'Robin of Sherwood' Aims for Realism
Friday, March 9, 2007
If you've been entertained by virtually any telling of the Robin Hood story in the past couple of decades, now is your chance to see what almost all of them were influenced by, the British television series "Robin of Sherwood."
Originally airing in Britain from 1984 into 1986 (and subsequently popping up in North America on PBS and Showtime), this series took a dark approach to its material. You didn't have "merry men" in green tights running about. Instead you had haunted men, dirt and the mysticism of Pagan sorcery. (Herne the Hunter, a god of the woods, is a recurring character.)
For many who saw it at the time, it remains the definitive version of the story, thanks to the way it incorporated disparate elements of the Robin Hood mythos, and on Tuesday they can relive the show's excitement when the DVD "Robin of Sherwood, Set 1" ($59.99) is released with the first 13 episodes (11 if you count the two two-parters as one each).
The cast, mostly actors in their early 20s, included Michael Praed (he later had a role on "Dynasty") as Robin of Loxley, Ray Winstone ("The Departed," "Sexy Beast") as an always angry Will Scarlet and Nickolas Grace ("Brideshead Revisited") as the sheriff of Nottingham. Also appearing were Mark Ryan as Nasir, Robert Addie as Sir Guy of Gisburne, Clive Mantle as Little John, Phil Rose as Friar Tuck, Peter Llewellyn Williams as Much and Judi Trott as Lady Marion. (In the show's final season, not covered in this set, Jason Connery, son of Sean, appeared as Robert of Huntingdon, who became Robin Hood -- a casting move necessitated by Praed leaving the show for a stint on Broadway.)
The series allows you to get to know each of the characters. Robin doesn't lead a huge band of nameless followers. Instead, he's the ringleader of a tightknit, though sometimes squabbling, group of seven, including himself. So throughout the series each one's personal story steps to the front from time to time, which makes your connection with each character stronger.
Shot on location in the English countryside and at various castles, another strength of the series was its attention to historical detail. For example, one episode turns in part on the auction of offices and pardons in Nottingham by King Richard, an incident that did indeed occur in real life. Granted, one could argue that pagan spirits aren't exactly authentic, but belief in them was, so let's move on.
The soundtrack, provided by Irish band Clannad, helped set the mood throughout. The group's score was so effective, in fact, that it won Britain's BAFTA award for best original television music in 1985.
The set consists of five discs. Four contain episodes (a few of which are also available with commentary tracks). The fifth disc is filled with extras such as two retrospective documentaries, a behind-the-scenes featurette, outtakes, cast filmographies and alternative credit sequences.