We have had many adaptations of Robin Hood over the years: There’s the Errol Flynn movie, the Disney version with the cute animals, the one with Kevin Costner and Alan Rickman, the Russell Crowe version, and of course the disappointing modern one in 2018. However what many tend to overlook is the BBC TV show that ran from 2006 to 2008. Though not a flawless show by any means it’s still one that is enjoyable in its own right.
The story involves Robin of Locksley and his servant Much returning to Nottingham from the Holy Land. Upon seeing the injustices imposed upon the poor by the new corrupt Sheriff and his right hand man (and Robin’s childhood rival) Guy of Gisborne, Robin takes a stand against the Sheriff and becomes an outlaw along with Much and leads a group of outlaws to fight the good fight against the Sheriff including Alan A Dale, Royston White, Djaq the Saracen, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, Kate, and secretly the woman he loves Lady Marian.
Each episode more or less had the same formula: The Sheriff has an evil plot, Robin and the gang set out to save the day, they fight the sheriff and his men through several battles, and go on their merry way in wait for more adventures. Each episode had a character or characters of the day who rarely ever played a part in the big scheme of things. The formula is something that could wear thin in a couple of episodes. And the action involving Robin and his men being able to overpower several guards at once (who were mostly reduced to cannon fodder) goes beyond the suspension of disbelief with them more often than not being outnumbered. But thankfully the Sheriff’s schemes have a good variety beyond just stealing money and sometimes major events would transpire in episodes that would carry throughout the season such as Gisborne and Marian getting engaged, Alan’s betrayal, Prince John’s pact with the Sheriff involving the prospect of his death and the black knights, the plot to kill King Richard, Gisborne’s growing hatred for the sheriff, and Marian’s death. It gave way to some interesting development and some intense episodes. However these developments were mostly relegated to the background in favor of a character or scenario of the day. And this is something that lasted through all three seasons. The only exceptions to this would be the penultimate episode, which framed the big finale showdown and the finale itself, which would end the seasons on high notes no matter how happy or sad. The writing has its shortcomings but any shortcomings can be made up for as long as there are strong characters to fall back upon. And it just so happens this show has a vast array of enjoyable characters.
Jonas Armstrong was an excellent choice to play the titular character and easily ranks among the best versions of the hero. He very much embodies the cocky and energetic outlaw. At the same time you definitely tell he genuinely cares for Nottingham, its people, and his gang willing to do anything for them. Armstrong also proved to be capable of portraying a wide range of emotion such as his devastation and rage over Marian’s death, his defeat when she decides to (almost) follow through with marrying Gisborne, when he confronts Allan about the latter’s treachery, etc . Every time Armstrong has to show emotion it feels believable and because of that we can very much root for him as the hero.
Lucy Griffiths was also fantastic as Marian. While the show did have a bit of a love triangle with her, Gisborne, and Robin it went beyond that. Marian was a woman who rose to high power with her father being the former sheriff but never forgot her roots among the poor and often went out of her way to help them. She also has to deal with the fact that her first love went off to fight in the Crusades leaving her alone to deal with England getting more and more divided. The show also has her don a costume as the Night Watchman often stealing food in order to give to the poor which isn’t just an excuse to portray her as a fighter but rather bring to the core her care for the peasantry. Both Griffiths and Armstrong had great chemistry together and their relationship plays very much to the plot. They both have their quarrels but at the end of the day you can tell they really love each other. And they do well in portraying the emotional scenes. Because of this her death in Season 2 very much hit a hard note in the Season 2 finale and made Season 3 much less enjoyable. If there is one major flaw with her it’s her wardrobe and this is something that mostly extends to the most of the characters in that the costumes feel way to modern. But with that aside Griffiths gave the classic Marian her own spin and very much feels convincing at every turn.
Every Robin Hood story though needs some good villains and the big bads of these shows were great. The first is Keith Allen as Sheriff Vaisey of Nottingham who is absolutely hilarious in just how petty and evil he is being a man of high power. Then there’s Prince John who only appeared for a couple of episodes during the last season but Toby Stephens gives a good balance of camp and cruelty. But by far the best of the villains lies in the portrayal of Guy of Gisborne played by Richard Armitage. He’s probably the darkest part of the show willing to do horrible things for the Sheriff. Although he definitely did not deserve Marian, even through all his horrific acts you can definitely tell he loved Marian and was willing to use his power to keep her safe. Even though he kills Marian he still gets some legitimate redemption over the course of season 3 with him coming to terms with his demons. Even though the time he spends with his fellow prisoner Meg is short they still have some heartfelt scenes and they lead Gisborne to walking a fine line, which makes it believable when he teams up with Robin towards the end. He’s easy to dislike but has just enough good qualities that channel all throughout the series and come full circle at the end of it all.
Finally there are the members of Robin’s gang of which there are a lot. It’s best to get the ones the worst out of the way. Friar Tuck was introduced in the final season and sadly doesn’t get much time to shine. David Harewood did well in conveying a man of reasoning among the outlaws but after the opener in which he convinces Robin to fight for England again he doesn’t really get much to do. And this is largely disappointing given his character is a prominent part of the Robin Hood mythos. Royston White lasted only a mere couple of episodes before getting killed and since then has never been mentioned again. Kate is nothing more than the token girl of the gang and is shown to be quite inept providing nothing among the outlaws. She’s pretty much relegated to being a damsel in distress. What’s worse is that they force a romance between her and Robin and the two have no chemistry. Then there’s Robin and Gisborne’s half brother Archer who was very much meant to take up the mantle of Robin Hood after Robin’s death but of course the show got cancelled and it felt largely for nothing. Aside from Kate, most of these characters aren’t horrible but are mostly wasted potential.
But of course there are far more good members than bad. The idea of a girl joining the group at first glance was something that could have easily gotten a lot of backlash but the character of Djaq the Saracen was quite useful to the gang when it comes to brains and medicine. She serves as a good friend to Robin and is a huge part in redeeming his actions in the Crusades. Little John is the most prominent of all the Merry Men and while he didn’t get much to do in the early episodes that changed in episode 11 of season 1 where we see a lot more of his family and it allowed the actor Gordon Kennedy to show his brute but loving demeanor to those he considers family including his wife and son the latter of whom never knew him. And these traits carried throughout the season. Whereas most versions of Will Scarlett have mostly been portrayed as a hothead this Will is more levelheaded. Nevertheless it still keeps some aspects about Will such as his desire to take a stand himself far before Robin becomes an outlaw and sees Robin as a hero. His best episode was in Season 2 when he infiltrates the castle to kill the Sheriff following his dad’s death. Will’s tranquil fury is played to just the right amount as he executes his actions and it’s very much through his expressions and body language. He’s very much the kid of the outlaws and has a fair couple of episodes in being a man. Joe Armstrong’s Allan a Dale is easily the best version of the character (although this is not saying much considering we haven’t had many). He’s more of the easy-going of the bunch but the show takes the time to show his more human side such as when we see his younger brother hung and when he starts working for Gisborne. It shapes him into becoming an anti-hero throughout season 2 and it leads to some interesting interactions between the worlds he walks that really should have been present in more of the show. Then we have Much the Miller who is Robin’ servant here. This is Robin’s first friend in his fight against the tyranny of Nottingham and having him be a servant was interesting in their friendship when it came to their times together in the war and their social status. And Sam Troughton did well in being the bumbling comic relief to the antics of the other members and is given quite a variety in order to convey the comedy.
BBC’s Robin Hood is not a very big or deep show. Its storylines don’t really overarch and many major events only have an impact for a couple of episodes. With that being said this version of Robin Hood has a wide variety of enjoyable characters enough to keep it afloat and if it didn’t the show would be forgettable. I’d definitely say this is worth at least one watch for any Robin Hood fan.