The Complete Collection
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ipping into “Robin of Sherwood” is like attending the greatest Renaissance festival of your life, even though it’s a TV relic of a different time – the mid ‘80s – when shows didn’t move as fast as they do now. If you’re high on the current BBC incarnation of “Robin Hood,” there’s no guarantee this will be your flagon of mead, as character names are about all the two shows have in common. But the show casts a potent spell, and is quite unlike any other take on the infamous thief – although many a “Sherwood” fanatic claim that Costner’s “Prince of Thieves” borrowed liberally from this series, turning gold into bullshit along the way. (And the show does have quite a rabid cult following that doesn’t seem to have waned over the years.) Indeed, if you felt the Costner movie showed potential but missed the target, then you’ll likely find that “Robin of Sherwood” hits the red dot squarely in the center.
Robin of Loxley (Michael Praed), a poor villager, is called upon by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri), a sort of spirit of the forest. Herne decrees that Robin shall be his son, and become Robin Hood – “the Hooded Man” – and protect the poor from the machinations of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace), as well as guard the forest. Right off the bat, with the introduction of Herne, one can tell this is a much different kind of Hood. As the series progresses, it becomes even more thoughtfully steeped in mysticism, sorcery and religion, and the standard “rob from the rich, give to the poor” angle takes a back seat to something more along the lines of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table mixed with ample doses of “Dungeons and Dragons” (sans the dragons, of course).
Robin would not be Hood without a band of merry men, although many in his circle aren’t all that merry. Take Will Scarlet (a very young Ray Winstone), for instance: after his wife was trampled to death, he became an outlaw with a very bad temper. Similar tragedies surround the other characters, like Little John (Clive Mantle) and Nasir (Mark Ryan), who’ve both seen their fair share of misfortune. There’s also a Lady Marion (Judi Trott), although truth be told she’s actually a series low point – not because Trott’s a poor actress, but because the character is rarely written as little more than a damsel in distress or an object of Robin’s love. It’s perplexing given how richly so many of the other characters are drawn. The Sheriff and his long-suffering right-hand man, Sir Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie), are scenery-chewing standouts from the word go, and you can tell that Alan Rickman’s Sheriff was heavily based on Grace’s excellent portrayal here.
The show lasted three seasons – although from an episode count, the first two seasons basically equal the length of the third, and the series has a grand total of 26 installments. At the end of Season Two, Praed decided to leave the series, but creator Richard Carpenter wasn’t finished telling his mythic tale. So he wrote Robin of Loxley out of the series, and Herne chose a new son – Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery, son of Sean), and thus was born a new Hooded Man. Much debate seems to swirl around which actor was the better Robin Hood. I suppose that honor goes to Praed, but only marginally. Truthfully, neither actor is particularly engaging, as they both must adhere to the standard hero archetype and are rarely allowed to step outside of it. No, the real stars of this show are the various merry men, the numerous villains, and most of all, the atmosphere of the series, which is absolute perfection. Watching this show feels like stepping directly into the Middle Ages, and the 16mm photography adds a certain type of grain to the proceedings that can best be described as authentic.
Special Features: 14 commentary tracks featuring various members of the cast crew are littered across the 26 episodes. In addition to the eight discs across which the episodes are spread, there are two further discs loaded with bonus materials consisting of four retrospective documentaries, another behind-the- scenes doc called “The Electric Theatre Show,” behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, and a doc called “Clannad: Scoring ‘Robin of Sherwood,’” which is all about the Irish band that does the music. Actually, Clannad is one of the other stars of the series. Their music may be as important to the texture of “Sherwood” as all the castles, dungeons and villages put together. Mention must be made of the packaging for this set, however, and it’s because of the packaging that I docked it a half a point. In all my years of DVD buying, I have never had this much difficulty removing discs off of the plastic spindles. This set is highly recommended, but be very, very careful so as to avoid cracking the discs.