BBC ‘Robin Hood’ TV show a fun take on a classic legend

Perhaps no folk hero has been reincarnated or re-envisioned more times than Robin Hood, the famous English outlaw who robbed from the rich to feed the poor. He has appeared in numerous books and films over the years, from the classic, swashbuckling Errol Flynn film version to the recent Russell Crowe epic.

Although each cinematic retelling brings a new perspective to the legend, not all have been equally successful at capturing the famous outlaw on film. I wasn’t a huge fan of Kevin Costner’s 1991 version, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (Costner’s lack of a British accent is just one of the film’s problems), and while I enjoyed the 2010 version starring Russell Crowe, I left the theater feeling it hadn’t quite lived up to my expectations.

Then a friend introduced me to the BBC TV show “Robin Hood” (2006-2009), and it has become possibly my favorite version of the Robin Hood legend. To me, it combines some of the best features of previous films: It has the same swashbuckling spirit of fun the Errol Flynn film version has, but also picks up on some of the more serious aspects of the Robin Hood legend, such as questioning whether King Richard the Lionheart would have better served his country by staying home instead of crusading in the Holy Land, and examining the high price people must sometimes pay in order to do the right thing.

Although the film is set in medieval times and features period costumes, the plots and dialogue have a decidedly modern flair. The show has a great ensemble cast, led by Jonas Armstrong as a charmingly rougish, earnest Robin Hood; Sam Troughton as Robin’s loyal but often overly-anxious servant Much; and Keith Allen as the delightfully conniving and sarcastic Sheriff of Nottingham (probably my favorite portrayal of the Sheriff in a movie or TV show).

The show also takes well-known characters in new directions, and it isn’t afraid to take some risks with the story. Guy of Gisborne, normally portrayed as a typical villain, becomes one of the show’s most emotionally-complex characters, thanks to a strong performance by Richard Armitage (who will appear as a dwarf in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” later this year). Maid Marian (played by Lucy Griffiths) is not the usual damsel in distress, and she even takes up a vigilante persona of her own (she wears a mask and helps the poor as the “Night Watchman”). A well-known member of Robin Hood’s gang is blackmailed into helping the Sheriff and Gisborne, and though being a traitor doesn’t sit well with him, he finds it hard to resist the promise of wealth and power.

However, the show does have a few flaws. It received quite a bit of flak over the ending of the second season, in which a major character dies in a very shocking way. I won’t give away any more spoilers than that, but it was a plot decision that didn’t seem to sit very well with fans. I do admire the writers for being willing to take a creative risk and do something film makers had never done before; I’m just not sure this time it paid off. The writers of the third season aren’t able to recapture the magic of the first two seasons, and I wasn’t completely happy with some of the third season’s subplots.

Still, the first two seasons are definitely worth watching, and if you enjoy the first two, you’ll probably want to watch the third as well, just to see what happens to the characters. To watch a trailer for the show, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0787985/.

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