Jules Frusher is not only a published author, but a historical researcher into fourteenth century England. She runs a very popular website called Lady Despenser's Scribery, which I thoroughly recommend and can be seen here. In the future, we intend to investigate many aspects of the medieval period together.
I was somewhat surprised to find out that it was two television series that Jules eventually picked out. She could not decide on a favourite between the recent BBC series of Robin Hood (Tiger Aspect Productions) and Harlech Television's much-loved Robin of Sherwood . So, on a cold winters evening recently, we sat down together with a glass of Bailey's and watched an episode of each.
The first version we put in the DVD player was the BBC's version of Robin Hood, first shown in Britain on October 7th 2006. The 45 minute episodes were created from the ancient tales by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allen and co-funded by BBC American cable television. Some of the elements of the legend were radically changed, including Robin Hood's (Jonas Armstrong) use of what appears a Saracen bow, instead of the traditional English longbow. This became a hot topic of the time and still is a popular post on this blog. It can be seen here.
Jonas Armstrong with that bow
Jules was keen to watch Walkabout (Episode10), written by Dominic Minghella from series 2 of the BBC series, first shown in 2007. The story starts with Sheriff Vaisey (Keith Allen) having a nightmare about Robin Hood and the missing Pact which holds the names of all the knights planning to overthrow King Richard in favour of his brother, Prince John. The Sheriff's troubled night sends him sleep walking straight into the depths of Sherwood Forest! Unfortunately it is the very day that Prince John's special envoy Sir Jasper arrives at Nottingham Castle to receive the Sheriff's seal and check all is well. Guy of Gisborne immediately sets up a search for the Sheriff, but to no avail. As soon as Sir Jasper realises that Vaisey is missing, he menacingly warns that if he is not found by sunset, Prince John's army will raize Nottingham to the ground. Come sunset-no Nottingham!
In this BBC series, Jules found it interesting that Robin Hood as a character (played by Jonas Armstrong) was eclipsed by Richard Armitage's Guy of Gisborne. She thought Armitage's portrayal of an arrogant knight very believable. Even if he did have to wear what became known as Guy-liner- make-up around his eyes to make him look more menacing!
Richard Armitage as Gisborne
With Nottingham under danger of total destruction both Guy of Gisborne and Lady Marian (Lucy Griffiths) beg Sir Jasper to save the town. But it soon becomes apparent that if Nottingham was demolished Sir Jasper's cousin would get the contract to rebuild it (this is a subtle reference to the controversy surrounding construction contracts given to companies after the Iraq War).
Sir Jasper informs Guy that because of his status as a Black Knight he is allowed to flee the town with any family he might have. So seizing his opportunity, Guy asks Marian to marry him before sundown. Interestingly she doesn't turn him down, but says that she will not abandon Nottingham. So Guy tells her that if she is going to stay and die in Nottingham he will perish at her side. Jules could not believe she turned him down!
Lucy Griffiths as Marian and Jonas Armstrong as Robin Hood
Marian eventually persuades Gisborne to hire the help of Robin Hood to track down the Sheriff. So the outlaw is given permission to enter the castle. Meanwhile, in the heart of Sherwood Forest, the Sheriff has come across a poor family intent on stealing from Robin Hood. So the Sheriff joins up with them disguised as a blind beggar- realising that this might be a way to get into Robin's camp and get his hands on the secret Pact.
As sunset draws closer, the townsfolk arm themselves. On the horizon Prince John's army approach the town. Little John in the mean time had taken pity on the poor folk he had come across in the forest and unwittingly taken them to the outlaws camp. Gleefully the beggars ransack the camp and with sheer delight Sheriff Vassey manages to get his hands on the secret Pact. But Robin and Much arrive just in time to prevent the Sheriff leaving the outlaws hideaway and escort him back to Nottingham Castle.
The town is saved. Sheriff Vaisey angrily castigates Sir Jasper and the army turn away from Nottingham. Then, in a state of bewilderment and excitement the Sheriff describes to Gisborne how he had managed to discover the camp of the outlaws and rescue the secret pact. But when he looks for it amongst his clothing he realises in horror that Robin had taken it back during his capture.
Along with Armitage's moody Gisborne, Jules particularly liked Keith Allen's portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham. She recalled an incident during the filming of Series 1 in which Allen lost a tooth filming a fight sequence with Armitage as Gisborne. This became a running gag in the series and was written into the script. Scenes were then created in which Sheriff Vaisey grotesquely took teeth from skulls and inserted them in the gap. An American reporter of the time described Keith Allen's performance as very camp, in the Alan Rickman tradition of sardonic villains.
Lucy Griffiths as Marian and Keith Allen as the Sheriff
Jules final thoughts on the episode and the series as a whole, was that as far as historical accuracy was concerned, the BBC's Robin Hood was no worse than any of the others. She particularly liked the Romanesque architecture of the castle used in the series and felt that the style of the theme music was a nod towards the old Robin Hood movie themes of the past. The weakest character in the series she thought, was the Saracen girl known as Djaq played by Anjali Jay.
Very special thanks to Jules Frusher for her opinions on this episode. I would like to know if my readers have any thoughts they would like to share about this particular series by the BBC?
Jules will review her other favourite, Robin of Sherwood soon. In the meantime, if you are interested in the type of ale Robin and his men would have got merry with, bread they would have eaten, or how the poor made pottage, click here.