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.
And so we come to the final episode of season 1. And what an episode! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll binge season 2.
Like any good Robin Hood story, season one finishes with the return of ‘Good King Richard’. Though it’s changed a little recently, from Ian Hunter to Sean Connery, as an audience we are generally used to seeing a wise, benevolent King Richard returning home. From the regal, caring Mufasa to the cowardly Scar-like Prince John. But that wasn’t who he was. Once he was King, Richard didn’t even spend a full year in England. He was too busy being off on crusades, defending his land in France, or just sitting around in captivity. In short, the man was a solider before anything else, and focused almost entirely on fighting and doing whatever was necessary to get to the battle and win.
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This is the King Richard that John Rhys-Davies gives us. His story starts in familiar territory, with Richard wandering Sherwood Forest alone and disguised as a knight, basically with a sign on his back reading ‘Please Bandit Me’. Unsurprisingly, he does get ambushed, but not by Robin and the Merries! It’s a whole other group of cutthroats. Luckily, he’s saved by… Robin and the Merries. Then it’s off to the camp for a meal of venison that, of course, must be paid for by the ‘Knight’. Cue big reveal and Robin’s pardon for past wrongdoings by a benevolent king.
It’s at this point that, traditionally, the story ends. But writer Richard Carpenter decides to ask ‘what happens next?’. Most of the gang head off to Nottingham Castle to dine with the King. (Not Will, he doesn’t trust some poncey toff!) We get to enjoy the Sheriff and Abbot Hugo being thoroughly embarrassed by the presence of their enemies at the dining table and in their homes, and much carousing and manly back-slapping from gathered nobles.
But things quickly sour as it becomes clear that Richard doesn’t care about his people in any way and, when challenged by Robin, decides it’s easier to have him killed off. Abandoned by most of his friends, Robin has to escape from the belly of the beast. Despite the show being over 35 years old, I’m not going to spoiler what happens at the end, but I will say that while I’m not a big fan of what happens on an intellectual level, emotionally it’s a punch quickly followed by a hug that is deeply satisfying.
But let’s talk about performance. Rhys-Davies is an absolute powerhouse as Richard, every inch the warrior king. He brings a primal energy to the role, truly embracing the ‘Lionheart’ moniker as he actually growls his way through several perfectly delivered lines. Another performer who could so easily be overlooked is Gary Waldhorn’s Hubert Walter. A real life advisor to both Richard and John, Walter was an immensely powerful man in his own right. By giving Richard this sounding board we’re able to see plots and thoughts evolve and unfurl without feeling like we’ve had some great plot dump hefted onto us. Once again the audience get to benefit from Carpenter’s rich knowledge of English history.
Moments to look out for? The wrestling match between Richard and Little John is glorious, and the demotion in stature of the Sheriff and Abbot Hugo is wonderful to watch. Linked to that the wild men of the woods intruding on the more genteel space of the nobles is funny and has a delightful natural – perhaps even improvised – feel to it. This freeness of performance is something I often talk about, but it is an outstanding feature of the show. The natural interactions of the Merries is spot on.
Yet my favourite parts of this episode are the interactions between Richard, famous crusader and man responsible for the Massacre of Ayyadieh, and Nazir, devout Muslim. Before Richard even knows of his presence he talks about how people can be bought, and that his horse is worth four Saracens. A moment later he is confronted by a Saracen, but one who Robin says couldn’t be bought for a thousand horses. Richard greets him with a traditional “salam”. Later, when Richard reveals himself to the outlaws, he goes out of his way to speak directly to Nazir in Arabic. The outlaw replies respectfully, but there is a barely hidden resentment behind his eyes.
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Oh yeah, this is the last episode you see Martin. (Remember him?) He is never spoken of again in the show, nor will he be spoken of here.
Luna truly enjoyed this one. She thoroughly approved of the wrestling match and liked the amount of shouting coming from the king. She also loved seeing the humiliation of the usual bad guys, laughing a lot at their discomfort. But, being the kind of child she is, it was the violence and gore she mostly approved of. Or, to put it in her words: “That was amazing. I couldn’t believe that. I thought Marion was going to die. Oh my god, did you know that when the baddie got set on fire I really liked it?”. (It’s this kind of insight that makes Set the Tape your go-to pop culture review site.)
And there is it. The season ends on an absolute belter. In fact, apart from ‘The Witch of Elsdon’, there isn’t a lot of bad you can say about season one at all.
Join us later for Season 2…