Shiny Shelf

Robin Hood: The Complete First Series DVD

By Mags L Halliday on 16 October 2007

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The only reason ‘Robin Hood’ isn’t the campest thing on British television at the moment is because ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘Ugly Betty’ also started their autumn runs the other week.

The first season of this latest incarnation of Robin Hood, which slipped past without a Shiny Shelf review, attempted to combine pantomime villainy with political commentary, all dressed up in the best high street bargain clothing. I swear Marion was wearing a mustard yellow cardigan from H&M in one episode.

One of the theories about Robin Hood is that the story mutates to suit the time. Early Robins are merely outlaws. Later on he gains nobility, a moral compass and a love interest in order to suit Victorian romantic sensibilities. ‘Robin of Sherwood’, with its Clanned soundtrack and Richard Carpenter vision of the gang as woodland sprites (not a charge often levelled at Ray Winstone), can be seen as a response to the emerging Thatcherite system of capitalism. The working class Anglo-Saxon heroes, in touch with the land, fighting the materialistic greed of the Norman new world order. The Robin we get is a reflection of our selves. So what Robin do we get in this incarnation?

There was much talk in the pre-launch hype, of it being a modern Hood. Robin was not to be a square-jawed hero like Richard Greene, nor a Timotei-washed spirit of England like Michael Praed. No, this new Robin was to be a war-embittered nobleman (like Kevin Costner), returning to find his home gone (like Kevin Costner) and the Sheriff of Nottingham plotting to usurp the old order (like Kevin Costner). With pretty boy eyes, a feather-cut and a regional accent (unlike Kevin Costner).

Season 1 didn’t really know where to go. We get a Jack-the-lad Robin (Jonas Armstrong) arriving home, with Much the luckless sidekick (the under-utilised Sam Troughton) and a strong homo-erotic subtext. We get Guy of Gisbourne (Richard Armitage) clad in some kind of anachronistic leather outfit which Avon from ‘Blake’s 7′ might find a bit too S&M for everyday wear. We get Keith Allen missing only the thigh-slap from his pantomime villainy. And a mad subplot in which Marion dresses up as a bloke called the Night Watchman. There were plots which hinted at darkness, with Robin having Jack Bauer-esque urges to torture captives, and suggestions of political relevance with the war in the Middle East. The overall arc was whether Marion would chose to marry Guy (who had managed to get her an engagement ring from Accessorize) or Robin. Taken as a whole it was great fun, if somewhat schizophrenic. Oh, and I forgot the female ninja and Djaq, the cross-dressing Arabian new member of the Hood gang.

Season 2 opens with Guy burning down Marion’s house, thus saving the production company the cost of a standing set, and Djaq wearing a new outfit which, curiously for someone living rough in a forest and fighting for her life against swordsmen and crossbows, displays her breastbone. This is relevant because in episode 2, Djaq is forced to dress as a serving wench and Alan suggests she should ‘dress as a girl more often’ despite her not being dressed as a boy in her normal clothes. Marion refers to her father as being under house-arrest, which is odd when their house is gone. These slapdash continuity errors are symptomatic of a drop in production quality. Scenes have clearly been underlit, or shot on poorer quality digital cameras, because CGI has been employed not only to do special effects but to lighten scenes. In one scene in episode 1, someone has turned a brown leather money pouch red in an attempt to make it clear what Gisbourne is offering Alan A’Dale to betray Robin: the problem is that it is too obviously clear that someone has been at it with a CGI paintbrush.

That the plots now deliberately play with the anachronisms, or that episode 2 was a homage to Lara Croft, Indiana Jones and ‘Hustle’ combined (complete with Dexter Fletcher’s outrageous German accent) is not a particular problem for me: I’m not looking for a deep and meaningful ‘Hood’, just entertaining stories containing elements of the folk story. Camp is somewhat inevitable with Robin Hood. What I do want at primetime on BBC1, however, is well-made camp not ‘Xena’. When my criticisms move on from spotting where the wardrobe went shopping and on to the quality of the CGI, then that is not good.

There are glimmers of hope which, along with the promise of semi-naked Richard Armitage, will keep me watching. Alan’s betrayal of the gang, combined with the love triangle between Alan, Djaq and Will Scarlett, shows promise. Sam Troughton’s excellently pitched Much got more screen time in episode 2. I want this ‘Hood’ to work, I want it to be as true a version to kids watching now as ‘Robin of Sherwood’ was to me� but I suspect it will fail.

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