|Robin Hood: Season One (2006)
Starring: Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Richard Armitage, Keith Allen, Gordon Kennedy, Sam Troughton, Joe Armstrong, Harry Lloyd, Michael Elwyn, Anjali Jay
Unto every generation there must come…a “Robin Hood.”
OK, so it’s not actually written in stone anywhere. Still, can you think of the last time we went more than a few years without someone somewhere producing a new interpretation of the classic tale of he-who-robbed-from-the-rich-to-give-to-the-poor? His cinematic history began in a 1908 silent film entitled “Robin Hood and his Merry Men,” but it was the 1922 version starring Douglas Fairbanks that’s generally remembered as the definitive early portrayal of the character. Since then, the role of Robin has been played by, among others, Sean Connery, John Cleese, Kevin Costner, George Segal, Donald Pleasance and Rik Mayall. There have been movies and TV series based on the character, both live-action and animated, and if we try to count up all the times he’s popped up for one-off appearances -- like, say, the episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” where Q turned Captain Picard into Robin Hood -- we’d be here all day.
Still, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a proper TV show based on the adventures of Robin and his band of Merry Men, and the BBC took advantage of that in 2006 when they produced a 13-episode series, creatively entitled “Robin Hood.” The cast is full of faces which will be mostly unfamiliar to American viewers – Robin himself is played by Jonas Armstrong, whose two previous series, “The Ghost Squad” and “Teachers,” have had virtually no airings in the States – but that’s not such a bad thing. After all, given the familiarity of the characters, it’s not as though big-name actors are necessary to sell the show.
If you’ve not seen a “Robin Hood” adventure in awhile, though, here’s a quick primer for you. Robin of Locksley returns from fighting in the Crusades to find that the Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) has established a tyrannical reign, demanding outrageous taxes from citizens who cannot possibly afford to pay them, and enacting horrific torture when, inevitably, they cannot come up with what they owe. Understandably, Robin finds this treatment ridiculous and battles against the Sheriff and his right-hand man, Sir Guy of Gisborne, putting together a band of individuals (who share his beliefs) to fight alongside him. Adding to the drama are Robin’s attempts to win the heart of the fair Marian (Lucy Griffiths), whose affections are also sought by Sir Guy.
Much of “Robin Hood” maintains a lighthearted feel, from the camaraderie between Robin and his men to the romantic banter between Marian and Robin. Meanwhile, on the darker end of the humor scale, there are the over-the-top comments from the Sheriff. Alan Rickman’s take on the role in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (“Cancel Christmas!”) is a hard one to follow, but give Keith Allen credit: within a few episodes, his nasty, snarky performance actually succeeds in making you forget about Rickman. Despite the humor, however, there are considerable moments of melancholy. Just when you think Robin will be able to save the day on every occasion, the series reminds you that even a hero can be fallible. The show looks gorgeous throughout, particularly during scenes set in the English countryside (actually, it was filmed in Hungary), but it’s the action sequences that provide the majority of the show’s highlights. Although the show’s score teeters on the cusp of being over the top during these scenes, it’s likely that most viewers will simply opt to pump their fists in the air and yell, “You go, Robin!”
Like “Doctor Who,” the BBC’s re-visitation of “Robin Hood” takes a familiar property and breathes new life into it. Those who get a bit twitchy about anachronisms need not apply…both the dialogue and the costumes are constant reminders that, despite the claims of the characters, this is NOT the 1100s. But those who can set aside their nitpicking ways will love the rousing romp that is “Robin Hood.”
Special Features: When it comes to its new series, the BBC continues to provide the industry standard by which the special features for all TV-DVD sets should be gauged. There are multiple audio commentaries from cast and crew spread among the first four discs. While there are a few featurettes popping up on the discs as well, there’s actually a separate fifth disc containing nothing but special features. You get character profiles and a making-of featurette, as well as separate looks at the costume design for the series and the training the actors went through to play their parts.