Robin of Sherwood (1984) vs. Robin Hood (new BBC series)
Which Interpretation of the legendary hero is better?
1984, and about the only notable cable channels worth mentioning were HBO and Showtime. Warring with each other over quality content, a small BBC production snuck onto the landscape of the small screen. HTV's Robin of Sherwood seemed like yet another version of the lincoln green-clad hero of England's 12th century. Or was it? Quickly it became clear to this budding writer, only 16 at the time, that this Robin of Loxley was different. Up until this time, Errol Flynn was Robin Hood. After all, only Errol Flynn's Robin Hood could boast an appearance in Bugs Bunny's "Rabbit Hood" (1949, Warner Bros.). What higher honor could be bestowed upon the Man in the Hood?
Respecting The Legend
With 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, to use as a comparison, I very rapidly ate up the new depiction. What struck me the most was two things: real people and pagan themes. The characters, one by one, became real people, with real range of emotion. There were no middle of the road cardboard cutouts of the people of Nottingham, as the Errol Flynn version was becoming. These were real people, with real opinions and real relationships. And, for the first time, pagan mysticism and 12th century superstitions became a part of the Robin Hood milieu.
More Robin Hood on Amazon - Is he getting homesick for Sherwood yet?
Who is not to like in this program? The good are real good. The bad are real bad. The key word is real. I could instantly believe these people. Their motivations, their emotions, their fears and superstitions were real. Thus, the conflicts became real. With a blanket of mysticism in many episodes, I had never come across the ingredients that made this Robin Hood special to me. Especially likable was the nearly-demented portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham by Nikolas Grace. Robert Addie (may he rest in peace!) was outstanding as the almost spoiled brat Guy of Gisbon. I loved when he got his in almost every episode.
The Merry Men, and Maid Marian, were all embraced well by the actors who played them, meshing together in a rarely-combined chemistry of friendships. For the first time, a Saracen as outlaw, hinting at the Crusades as a story element, was introduced in Nasir, played by Mark Ryan. This would inspire Azeem (Morgan Freeman) and others in later film portrayals.
Robin of Loxley
But it was the portrayal of Robin himself that hooked me on this show the minute I saw him. To me, this man was Robin Hood, the Robin Hood. Gone were the images of short, red-bearded men with pointed caps. The Hooded Man didn't need pointed caps, especially one with a feather in it. This was no Yankee Doodle Dandy. This was the legend come to life. This was Michael Praed putting on the best performance of Robin Hood I had ever seen. It was devastating to lose him in series 2's final episode, "The Greatest Enemy".
At this point, I thought, all good things must come to an end. For one more series, Jason Connery nobly stepped into the role, if not the shoes, of Praed. As Robert, the Earl of Huntington, Herne's new 'chosen one', Connery did a fine job. But the lustre was gone for me. I am often left wondering, should the series had been allowed to go on to further seasons, would Connery have replaced Praed as the Robin Hood?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The In-Between Years
But it was never to be found out. HTV and Goldcrest, its production partner, were forced to close down due to the coffer running empty. Perhaps instead of giving to the poor, Robin and his band should have given to their production companies.
Nevertheless, more Robin incarnations were on the way, notably Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Good acting by all except Kevin Costner (no offence to the talented actor, but this was not a role suited for him), the best part of this production was the music, scored by Michael Kamen (may he also rest in peace) and featuring Bryan Adams with "Everything I Do". Not worth comparing to Robin of Sherwood.
Better that year was Robin Hood, starring Patrick Bergen as Robin and Uma Thurman as Marian. More intelligently played than Costner's Hollywood style production.
Robin Hood on Amazon Still - Perhaps he is lost?
Then came 2006
20 years after Robin of Sherwood faded into the cobwebs of my memory, a small shudder of hope coursed through my brain as I sat watching BBC America. Could it be? A successor to Michael Praed, Nikolas Grace and Robert Addie?
Still reeling from the disappointment of the "betweeners" brought to us during those 20 years, skepticism led with caution to the first episode of BBC's Robin Hood. No Clannad-style music haunting the mood of this show. Reminiscent of the Errol Flynn Robin Hood, a sense of swashbuckling romance met me at the doorway to this series. No problem, I was well prepared to return to my Robin Hood roots and swash my buckle here.
The Crusades played a heavy part in this series. While the characters found themselves in subsequent episodes, and thereby became as real as those back in 1984, the pagan undertones had vanished, replaced by realistic oppression of the times. The poor were poor and the rich lived off their sweat and toil.
They also lived in fear of the equally cruel Sheriff, played by Keith Allen this time around. A slight resemblance to both the appearance and personality of Nikolas Grace brought back good memories of yesteryear. There was hope again. This sheriff, however, was meaner and more evil than Robert de Rainault, Grace's well-played Sheriff. Allen plays the sheriff with both a sense of wit, as well as a sense of evil. He will get what he wants, at whatever the cost. I actually fear for the Merry Men (not so merry here), having seen some of them (Roy, for instance) killed by the sheriff's men. That didn't happen with Grace.
Guy of Gisborne is a complete makeover also. Respecting Robert Addie's portrayal of a spoiled rich kid losing it all to the hero, this Guy of Gisborne is cunning, cool and ready to make Robin suffer. There are times when you root for the poor fool, only to find out how black his heart is underneath all that leather. Well balanced performance by Richard Armitage.
Interesting as well is the conflicting storyline of Guy's wooing(?) of Marian. She sometimes seems to care about this Guy. Or is she just playing him like a harp? He clearly loves her, but who wouldn't love Lucy Griffiths? What is also interesting here, to further contrast with Robin of Sherwood, is the relationship between Robin and Marian. In the earlier version, Judi Trott's Marian is fiercely loyal to Praed's Robin. Here, Lucy spends most of her time showing the hurt her Marian feels over Jonas Armstrong's Robin choosing King and country over her, electing to traipse off into the Crusade's to be at King Richard's side, rather than hers. Each episode, I find myself hoping the relationship to settle into something resembling the Praed/Trott era, but alas, it appears not to be. Yet.
And her tough alter-ego, the Night Watchman? Too soon to offer an opinion of this new angle.
Who "Made" Marian? - Vote for your favorite Maid Marian on TV or movies, for my next lens!
I am gathering data to write another comparison lens on Maid Marian.
Who do you think portrayed Maid Marian the best?
The Final Comparison
Robin of Sherwood or Robin of BBC?
Which brings me to the final comparison here. Robin himself. Does Jonas Armstrong take the crown away from Michael Praed?
In a word, no.
I have come to realize that along with the fact that there is always going to be a Robin Hood in our lives, there will also be a unique portrayal of the young hero. Jonas Armstrong is no Michael Praed. But that is not meant to insult Armstrong, because I have found as the new series progresses that here is a new Robin Hood. Just as Praed evolved the character from the swashbuckling Errol Flynn, so, too, has Armstrong taken and evolved the character from the mystical, paganistic Hooded Man of Praed's time.
Armstrong is Robin Hood. Just as Praed was Robin Hood. So was Errol Flynn. I think, as the series moves forward into its second series, Armstrong will continue to leave his mark on the legendary character. Armstrong's Robin has a dark side, which I like and Praed lacked. Weaknesses and flaws make a hero character more likeable, because only cardboard characters are all white or all black.
So, with Allen's Sheriff, I find Armstrong's Robin certainly capable of killing. But as we saw him struggle in his conflict with Guy after finding out Guy was the assassin in the Crusade who stabbed him and nearly killed King Richard, we are left wondering not only if this Robin will kill out of anger, but quite possibly when. Could it happen? I think the doubt that he won't is certainly planted well.
So, with Armstrong's Robin Hood moving along nicely before us nowadays, it is refreshing to see an excellent portrayal once again. Let's hope, for this fan of Robin Hood's sake, that after BBC pulls the plug on this one, that I don't have to wait another 20 years for a quality Robin Hood to grace the screen again.
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