Robin Hood (FOX, 1991)
Robin of Sherwood (BBC, 1983-1985, 22 episodes)
Take no scorn to wear the horn
It was the crest when you were born
Your father's father wore it
And your father wore it too
Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair o
and we will to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare o
Ahhh, have a seat in the kitchen alcove; it's far too crowded here in me Green Man office to have a comfortable discussion. You stopped by to ask what me favourite Robin Hood videos were... Keep me a few minutes to wrap up these notes on me article for the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) newsletter on the brewing of Avalon Applejack. Yes, I got to interview the brew master responsible for that legendary drink!
Robin Hood... What an interesting tale, or rather tales, that is! Check out the my review of two books on this outlaw, J.C. Holt's Robin Hood and Stephen Knight's Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw, for a good look at the history of Robin Hood.
As you know, from having browsed the Green Man library, fiction of a printed nature has treated the Robin Hood mythos a bleedin' lot better than has the film medium which has, in general, made him out to be a rather silly man. The Green Man library has hundreds of works of fiction concerning Robin of Sherwood and his exploits. I can name several favourite looks of mine at Robin Hood in novel form including Michael Cadlum's In a Dark Wood, James Goldman Robin and Marian, Richard Kluger's The Sheriff of Nottingham, and Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood. Yes, I know that these are all revisionist looks at the myth, but it's me review, not yours! Now get comfortable and have some of that most excellent Dragons Breath Ale while I tell this tale. Comfy? Good! After we discuss these video tellings of the Robin Hood myth, we'll join the rest of the Green Man staff who will be watching Robin and Marian in our theatre.
I can't begin to tell you how many versions of Robin Hood have been filmed since Étienne Arnaud and Herbert Blaché produced the first one called (naturally) Robin Hood in 1912. The Internet Movie Database lists 66 films, 11 tv movies, and 9 television series, but me guess is that is just some of the productions. The sad thing is that most of these are shite that never should have been produced! Oh, you ask which ones are so? Oh, I'd say that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) starring the accent challenged Kevin Costner is the worst ever, but that is rather obvious, as almost everything Costner has done has been awful. (He sort of worked in Bull Durham and Field of Dreams -- see the connection?) Even the Robin Hood Daffy (1958) was a more faithful look at the myth. Avoid this dog at all costs! Now that we've dealt with that debacle, let's move unto two versions well-worth your time to watch. The first of these is proof that even network television can be intelligent -- the FOX version of Robin Hood that starred -- and I mean starred -- Patrick Bergin as Robin Hood. In dramatic contrast to the deservedly maligned Costner who likely couldn't ever be a truly good actor, Bergin looks the part of Robin -- tall, dark, brooding, and intelligent, an actor whose Irish roots work well here. (No, there's no indication that Robin Hood is a Celtic myth, but recent revisionist tellings suggest that as a possibility.) For fans of the Robin Hood myth, this version of Robin Hood is an incredibly accurate retelling of the story of Sir Robert Hode, 4th Earl of Huntington, a real person who may be one of the roots of the legend. (Historians suggest that there may not have been a single Robin, but rather a series of outlaws using that persona. Robin of Sherwood, which we'll discuss in a minute, uses that thesis.)
Oh, you ask about The New Adventures of Robin Hood, which Warner Brother's International produced in the '90s? Wasn't that worse than Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? No, as it didn't have Kevin 'Ohio is in England, so I'll speak with that accent' Costner, so, even though it was horrible, it didn't warrant having really rotten tomatoes thrown at it! Well, maybe it did...
Well written and adapted for the screen, expertly cast, and superbly directed by English director John Irvin, this low budget production has never received the positive reviews it deserves. (This film was shown on television in the USA and in the movie theaters in Great Britain.) It isn't just Bergin that makes this possibly the best Robin Hood ever done. Bergin shares the screen with a cast that's perfect. Uma Thurman is a resourceful and intelligent Marian, Jeff Nuttall is cast well as Friar Tuck, Owen Teale is a typically fun-loving Will Scarlett, and David Morrissey makes a fine Little John. On the Norman side, Jurgen Prochnow is Sir Miles Folcanet, the quite evil and arrogant knight who pursues Robin through Sherwood, and Jeroen Krabbe is Baron Daguerre, an overlord with just a bit of a conscience. Watch for Edward Fox as the would-be King John. But watch carefully as his is but a brief moment on screen -- Perhaps the hoped for DVD of this film will expand that role a bit. What we get here is the telling of Robin Hood's flight into Sherwood. His turn to outlawry was caused by a falling out between him and his friend, the Norman Lord Folcanet. The Anglo-Saxon versus Norman theme is stronger here, although the politics of the era was not clearly detailed in any depth. Nonetheless, Bergin is an angry and dangerous rouge who will not stop short of violent actions if need be. There's nothing sweet or humorous about his Robin Hood!
It's visually more interesting than Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, too, as it appears to have been filmed in a real Wild Wood in which even Robert Holdstock, creator of the Ryhope Wood series, would feel at home. Like the music -- which was composed and conducted by Geoffrey Burgon -- the visuals create the feel of a real Sherwood Forest and its surroundings that is lacking in most of the other filmed Robin Hoods! It definitely was a lot more gritty than Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves -- that production was so clean that it felt like it was in Iowa. Given that Costner was involved, perhaps it was! But this movie feels a lot like Robin of Sherwood, in that the forest feels all too terribly real. I was lucky enough to see it in the theatre -- I pity the poor buggers who had to see it on television in the States, complete with adverts! Robin Hood is, alas, only available on VHS videotape. No word on a DVD release. This contrasts dramatically with the Robin of Sherwood series that features a superb digital transfer and a new Dolby soundtrack complete with optional original mono and music-only tracks. The commentary on "The Swords of Wayland" EP from the director and producer is well-worth the time. There is a behind-the-scenes documentary which interviews almost everyone involved; is is far, far too brief at a mere 42 minutes. But there are two galleries of stills with 156 pictures, seven minutes of out takes and, weirdly enough, the French and American versions of the Main Title sequence.
Robin: 'You're no god.'
Herne: 'We can all of us be gods. All of us!'
-- Herne the Hunter to Robin of Loxley on
"Robin Hood and the Sorcerer" EP of Robin of Sherwood
Hungry? Grab some of the fresh-baked bread, heather-smoked salmon, and cheese that the Green Man chef left on the sideboard. And do have a pint of the newly tapped Applejack from Avalon. Better now? Good. If the Robin Hood that had Patrick Bergin at its centre was a telling of Robin Hood as the embodiment of the Anglo/Saxon conflict, Richard Carpenter decided to make his series an explicitly Celtic telling. 'Celtic', you ask, 'How so?' Well, let's start with Robin having as his Lord, Herne the Hunter! Yes, The Hooded God Himself! Ok, so how did Carpenter get to this vision of Robin? Why Robin as the Hooded Man?
Richard Carpenter claims that he wanted to reclaim the true Robin Hood from all the falsehoods that had been added to him over the past millennia. That in itself may be a falsehood, as no one knows for certain how the legend came to be. Be that as it might be, Carpenter certainly created a world as stunningly real as that of Holdstock, creator of the Ryhope Wood series, in that saga of another Wood beyond time itself.
There are two series of programmes, the first of which starred Michael Praed. Robin of Sherwood starts off by setting up the background for why Robin is so often in trouble -- the Silver Arrow, a true cursed object if ever there was one. (Yes, a sacred object can also be cursed. Just asked the Crusaders.) The arrow is sacred to Herne the Hunter, and it is Robin's job to keep it from being harmed. Robin's father, Ailric of Loxley, Guardian of the Arrow, ancient symbol of Celtic Britain, led a rebellion against his Norman masters. When Ailric is murdered by the Normans, his son Robin (Michael Praed) is adopted by the local miller and the Arrow falls into the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace). At the age of 20, Robin is quite reluctantly cast in the role of saviour of the oppressed. This Robin will, like the slayers in the Buffy the Vampire series, eventually die in service to his cause, but Herne will choose another defender, the heir to the Earl of Huntingdon. This young nobleman, Robert of Huntingdon, will give up all his claim to his fathers wealth to become the next Robin.
(Death stalks this series like a hungry wolf on a winters morn. This alone makes it different than almost all the other filmed Robins. There's no comfort here, just the chill of death not claiming you yet.)
The introductory episode shows the viewer how Robin becomes an outlaw, and how he meets all the other members of his outlaw band. The title refers to a sorcerer, the Baron de Belleme. It is Robin of Loxley who Herne chooses to become his guardian, and to retrieve the arrow for him. When the Sheriff of Nottingham sets up an archery competition in which the first prize is the silver arrow, Robin has to enter it to retrieve it back. Disguising himself as an old man, he wins the competition, but the sheriff, not surprisingly, notes that his hands are those of a young man. When Robin is discovered, his band (Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Much, Nasir and the Lady Marion) overwhelms the Sheriff and his men, so they escape back to Sherwood Forest,. The arrow is then seized by the Baron de Belleme, who tries to sacrifice the Lady Marion by casting a spell on Robin. Robin instead turns and kills the Baron with the silver arrow. It is this that sets the scene for all of the Robin of Sherwood episodes.
The ordering of the episodes is in dispute, but this is the most accepted order:
First Series (1983) -- Robin Hood and the Sorcerer; The Witch of Elsdon; Seven Poor Knights from Acre; Alan a Dal; and The King's Fool
Second Series (1984) -- The Swords of Wayland; The Lord of the Trees; The Prophecy; The Children of Israel; The Enchantment; and The Greatest Enemy
Third Series (1985) -- Herne's Son; The Power of Albion; The Inheritance; The Cross of St. Ciricus; Cromm Cruac; The Betrayal; Adam Bell; The Pretender; Rutterkin; The Sheriff of Nottingham; and The Time of the Wolf
I list the EP titles as they show how Celtic this version of Robin Hood is. Forget the Victorian versions of Robin as saviour of the English people. This is England before it was England -- a Celtic land full of old gods including the Norse god Fenris, wolflings, witches, mad prophets, spells, the Sword of Albion, and a forest beyond time itself. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy says that this series is a 'retelling of the familiar elements of the legend with the additional twist of sorcery and black magic.'
Just a short note about the cast of the two series. Like the Patrick Bergin Robin Hood, the casting was perfect down to the most minor of roles: The first Robin Hood was played by Michael Praed with the second Robin being Robert of Huntingdon who was played by Jason Connery, son of Sean Connery. The intelligent, strong willed --- and more than a match for Robin -- Marion in both series was the work of talented Judi Trott. The rest of the cast (Little John -- Clive Mantle, Will Scarlet -- Ray Winstone, Bother Tuck -- Phil Rose, Nasir -- Mark Ryan, Much Peter -- Llewellyn Williams, Sheriff of Nottingham -- Nickolas Grace, Guy of Gisburne -- Robert Addie, Abbot Hugo -- Philip Jackson, and Herne the Hunter-- John Abineri) felt as real as though they lived through the early Medieval period. There's even interesting minor casting such as Claire Toeman, wife of Richard Carpenter, as Meg, girlfriend of Will, who carries a forty pound pig around.
Go discover this series for yourself, as I'll not give anymore details away here. You'll want the DVDs -- which were overdue, since badly dubbed boots were all that existed for years. The quality of the print is beyond compare! The setting's a Celtic Britain, the time's out of myth itself, and the stories will both chill and thrill you. What more need I say?
According to a page devoted to Will Scarlet in the Robin of Sherwood series, the DVDs are available in PAL Region 0 coding (Europe) only. 'Network Video have confirmed that they do not own the rights to the DVDs in Region One (North America).' If you live in North America and would like to buy a Region-free multistandard (PAL/NTSC) DVD player, have a look at DVDCity. For region 2 players, see the Series One DVD Region 2 Complete set, Series One DVD Region 2 Part 1, and/or Series One DVD Region 2 Part 2. The complete PAL and NTSC box set videos of 'Robin of Sherwood' are no longer available; only the PAL individual videos (3 episodes each) are still available. Check out Black Star's current listings or check with with Network Video.