We’re rewatching eighties’ classic Robin of Sherwood. But what would a five-year old make of it today? Allow us to present Paul’s rewatch and Luna’s first watch of Robin of Sherwood.
In this, the fourth episode of season one, we’re introduced to another ugly facet of the Catholic church. Unlike Abbot Hugo, whose venial, self-serving ugliness is seen most when using feigned righteousness and religion to shield his greed, here we meet the Knights Templar. Their villainy is shown through their obvious belief that as they are holy, their actions must be correct. It doesn’t matter what they do, because it is them doing it, it is good.
For those who don’t know, the Knights Templar were a monastic Catholic military order, highly active during the crusades, although in this episode they are presented as a kind of middle ages SAS unit. Tuck calls them the “Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon”, leading to Will quipping “Poor? I’d hate to see the good ones”.
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A one-eyed thief steals a banner crest while the Templars are praying, and is then seen by the Knights briefly with the Merries; they assume he is one of them, and then it all kicks off. One of the gang is actually killed by the Templars (don’t worry, it’s James, one of the ones who turned up last episode only to be lanced in the back here). Far more worryingly, Much is captured by the Templars, who themselves have lost one of their number when Little John took him out with a very well aimed quarterstaff. The gang spend the rest of the episode trying to free Much and teach the Templars a lesson.
Watching, I’m struck once again by all of the touches. The interior of Leaford Castle can only be described as glorious. The Templars themselves, obviously road weary, wear robes crumpled and dirty. They speak to each other in French, German and English without pause, showing the viewers that they are part of an international group, a wonderful piece of writing in itself. Again I’m impressed by the ingenuity of the fight scenes. Because one of their number has died, they cremate him on a large pyre. Robin uses this distraction to try to free Much but is himself caught. They decide that trial by battle is necessary because, well, reasons. But the fight takes place on the raked and still smoking ashes of the pyre. This results in tense and uncomfortable one on one combat between Robin and a gloriously teutonic Duncan Preston, complete with vertical scarring across one eye. As the pair battle with shield and flail they quickly descend into exhausted staggering with moments of wild swings and lunges.
Of course, the Sheriff and Guy aren’t far away. After an initial meeting with the Templars leaving them both with egg on their face, the pair discover the thief, called Siward, who stole the crest. Rather than returning it, the Sheriff decides to keep it for himself, knowing that the Templars will kill the outlaws whilst looking for it, and also be utterly disgraced for losing it, and thrown out of the order. The crest itself is made of gold and shows the symbol of the Templars: two poor knights sharing a horse. We get to see the nastiness of the Sheriff again, when he finds out that it was he who put out Siward’s eye for stealing on a previous occasion, and shows a smug kind of glee when he informs a desperately distressed Siward that he’s about to lose his other eye for the same crime. He then just keeps the Templars property for himself. The evil of hypocrisy is never far from the hearts of these nobles.
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At one point the Merries have to sneak into Leaford Castle. The Sheriff is staying there as he tours the county, with Siward as his prisoner. Luckily, it’s Marion’s old crib. During the rescue and subsequent attempt to retrieve the crest, we are treated to some physical comedy from an unlikely duo: Tuck and Nasir. Surrounded by hostiles, Nasir tries to mime to Tuck that he needs to be disguised. The friar consistently misses the point, and it’s a moment of light relief that is enjoyable despite the odd, slightly sinister music cues going on throughout it.
Robin of Sherwood is renowned for using innovative in-camera techniques. Covering half the lens in coloured glass to create dynamic lighting effects. A crash zoom and early steady cam setups. In this episode, to simulate a knight’s eye view, we’re occasionally treated to a kind of letterbox shot through which to watch the action, made all the more claustrophobic by the echoey breath it’s easy to imagine you would hear inside a great helm. It almost works, but not quite, mostly because in the three times it’s used, they use a different eye slit shape.
This episode is also responsible for triggering one of my serious pet peeves. At one point Robin uses the phrase “Evil to him who thinks evil”. At best this comes from the 14th century, yet the episode is set in the very late 12th Century. I don’t believe that Richard Carpenter didn’t know this, yet he used it anyway. I don’t scream when it’s said, but it’s close.
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By the end the Templars are well and truly defeated by the outlaws, being forced to ride off without armour, two sharing one horse, mirroring the symbol on their golden crest which is now being melted down at the smithy of the village whose ‘hospitality’ they have been abusing the whole episode.
When asked about what she thought of the episode, Luna gave it far more thought than usual. “They were supposed to be good people, but they were bad. Maybe they didn’t want to be good.” Once again, from the mouths of babes. Sadly for Mark Ryan, Nasir has lost his charms, with Robin now being her favourite character. She was also very happy to say that her “favourite fight was the one with the chain weapons”. As good a take home as I think we need.
In two weeks we’re going to be seeing Carpenter’s take on another character from traditional Robin Hood mythology: ‘Alan A Dale’.