DVD Review: Robin of Sherwood - The Complete Collection
Release Date: July 29, 2008
Distributor: Acorn Media
· Ian Sharp
· Robert Young
· Ben Bolt
· James Allen
· Gerry Mill
· Sid Roberson
· Michael Praed
· Jason Connery
· Nickolas Grace
· Robert Addie
· Judi Trott
· Peter Llywellyn Williams
· Ray Winstone
· Clive Mantle
· Mark Ryan
· Phil Rose
· Official Fansite
by Jeff Ritter
Published: July 29, 2008
Few characters of myth and legend have endured as well as Robin Hood. From Errol Flynn to the current BBC production, the swashbuckling adventured of the outlaw and his "Merry Men" have enchanted the imaginations of children and adults for generations. My own personal favorite rendition was the animated Disney version, with the sly fox as Robin and the lovable bear as Little John. However, the series Robin of Sherwood, produced through HTV in England from 1984 to 1986, may have supplanted my beloved cartoon.
The show is simply fantastic. While incorporating many of the Robin Hood legends it manages to blend sword and sorcery elements and humor without descending into camp or losing sight of its central theme. The good guys and the villains are clearly defined, and the action is solid for its time. This was the mid 1980s, mind you, and British television had rules about how graphic a sword fight could get. I would sometimes recall sword fights I'd witnessed at the local Renaissance Faire while watching these episodes and smile. It doesn't have to be a bloodbath to be entertaining.
Robin of Sherwood, The Complete Collection offers the entire three-year series divided into two parts. The first two seasons feature Michael Praed as Robin of Locksley. Praed is a veteran of stage and screen, and some may remember him from Dynasty. He is magnificent, possessed to pretty much every quality you'd ascribe to Robin Hood. From his almost elven features to his playful demeanor, Praed captures the spirit of his rogue character perfectly. His Robin is also decidedly pagan, not the veteran of the Crusades like Kevin Costner was in "Prince of Thieves." He is called "Herne's Son," and is a reasonably self-determined agent of Herne the Hunter (John Abineri), the protector spirit of Sherwood Forest with strong druidic overtones. Praed would leave the series at the end of the second season to pursue his dream of playing Broadway in "The Three Musketeers," which in hindsight might not have been the best idea as that production was widely panned by the critics.
With his departure, the creative team behind the show simply turned the page on Robin of Locksley and introduced another version of the legend, Robin Hood as the son of the Earl of Huntington. Robert of Huntington was played by Jason Connery, the son of Sean Connery and who probably doesn't get enough credit for being a good actor in his own right. Robert leaves his gilded but boring life in rich Huntington to become the next "Son of Herne" and by extension, the new Robin Hood. He also has the task of regrouping the Merry Men, who had disbanded. This is no simple task, as the band is a bit more worldly wise and somewhat more cynical than they had been when the first formed. I founded it hard to warm up to Connery's Robin Hood, not because he wasn't doing a good job, but because he followed Michael Praed who just nailed the part. It would be like having to be the next Joker in a Batman film after following Heath Ledger's incredible turn in "The Dark Knight." But by the end of the series, Robert of Huntington was more than acceptable to me.
The Merry Men have never been better. Clive Mantle played Little John, and while the actor was certainly a bear of a man -- and someone I'd not care to duel with a quarterstaff -- he also allowed John to be emotional. It seems like most Little Johns are simply muscle and comic relief, Mantle's portrayal showed that he was not immune to the plight of his friends or the downtrodden people of the forest. He wasn't a lumbering lummox either, as he was quite capable of thinking for himself and contributing meaningful ideas to the group dynamic.
Ray Winstone, who was seen most recently in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," is easily the best Will Scarlet I've ever seen. He was the most quick-tempered of the bunch, a bit like the X-Men's Wolverine. He'd be on his opponent in a flash, dagger or sword to their throat before they could even draw their own weapon from its scabbard. But he was also vulnerable, having witnessed the horrible demise of his wife at the hands of Saxon soldiers.
Much, the miller's son and the adopted brother of Robin of Locksley, was played by Peter Llywellyn Williams. The character was interesting to watch as he matured from a naive mill worker to a reasonably good highwayman. He was sometimes called a simpleton, but Williams showed him to be fairly smart if just tad slow on the uptake. I went from hoping he'd get killed off early on to rooting for the character by the end of the series, and that means Williams did his job perfectly.
Phil Rose was marvelous as Friar Tuck. A festively plump fellow who offers the Merry Men wisdom, counsel, and intelligence -- not everyone could read or write in those days (or even now come to think of it) -- Tuck was also more than capable in combat. Rose played his Tuck as a surrogate father figure, offering guidance and occasionally stepping in when tensions got high, but he never becomes overbearing or so fatherly that he's not still one of the boys.
Another veteran stage actor, Mark Ryan was given the role of Nasir, the Saracen assassin who joins Robin's band of outlaws. An outstanding swordsman, Ryan spoke very little throughout the series, but his body language spoke volumes. He is also notable for being the first Saracen in the Robin Hood mythos. Morgan Freeman owes his part in "Prince of Thieves" to Mark Ryan.
Of course, no Robin Hood tale is complete without the lovely Marion. Judi_Trott was absolutely incredible in the role. Even before watching the Special Features and hearing of her background as a ballerina, I had guessed as much by the grace with which she moves. She manages to juggle Marion's feminine qualities with her outlaw functions without missing a beat. Her chemistry with Michael Praed's Robin was undeniable, but I felt like her eventual love for Jason Connery's Robert didn't seem quite as natural. It would have been interesting to see where their relationship would go had the series continued. Alas, financial difficulties with the production company ended the show.
Robin Hood faced many foes throughout the series, but none as tenacious as Nickolas Grace's Sheriff of Nottingham or Robert Addie's Sir Guy of Gisburne. These two were fantastic, and despite their ruthlessness and constant failure, I found myself rooting for them a little bit. They are an odd couple of villainy, but good fun to watch.
Notable guest stars include Phil Davis as a madcap Prince John, elevated to king upon the death of his brother Richard, who was played by the always excellentJohn Rhys-Davies. Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame has a cameo as a hardnosed agent of King John who, like everyone else, fails to bring in Robin Hood. Jeremy Bulloch has a recurring role as Edward of Wickham, the erstwhile leader of a village of vassals who, though they are servants of the Sheriff, are kind to Robin and the Merry Men. If his name rings a bell, it might be because he was also the most feared bounty hunter in the Star Wars mythos, Boba Fett.
The series featured music by Clannad and was shot on location in England. It was also shot on film, giving the whole production a sort of more sophisticated look than you usually get from a television show. There were scenes as the camera follows mounted horsemen galloping through Sherwood that called to mind "Excalibur," arguably the best King Arthur production of all time.
Robin of Sherwood, The Complete Collection is a 10 DVD set with over 17 hours of special features including 4 documentaries and several outtake reels that are absolutely hilarious. If the friendship of the cast and the fun they had making this series somehow fails to come through when watching the episodes -- and if it doesn't you're not paying even a little attention -- then these outtakes should demonstrate what a pleasure it must have been to be on that set. Of the many Robin Hood variations I've seen, Robin of Sherwood is, deservedly, the best.