Robin of Sherwood - Set 1 (Blu-Ray)
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The centuries-old legend of Robin Hood was never more vividly brought to life than in this acclaimed British series. Combining history with elements of magic and mysticism, and set against a backdrop of gritty medieval realism, Robin of Sherwood has captivated fans of all ages. Heading up the superb ensemble cast are Michael Praed (Dynasty) as Robin of Loxley, Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) as seething-mad Will Scarlet, and Nickolas Grace (Brideshead Revisited) as the greedy, conniving Sheriff of Nottingham. Shot entirely on location in English castles and countryside, the authentic atmosphere is enhanced by an award-winning soundtrack of haunting melodies by the Irish band Clannad. Includes all 13 episodes in Series 1 & 2.
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The show presents the more popular and recognizable 12th century Robin Hood rather than the 14th and 15th century outlaw of the original medieval ballads.
One thing that really sold me on this show was the way series writers Carpenter and Anthony Horowitz wove actual medieval English history into the episodes, such as Richard's return to Nottingham after his ransom in which he pardoned his treasonous brother John; Richard's death in Normandy and John's accession to the throne; King John's divorce of his first wife Isabella (aka Hadwisa) of Gloucester to marry the young Isabella of Angouleme (Corey Pullman played her wonderfully), and John's alleged murder of his nephew Arthur of Brittany, who it was said was named heir to the English throne by the Lionheart on his deathbed (historians still debate whether John actually killed Arthur or not but it works for the episode, which doesn't really answer the question, either). The real John liked jewels and in the show John likes Jewels; he also has the Plantagenet short fuse. And though the real John wasn't nearly as villainous towards the peasantry, yet since in all the popular versions of the legend, John's the villain, Carpenter had to make John the villain. In one episode the Sheriff discusses an upcoming hundred court with Gisbourne. Add to this the fact that real medieval English geography is referred to (Barnesdale; the Newark Road; Lincoln; York; etc.) These connections to authentic history all added to the authenticity of this show.
Both Michael Praed and Jason Connery (son of Sean) played their respective Robins brilliantly, and the change of actors (Praed landed a role on Broadway) was handled very nicely and examined two prominent versions of the legends, one that Robin was a peasant yeoman and the other that he was an earl's son. Judi Trott was fabulous as Marian of Leaford, and brought a believability to the role-while a very beautiful and feminine woman, Trott's Marian is nevertheless married to an outlaw wolf's head and lives in Sherwood Forst with his band; thus her Marian can shoot nearly as good as Robin as well as handle a sword. The other "merry men" each have distinct personalities and character traits, from the quick-tempered Will Scarlet, to the simple, yet firecly loyal Much the Miller's Son, to the brooding and silent, yet deadly former member of the sect of the Asassins, Nazir.
Robin's band is kept small on purpose and for very practical reasons: two hundred men can't hide very well, even in Sherwood (which in the 12th/13th centuries was fairly large). Plus, more time can be devoted to exploring the main characters. All of the traditional main characters from the legends are present, save Allan a' Dale who only appears in one episode ( though it's a great one). Significant is the addition of a Saracen (Muslim) character, Nazir, played by Mark Ryan. The Costner film producers got the idea for a Saracen in Robin's band from RoS. And a Saracen in Sherwood is actually not so far-fetched, as Richard the Lionheart actually hired several Muslim mercenaries to fight in his army.
Nicholas Grace was fantastic as the Sheriff, giving what is usually a stock villain real depth and personality. Robert Addie (Mordred in John Boorman's 1981 "Excalibur") played a great Guy of Gisbourne, also portraying what is usually a stock villain with depth and feeling. As the series progresses we learn why Gisbourne turned out the way he did and acts as he does. And there were interesting character revelations about Gisbourne in season three. Philip Davis played Prince/King John to the hilt-Davis' performance is the best portrayal of John I've ever seen. And while John Rhys-Davies doesn't physically look like Richard the Lionheart (who had red hair) he played him brilliantly, capturing the historic Plantagenet king's valor and bravery, but also his characteristic Plantagenet short temper and treachery when he was crossed.
Add a dash of mysticism from Robin's patron, Herne the Hunter to round things out and make them really interesting. This character is more present in the first two seasons than in the last. John Abineri does a good job of portraying the fey and mysterious Herne, who "when the Horned one possesses me," becomes Herne the Hunter (Cerunnos), the Celtic Lord of the Trees and the Hunt. This character isn't over-used, and though Friar Tuck (Phil Rose) is portrayed as more tolerant of Herne's pagan ways than a real life 12th century religious would probably be, it's still believable. Carpenter says Robin needed a patron or mentor and he couldn't use Merlin, so Herne fit the bill nicely. The show doesn't definitively say whether Herne actually IS Herne/Cerunnos or not, but his fey powers, such as his prophectic ability and second sight, are portrayed as real. Like Herne, the villainous sorcerer Gulnar is a bit much for authentic 12th/13th century England, what with his public devotion to Arianrhod and Thor, but not terribly so if one suspends one's disbelief. In that respect the show's magical, mystical element works nicely and is an interesting twist to the standard legends. Carpenter carefully researched the magical and mystical elements of the show to make them as accurate as possible.
Recurring characters such as Edward of Wickham (played by Jeremy Bulloch, Boba Fett in the original "Star Wars" films) Meg of Wickham (Claire Toeman), and Sir Richard of Leaford, as well as recurring villains such as the Sheriff's brother Abbot Hugo de Rainault (played very nicely by Philip Jackson), the Baron de Belleme (Anthony Valentine) and King John round out the cast.
This show deserved more than the three seasons it got in the UK. The series needed closure and a suitable ending which it never got. One wishes Carpenter's plans for a feature film concurrent with the Costner Robin Hood film had materialized.
In the early 1990s an American video company (I believe it was Good Times), released the five two-part episodes of the series as two-hour features on VHS, but apparently didn't releasse the rest of the series for some odd reason. Season three of the series begins immediately where the cliff-hanger of season two ended, so not including those other episodes makes no sense at all. Episodes were written and filmed in sequence and the series works best when viewed that way; for example, what happens in the first episode of season three directly impacts what happens in later episodes. Despite flashbacks at the beginning of the first episode of season three, viewers need to have seen what came before in the first two seasons. Finally American audiences have the chance as the complete series is now available to them.
So walk into the mystic forest: I guarntee you that you won't be disappointed.
Another aspect of this show that makes it so great is the fact that it marries the legend of Robin Hood with some mythical themes, such as Robin's relationship with the `ghost' of Herne the Hunter, said to have once been a huntsman employed by King Richard II. Robin turns to Herne for advice and guidance from time to time making Herne something of a father figure for the young outlaw. Medieval superstitious beliefs also add to the mythology and occasionally play a part in some of the storylines, particularly witchcraft.
The drama here is given a very real, gritty feeling to hold true to the time it is set in. The women are short and have warts, the Sheriff of Nottingham's men bare the scars of battle, villagers are poor, wear tattered clothes and drink ale, and fights take place in wet, muddy fields. You won't find any bright green tights, powdered cheek bones or nicely-kept hair here.
I must single out two exceptional actors in this show. Ray Winstone's `mad dog' portrayal of Will Scarlet is always a highlight. Sometimes he acts before he thinks, usually when faced with the prospect of engaging the Sheriff of Nottingham's men in battle. This undoubtedly stems from a constant inner rage he feels from the rape and murder of his wife at the hands of the Sheriff's men. Then, there is the Sheriff himself. Brilliantly played by Nickolas Grace, the Sheriff of Nottingham is, to borrow an English phrase from JK Rowling's "Harry Potter" books, a "right foul git". Ruthless, greedy and callous, Grace turns the Sheriff into an unscrupulous villain, and when required to show the Sheriff in his true, cowardly colors, does so expertly.
You will not be disappointed with this show and I only hope it is not long before the remaining 13 episodes see the light of day on DVD too.