It must have seemed like such a good idea, putting a contemporary spin on an old favourite. Over the years the legend of Robin Hood has provided a rich seam for TV and movies. Errol Flynn, Kevin Kostner and Douglas Fairbanks have all played the green-tight-wearing philanthropist and it was entirely unsurprising that the BBC, after the success of their updated Doctor Who, would want to have a go at re-imagining the Robin Hood stories.
With the BBC’s customary level of talent and imagination involved, I fully expected to love this show. After all, it has a great premise – a small group of outlaws, living hand-to-mouth in Sherwood Forest, stealing from the rich to help the poor, while fighting on behalf of King Richard against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and his henchmen. Huge potential there for action, adventure, romance and yes, homo-eroticism. What we got though, was all a bit of a limp mess. I watched the first episode of the second series which started on BBC1 on Saturday, 7 October hoping that it would have improved from the first batch. Sadly, it hadn’t.
The dialogue doesn’t help. Having Robin of Locksley’s Merrie Men chatting as though they have just nipped over from the set of Eastenders might have seemed clever or post-modern, but it jars. It’s bad enough to have the Sheriff of Nottingham tell Guy of Gisborne “It’s showtime!” but when Robin’s crew start using the catch-phrases of British comedy institutions such as The Two Ronnies (“It’s goodnight from me. And it’s goodnight from him”), the action stops dead in its tracks and makes this viewer roll her eyes and reach for a metaphorical brick to hurl at the screen.
The actors seem to have lost the plot too. Jonas Armstrong portrays Robin as a personality-free zone that makes you question whether his men would follow him anywhere, let alone to the woods outside Budapest where the show is filmed. Chaste Maid Marian (Lucy Griffiths) swashes and buckles with the best of the boys, but she and Robin make a bland couple. And the rest of the outlaws aren’t given enough to do to make them memorable – not even Will, played by Harry Lloyd, who was so fabulous in the Doctor Who Series 3 double episode, Human Nature/Family of Blood.
So it’s left to a scenery chewer and a mediaeval biker-boy to give the show some oomph. Keith Allen plays the evil Sheriff of Nottingham with relish but is pretty much a one-note character, leaving Richard Armitage’s smouldering psychopath, the leather-clad Guy de Gisborne, to steal the show.
With Robin Hood, the BBC may have invented a new genre, the panto-drama – costume drama but with more than a nod to the pantomime traditions of larger-than-life villains, good guys in boots, cross-dressing and topical humour. Pantomime is great fun in a theatre, where you can boo and hiss, heckling the actors and singing along with the songs, but booing Baron Hardup, sorry, the Sheriff of Nottingham, from the sofa isn’t nearly as much fun. And the drama isn’t strong enough or fast-paced enough to carry it past the mess.
Robin Hood is an okay-enough romp for a Saturday evening, but – “Boo! Hiss!” – it had the potential to be so much more.
© Carole Gordon 2007