Our rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
It has been a long time since Robin Hood and his merry men made life miserable for the Sheriff of Nottingham and his cohorts, but recently the BBC decided to take up the epic challenge of returning their mischievous hero to the small screen. The result is a sometimes campy but always enjoyable adaptation that offers many laughs, more than a few narrow escapes, and even a hint of romance to make the ladies happy.
Returning from the wars with his loyal servant Much (Sam Troughton) in tow, Robin of Locksley (Jonas Armstrong) hopes to find his lands well tended and tenants happy. Instead, he finds that the town has been overrun with the abusive antics of newly replaced law enforcement. In command of his property is Sir Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage), whose brutality insists that a hand be lost for poaching or theft, and shows little or no mercy to the starving occupants of the neighboring lands. Guy is no more than a pawn of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen), who outbid the former sheriff in Prince John's reign in the absence of the good and noble King Richard. Hoping he might join and influence the sheriff's council, Robin soon discerns is impossible given the sheriff's high standard of living.
When forced to choose between allowing the Scarlett boys to hang for theft or revealing that he has no intention of participating in the corruption, Robin chooses to save his friends at his own expense, making himself an outlaw and a hero in one fell whiz of the arrow. Also distracting him from the creation of his band of Merry Men is the beautiful and rebellious Marian (Lucy Griffiths), who longs for an end to the injustice and who is also being romantically pursued by Sir Guy. Believing him corrupt, Marian desires to have nothing to do with him, but must keep up a pretense in order to avoid suspicion falling on her father, who is hoping to take a stand against the sheriff and encourage the return of the rightful king. The result is a series critics loved but that comes across as downright campy from beginning to end. I'm not an enormous fan of camp, but have to admit that most of the time, the characters were fun enough to make me forget the unintentional cheesiness.
There isn't much content to be concerned about, particularly if your younger brothers and sisters fancy a watch. Most of it is comprised of various scenes of intense violence or peril. The sheriff is not happy unless someone is suffering, so he often employs torture to gain information, and threatens the lives and fingers of townspeople in order to ensnare his rival. Hangings are scheduled and sometimes carried to completion (unseen), while on other occasions, Robin sweeps in and rescues the hapless prisoners. Swords are employed, along with arrows; men are shot and/or stabbed and killed. Sir Guy has a knife tipped with poison that nearly takes a character's life. Marian also often dresses as a man in order to avenge the wrongs of the sheriff. This places her into mortal peril and forces her to engage an unknowing Sir Guy on more than one occasion. There's a mild spattering of British profanities and slang terms.
Conversation implies Sir Guy is looking forward to bedding Marian on their wedding night. She and Robin have a flirtatious relationship that never crosses the bounds of propriety. Once, she hides him in her bed when the house is searched. It's unclear whether or not she is wearing anything, since we see her bare shoulders. Robin makes a joke about having enjoyed the experience. Later in the series, a female joins the band of outlaws, dressed as a boy. One of the men discovers she is a woman while bathing in the woods. The audience sees her bare back, before she covers up and tells him to leave. In the first episode, Robin is found passionately kissing a milkmaid behind her guardian's back. There is not much religious material in the series, although Much has a healthy fear of God up to a point. A practicing Muslim is shown several times in prayer, calling upon Allah for guidance and wisdom.
The acting involved is decent but nothing spectacular, and by far the funniest character is Much, who has a death's door comment for every occasion. The relationship played out between Marian and Robin is surprisingly poignant and sweet. It has a lot of mildly romantic moments tainted with a hint of the competitiveness between them that makes it fun. By contrast, her scenes with Sir Guy are fiery and intense, most of it coming from his quarter, though she starts to come around a bit to him toward the end. To be honest, Richard Armitage is the only thing that kept me watching, because it was just too much fun to see him stalk around in a long leather coat and practice his finest villain's sneer. He manages to be mean to servants, bully Marian's father, swear to kill Robin Hood, and beat the occasional villager, and still I loved him. Oh, the power of a brooding, darkly-clad bad boy...