comparative device could be utilised so easily.
On a slightly more trivial but peculiarly jarring note, my history books certainly never taught me that Max Factor was alive and kicking in the Middle Ages. But here we have both Maid Marion and a 'comely wench' who cadges a quick snog off Robin (thereby 'proving' to us dumb audiences, that despite his not-so-obvious attractions, this chap is dead sexy), literally caked in make-up complete with super-gloss lipsticks. Similarly annoying were the 'swoosh' location titles; supposed, I guess, to emulate the thrust of an arrow. They were a desperate and failed attempt to come off as trendy and postmodern, along with some rather unnecessary action replay stunts in slow-mo.
Oh well. Not chuffed for now, but will give the show a second chance.