Blu-ray Review: Robin of Sherwood
Directors: Ian Sharp, Robert Young, James Allen
Series Writer: Richard Carpenter
Producers: Paul Knight, Esta Charkham
Starring: Michael Praed, Peter Llewellyn Williams, Ray Winstone, Clive Mantle, Mark Ryan, Judi Trott, Phil Rose, Robert Addie, Nickolas Grace, John Abineri, Marc de Bayser
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 780 min.
Early into the commentary of episode two of “Robin of Sherwood,” creator and writer Richard Carpenter recalls a trip to a media conference in Las Vegas trying to sell his new vision of the hooded icon to American producers. Among a cloud of cigar smoke, he called “Robin of Sherwood” ““Dukes of Hazzard” with bows and arrows” which made everyone in the room take note after all, “Dukes of Hazzard” was the biggest thing on TV at the time.
Carpenter’s tale may have been a new, updated take on the myth of Robin of the Hood but it didn’t feature anyone in booty shorts or blazing cars. Carpenter’s vision re-introduced Robin as an emblazoned mix of both traditions, a lad of poor origin and a nobleman’s son, and a band of Merry Men with their own beliefs and backgrounds who didn’t blindly follow Robin but often questioned his ideas and occasionally reverted to their true nature. They were bound together by a common goal that went deeper than friendship and they stood together against a common enemy often, though not always, embodied by the Sheriff of Nottingham and his right hand man Sir Guy of Gisburne.
My limited knowledge of Robin Hood over the years has, for the most part, seen Robin fighting some wrongdoing that always ties back to the Sheriff but Carpenter’s version of the story, with its roots in history rather than myth, incorporates paganism into the story which takes place at the rise of Christianity, expanding the possible story lines further than anything I’ve previously been used to. In the opening episodes, we see how Robin becomes the “outlaw,” chosen by Hern the Hunter to guard the old ways. Hern makes various appearances throughout this first set, which spans seasons one and two of the series, but he is far from the only supernatural entity. There are the Hounds of Lucifer who ride out in search of Robin and his sword (which itself has magical powers), Lilith who puts Robin under a spell and even the Knights Templar that, though not commonly considered supernatural, ride through the English countryside with otherworldly force.
A few of the stories do start with someone walking through Sherwood and being confronted by Robin and his men but just as often someone comes in search of help. Over two seasons Robin saves villages, rescues damsels, unites lovers and once even teams up, in a very roundabout way, with the Sheriff to fight a common enemy. Each story is self contained and though there is most definitely an over arching thread, each episode plays well on its own, allowing for easy jumps from episode to episode. I love the back and forth between Gisburne and the Sheriff and Robin, a relationship that sees them striking one another with ample opportunity to kill each other off and yet, death never comes – at least not until the Sheriff is given an ultimatum.
Starting at the origins of the legend allowed Carpenter to cast a group of young stars which he hoped in turn, would draw in younger audiences. It was a smart move and Michael Praed’s Robin Hood became a teen idol of sorts while the rest of the cast was wonderfully rounded out by a young Ray Winstone, Mark Ryan, Peter Llewellyn Williams and the beautiful Judi Trott as Lady Marion. I was also really taken with Robert Addie who memorably portrays Guy of Gisburne, a character I barely recall from previous (and follow-up) incarnations of the story but who shines here, given a character with depth; he’s mostly an unlikable fellow always on the look out for number one and yet I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him, and Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff (if we get a future incarnation of this story, I hope someone has the sense of mind to hire Paul Giamatti as the Sherriff though he seems to be channeling the character in Ironclad (review)).
Shot on location in Abbot’s Leigh Woods, Carpenter’s series has a natural, otherworldly sort of feel to it with luscious greenery and ancient trees at every turn. I love the way Ian Sharp, director of the first six episodes, captured the locations as if they were a living, breathing entity and there’s a feeling of a greater power holding court among the trees – even the bird sounds add a welcomed soundtrack of nature though music produced by the immensely popular Irish group Clannad bring an interesting twist to the folk sound creating a number of memorable themes which reappear throughout the first and second seasons.
I fell in love with “Robin of Sherwood” after two episodes and can’t believe it’s taken me this many years to catch up with the series. Whereas some shows from the 80s are painfully dated, Carpenter’s series has, even with the dated effects, held up beautifully both in its aesthetic values and depth of its story. There’s drama, romance, adventure and more than a few good laughs. This new release will take original fans down memory lane while picking up a few new ones along the way.
I just can’t believe they leave off on a major cliffhanger for season three. Now the big question is: do I wait until the release of season three on Blu-ray or do I order the DVD?
“Robin of Sherwood” is available on Blu-ray Tuesday, June 7th.
Blu-ray Extras: The collection of extras on this box set is staggering. To begin with, there is a 40 page booklet written by Simon Wells outlining, in great detail, the development of the series including writing, casting, locations and music. Commentary tracks for three episodes by series creator and writer Richard Carpenter and Ian Sharp who directed the first six episodes of the series along with commentary by director Robert Young and producer Paul Knight on the first episode of season two. There are also music only tracks for four episodes in season two.
Other extras include an extensive (nearly 30 minute) gallery of behind the scenes production and marketing stills, some of which appear to be originally discarded b-roll along with an extended version of the behind the scenes documentary “The Electric Theatre Show” which features material that never aired.
There is a fourth disc of extras featuring a two part documentary about the making of seasons one and two, new featurettes with director Robert Young and a number of actors, 15 minutes of outtakes, textless and foreign credit sequences along with PDF materials which include PR material, Carpenter’s original story treatment and several scripts. Essentially, this is the must have version of this series.
Click “play” to see the trailer:
TV.com Profile for Robin of Sherwood