People used to call Judge Clark Douglas "Little John." He doesn't want to talk about it.
Our reviews of Robin Hood: Season One (published June 27th, 2007), Robin Hood (1973) (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary (published August 6th, 2013), Robin Hood (2010) (Blu-ray) (published September 21st, 2010), and Robin Hood: Season Three (published April 30th, 2010) are also available.
Truth, justice, and a whole bunch of arrows.
"Nay?! Nay!? Horsie, Horsie, Horsie! That's what says Nay!"
Facts of the Case
The end of the 12th century is nearing, and the people of England are suffering greatly. They are being taxed to death by the wicked Prince John, who has taken over while King Richard is off fighting the crusades. Prince John's wicked laws are ruthlessly enforced by the equally wicked Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen, The Others), along with the aide of Sir Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage, Spooks). Things continue to get worse as time goes by. People are starving, dying, and being killed for the most minor offenses. Something needs to be done.
Enter our hero. Sir Robin of Locksley (Jonas Armstrong, The Ghost Squad) has just returned home from the war, and he is greatly disturbed by what he sees. Robin vows that he is going to battle the corrupt establishment until the people are truly free again, or until King Richard comes home (whichever comes first). With the assistance of buddies like Much (Sam Troughton, Vera Drake), Will Scarlett (Harry Lloyd, Doctor Who), Little John (Gordon Kennedy, Red Cap), and others, Robin Hood is going to rob from the rich to give to the poor…over and over and over and over again.
Thirteen episodes are spread across four discs.
The story of Robin Hood has been done time and time again. It's a familiar tale, and it has fared well more often than not when being adapted for the screen. Consider the delightful Technicolor classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, or the charming Disney adaptation featuring a foxy take on the story, or the touching Robin and Marian (starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as older versions of the characters). At the moment, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe are working on yet another version of the story. Crowe recently made a good observation in an interview, stating that if you're going to do Robin Hood again, it had better be the best version ever made. There isn't a need for a merely average update (think of Kevin Costner's ungainly Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
That's the problem with the BBC television version of Robin Hood. It has absolutely no outstanding qualities that make it special or unique in any way. You might suspect that an ongoing television program based on the story would give the creators an opportunity to really flesh out and expand the details of the legend. Sadly, that is not the case. Rather than digging deeper into the tale than any Robin Hood story has done before, this show simply takes the concept and repeats it endlessly. Robin Hood robs from the rich, gives to the poor, battles the Sheriff, makes eyes at the lovely Marian, gets pinned in a corner, wriggles free, and saves the day. This happens in every single episode, and the show gets predictable and tiresome rather quickly. Maybe it works well enough if you're looking for something to watch once a week, but viewing all of these episodes back-to-back at home is a bit exasperating.
The repetitive nature of the program is not the only major problem here. Robin Hood also feels incredibly inauthentic, offering up rather anachronistic costume design and dialogue. Did Robin Hood really wear a hoodie? Why do all of the Merry Men look like they've just come back from the Nottingham Gap? Did people really say things like, "I don't want to eat this stuff, it's totally weird!" There is a moment when a man proudly declares, "I shot the sheriff!" In reply, the (very much alive) sheriff shouts back, "No, you shot the deputy!" That's the sort of show this is.
The characters have also been conveniently retooled in order to comply with the sort of modern belief system that a popular television hero is required to have. Robin Hood, who fought for England in the crusades, reads the Koran. He and all of his men believe that human beings of every gender, race, and religion are equal. Of course, Marian is not a damsel in distress, but a feminist action hero who is every bit as skilled at everything as Robin Hood. She shares his noble values, his physical prowess, his archery skills, everything. In one episode, Robin has rescued a baby that was left to die in the woods. In a moment of danger, he needs to get his men to safety. He asks Marian to give him a hand and hold the baby for a moment. "Why, because I'm woman?" she sniffs indignantly. I am not implying that there is anything wrong with having such 21st Century values, but this show is supposed to be taking place within the 12th Century. Would a respected woman such as Marian really be permitted to spend enough time doing intense physical training to acquire the level of skill that a rogue like Robin has? At a time when the vast majority of England believed that certain races and religions were vastly inferior, would this many characters actually be so open-minded? I fear there is a danger of losing perspective of the past if we keep altering history in order to make it more palatable to modern audiences. Never mind all that; these quibbles pale in comparison to the other problems here.
Jonas Armstrong plays Robin Hood a bit like Tom Welling plays Clark Kent, with lots of moody brooding and self-pity. For being such a vibrant hero, Robin spends a bit too much time pouting. Curiously, the merry men get absolutely no character development whatsoever, often standing idly in the background until they are asked to jump into an action scene. Some of the characters that do receive lots of screen time are terminally dull. Lucy Griffiths simply doesn't make a very compelling Marian, and Richard Armitage merely rotates through a series of sneers as Sir Guy of Gisborne.
I must say that this one of the least impressive hi-def transfers I have seen. For one thing, it's an interlaced transfer, rather than the standard 1080p. Blacks have almost no depth, there isn't much detail, and the images here are very flat. Why bother releasing this show in Blu-ray if you're not going to put any effort into making it look better than the DVD? Sound is fine, with the music and dialogue coming through nice and clear. Unfortunately, the main theme (which sounds like a blend of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Hans Zimmer) gets used much too often, and without much diversity. Extras are all ported over from the previous DVD release. There are four audio commentaries with almost everyone significant figure in the cast and crew. These are informal and pleasant, but not particularly informative. Elsewhere, a handful of featurettes cover the usual behind-the-scenes material. The best of these is a half-hour making-of piece, which is a good overview of the show. Others spotlight archery, set design, and costume design. Finally, there are some character profiles. Not a terrible batch, but rather insubstantial overall.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some of the episodes have a certain level of goofy charm that is quite appealing. When we aren't saddled with some kind of angst-riddled melodrama (and we get quite a lot of that, mind you), there is just a flicker of the sort of cheerful enthusiasm that made The Adventures of Robin Hood such a great film. We're a long way from that level of entertainment, but I was able to smile now and then when Robin Hood transformed into a simple adventure show. Also of note is the delicious performance of Keith Allen as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Allen has an absolute ball with the role, bringing comedic life to the proceedings every time he appears. He is a bit on the dense side at times (seriously, anyone with a lick of sense could have killed Robin Hood by episode six), but quite a welcome addition to this program.
Some people may like this show. For instance, there's my sister-in-law, who just loves staring at Richard Armitage and Jonas Armstrong each week on BBC America. However, those seeking a well-told version of the Robin Hood story have numerous superior options.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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