Robin of Sherwood

Series One & Two

 

Robin of Sherwood

[Set 1 ~ Series One & Two]

Created & Written by Richard Carpenter

Produced by Paul Knight & Patrick Dromgoole

Photography by Brian Morgan and Bob Edwards

Music by Clannad

Directed by Ian Sharp & Robert Young

1984-85


Cast:

Michael Praed as Robin

Judi Trott as Marion

Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff

Robert Addie as Guy of Gisburne

Ray Winstone as Will Scarlet

Clive Mantle as Little John

Phil Rose as Friar Tuck

Peter Llewellyn Williams as Much

Philip Jackson as Abbot Hugo

Mark Ryan as Nasir


Production:

Television: Goldcrest Films

Video: Acorn Media


Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD-50 x 3 + DVD x 1

Runtime: approx 700 min/11. 5 hours

Episodes: 13

Chapters: 6 per episode


Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (original)


Subtitles:

English SDH


Extras:

• 5 Episode Commentaries

• The Electric Theatre Show (36:33)

• Nothing’s Forgotten: The Making of Robin of Sherwood (59:20 + 41:30)

• Robert Young: The Prophecy Fulfilled (10:00)

• Robert Young Remembers “The Swords of Wayland” (5:55)

• Robert Young Remembers “The Greatest Enemy” (7:05)

• Outtakes (15:40)

• Textless and foreign credits (10:35)

• Isolated Music Score for 5 Episodes

• Photo Galleries in HD (24 min)

• PDF material

• 40-page Booklet with essay by Simon Wells


Presentation:

Expanded UK Blu-ray Case w/ flip-page:

BRD x 3 + DVD x 1

Street Date: June 7, 2011



Product Description:

“A benchmark of quality television drama in the 1980s and arguably the definitive interpretation of the Robin Hood legend, this BAFTA-winning series is presented here for the first time in North America in High Definition. (It was released in November of last year by Network in the U.K.)  Michael Praed stars as Robin of Loxley in Richard Carpenter's influential and highly acclaimed re-working of the classic myth. Combining equal parts high drama, historical accuracy and atmospheric mysticism, Carpenter's reboot pitched a band of not-so-Merry Men against a decidedly brutal and waspish Sheriff of Nottingham. With a haunting theme from Clannad, strong scripts and outstanding performances from Ray Winstone, Clive Mantle, Judi Trott and Nickolas Grace, to name a few, Robin of Sherwood was, and remains, a worldwide hit.  New HD transfers are taken from the original 16 mm film elements, the first two series are presented here at a quality level never previously seen.” - Network/Amazon


     


The Movie: 5/7

At one point in the documentaries, Richard Carpenter describes his series as “The Dukes of Hazzard with bows and arrows.”  I agree that this remark, however tongue in cheek, represents one aspect of the series - and one that you should take seriously if you’re new to this Robin.  Another is its rampant mysticism, staring with the opening credits and the uniquely static music by Clannad.  I can’t recall anything quite like it to get a show rolling.


What Carpenter is talking about here is the juvenile quality of the merry men.  In many ways there are just large boys - boys from the hood, you might say. For, indeed they are rebels. . . passionate, a little stupid and careless, yet loyal to a man. . . and a woman.  Rarely more than half a dozen, they stake out a small piece of the forest and sit about the world’s smallest clearings waiting for some insult to themselves or, more often, the villagers, against or on behalf of which they must take action.


     


They are surprisingly quick to killing. In one early episode the outlaws attempt to rescue Alan-a-Dale’s fiancee on her way to be married off to the Sheriff of Nottingham. Of course, no arrow is wasted, and being more commercially astute than they would admit, the outlaws are careful not to hit the remarkably doltish,  yet vicious Guy of Gisburne, or it would be the end of the series.  Robin’s men have their share of death, too, and supporting comrades are dispatched in one raid after another. 


Curious thing about this business of selective killing: This sort of thing has been around as long as there have been motion pictures and continues to this day.  In one respect it’s a way to bathe the heroes in a kind of spotlight so as to guide and manipulate our interest and concern.  Whether the target audience is adults or children, we’re really not supposed to notice how unrealistic this all is, to say nothing of unfair.  And when we, as adults, watch something like “Robin of Sherwood” for the first time, we can’t help but notice it, yet we didn’t as children.


     


It’s all very informal and ad hoc.  If this marks your first acquaintance with the series, I’d be surprised if you wouldn't find a not inconsiderable part of it unintentionally funny:  as, for example, Michael Praed’s bow technique.  Watch how he releases the arrow during the credits.  Wouldn’t hit the broad side of a sheriff’s butt.  Or, during the legendary archery tournament, where in one camera drive-by every other archer demonstrates proper (by today’s standards) technique while Michael insists on yanking the string when letting fly.  It doesn’t signify that medieval practice should be as we do now, but that everyone save Robin makes it so, you have to admit, is worth a smile. 


The action sequences are vigorous, yet through it all, Michael Praed’s hair remains perfectly blow-dried, in the manner of James Bond’s neatly pressed suits and bow tie that somehow never get mussed.


     


Once the necessary preliminaries are dispensed with - how Robin becomes an outlaw and is joined by Will Scarlett, Little John, Marion and eventually Friar Tuck, and how Robin and the Sheriff & Gisburne become enemies - the series settles down into the business of creating standalone episodes with guest stars such as George Baker, Rula Lenska, Anthony Steel, Phil Davis, Stephanie Teague and John Rhys-Davies, among others.  They are often more copelling as actors and characters than the regulars, I fear.


Ample room is allowed for the growth and development of characters, particularly Marion and Robin.  More important, throughout the first two seasons, the episodes get better and more adult-oriented as they go along.  By the end, the forced, disjointed quality of the initial two-parter, “Robin Hood and the Sorcerer,” is only a distant memory.


     


This series was never designed to be watched one episode after another, but in something like weekly airings.  Back to back, the editing can get scary.  It’s hard not to escape the feeling that all the action occurs within a few hundred yards square yards.  One moment, they’re here; the next, they’re there, with no accounting for the time it should take to have done so.  (Keep in mind the target audience: youngsters - “tweens” we would call them now - and, in respect to this Bu-ray, by and large those adults who want to revisit the series for the nostalgia value.)


In one of the very best episodes, the two-part “Swords of Wayland,” there is an attack on a village by six robed devil riders.  During the attack, Robin’s men dispatch eight of them with one left over to question.  Math has never been my strong suit, but. . . Another aspect of the series you will likely notice if you watch them close on one another is that Robin and his men seem to be in rescue mode in just about every episode, which can get tiresome after a while.


     
 


That sort of clumsiness aside, the fight scenes are generally staged quite well for the television audience of the period.  There is a spontaneous, unrehearsed quality to them that is to its credit.  We may not be convinced that people are actually being hurt (though for some reason it is perfectly permissible to show people being shot by arrows), but the ferocity and confusion is there, together with a certain degree of increasing tension.  It’s harder to bring off than it looks.


Which brings me to the superb, evocative locations which, except for the large majority of interiors, are the real stuff: mostly castles and abbeys in southwest and northern England (Bristol, Cornwall, Somerset, Wiltshire, Northumberland).  Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, for example, was used more recently in the later installments of the Harry Potter films, as was Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, for the earlier Potters as well as for the films “Becket” and the 1998 “Elizabeth.”  And St Michael's Mount in Cornwall was seen in Frank Langella’s version of Dracula.  Good pedigrees, all.


     


As for intentional humor, the sheriff gets all the best lines, often in his various insults to Gisburne.  There is something curiously homoerotic about these two and I found their relationship to be far more intriguing and entertaining than between Robin and any of his men.  Let’s be fair, without the sheriff and Gisburne there would be no Robin Hood, or this series. 


Robin does have a special fondness for Much the Miller’s son, with whom he grew up.  Much is seriously dim-witted, but loyal to a fault, and Robin risks likely death in one episode to rescue him after he is captured by Gisburne. Marion joins the band by the end of the second episode, and soon rides and shoots as good or better than any  of them.  Robin is hesitant about letting her fight alongside the men, but she eventually wins her stripes. Will Scarlett is loathe to give up on his hatred for all things Norman, their having raped and murdered his wife, and there is a nice arc (that ends too abruptly) where his unfulfilled rage spills out against Robin’s leadership.  Little John has a heart as big as his size requires and acts as something resembling Robin’s lieutenant.  His main function  seems to be to try to keep Will from going bonkers.  Mark Ryan is wasted as Nasir, the nearly mute Saracen who joins Robin’s band after being bested in a duel.  Friar Tuck is sweet and willing to help.  Except for his clerical garb and girth there’s not a whole lot to distinguish him from the other men.


     


Perhaps the biggest difference between this and just about all other filmed versions of Robin Hood is Carpenter’s mythic history that starts with a ghostlike creature known as “Herne the Hunter” who appoints Robin to protect those too helpless to protect themselves against the tyrannical Normans who have taken over England.  Herne appears frequently throughout the series offering prophetic, riddled guidance to Robin. All this in a context where the people of the times believed in magic, sorcery and the church - in more or less equal degrees as their fears provoked them.  This mythology imbues the series and offers some gravitas and direction, without which “Robin of Sherwood” would really have little more to offer than The Dukes of Hazzard.


One side note: After Richard Carpenter left the show shortly after Series Three got underway, writing chores were picked up by a young Anthony Horowitz, who would go on to write and produce the much admired period mystery series: “Foyle’s War” with Michael Kitchen, as well as contribute much of the writing for “Agatha Christie's Poirot” with David Suchet.  The present Acorn set does not include that third season of Robin Hood, which features a different actor as the legendary hero in a manner of the “Dread Pirate Roberts.”


     


Image: 4~7/5~6

We should be clear from the outset that, in terms of image, “Robin of Sherwood” is not “The Prisoner.”   That series was filmed in 35 mm and looks today on Blu-ray like it was shot yesterday.  A good part of the explanation for this has to do with lighting and film stock.  “Robin” seems to have three very different ideas about how it wanted to present itself, and no one ever expected it to be viewed via large displays, let alone front projection.  In a way, HD brings out all that’s dodgy about the way the series was shot. 


There are all those mystical scenes that are heavily fogged - this is especially true for the series opener but also for many of Marion’s close-ups early on, not that Ms. Trott needs it.  Then there are the many scenes that take place in the forest - the deeper the foliage, the grimmer the light, the duller the image.  Distance shots are a strain on the eyes - we may be able to tell the outlaws from the soldiers but don’t expect to identify anyone by their face.  All the scenes that take place indoors, on the other hand, look very good indeed.


     


Except for when things get murky, colors are true and generally vivid.  In good light, differences between deep greens, reds and blues, such as would be seen in costumes (which are convincing enough in their own right) of the nobles is quite evident, as would not have been on the DVD.  Grain can get pretty thick at times, but this is to be preferred over digital scrubbing. Noise is present in the darkest scenes, but doesn’t interfere much with our enjoyment.  It’s my impression that the image overall is brighter and clearer in the second season, and despite my scoring (which is in this instance absolute rather than relative), Acorn’s presentation appears to do justice to the filmmakers’ intentions and limits of the source material.


     


Audio & Music: 5/6

It passes understanding that high definition audio is not considered routine on Blu-ray for both the default mix and the original.  Besides the fact that the language is not always clear to us on the other side of the pond, there is Clannad’s music score and the effects of battle like scuffling about, horses galloping and arrows whizzing.  I am guessing Pol Brennan, a founding member, is responsible for that repetitive laziness that is supposed to convey suspense.  Pure laziness, in my opinion.  I find the series in general is overscored (not his fault) and at times goes on and on without duly considering the dramatic changes that appear on the screen.  By the way, one of the bonus features allow us to listen to only the music for four of the last five episodes of Series Two.  Clarity, dynamics, and breadth of frequency response, even though still in Dolby Digital, is much improved.


     


Extras: 9

Acorn has given us an abundance of extra features, most of which are the work of series creator and writer Richard Carpenter, assisted by his producer, Paul Knight, the two directors, Ian Sharp and Robert Young, intercut with clips of interviews by the cast members.  They talk about the casting and how they conceived of the characters and how the actors would inhabit them.


A certain amount of self-congratulatory comment is expected, but considering the length and breadth of these documentaries, there’s very little of that here.  This is not to say that all is entirely sober - far from it, actually.  Winstone and Grace, especially, are informal and funny.  Carpenter himself is often droll and presents as anything but self-important.  You know that music that is heard under the opening credits of every episode - he’s like that: kind of spiritual, if such a term can be applied to a maker of a commercial TV series.  Yet he and the other cast members and filmmakers are obviously thrilled that their series has such a following.


     


The major item on the Bonus Disc DVD is the two-part making-of documentary “Nothing’s Forgotten” produced and directed by Abbie Bernstein in 2002.  PQ in anamorphic widescreen (except for the TV clips) is quite good.  The three segments featuring Robert Young were produced for U.K.‘s Network in 2010. In “The Prophecy Fulfilled” Robert Young considers his directorial style for the series, with help from the cast.  The remaining two segments are self-explanatory.  All worth watching.


You can access some seventeen pdf files, mostly relating to the original story treatment and screenplays, directly from the bonus disc (downloadable to PC or Mac), but most have useless file names like “THE_W.PDF” or “_LORD_.pdf” or “ROS_ORIG.pdf” so you’ll have to open them to see what they’re about.  Among them was this unexpected find:


     


Finally, there is the 40-page booklet whose totality is an excellent, extended essay titled “The Story of Robin of Sherwood.”  It’s written by Simon Wells, about whom we learn nothing from the booklet.  My research (thank you, Alyssa of Acorn) turned up this bit of bio: Simon Wells has written on film and music for numerous magazines and newspapers including the Guardian; The Times and The Independent. He is a regular contributor to Record Collector, Hotdog, TV Zone, Watch, Total Film, and the Beatles' Book; the group's official magazine. In addition to his writing credits, Simon has researched numerous projects for the likes of the BBC, Channel Four and Virgin, as well as broadcasting live on LBC, ITN and BBC on film and music.


Oh yes, one other thing: You could search all day before you locate the Episode Guide.  There is one: It’s printed on the other side of the front/rear cover slip, so you have to slide it out to read it.  I shall say no more.


     


Recommendation: 7

For fans of the series, Acorn’s new Blu-ray set is a must-have.  No question about it.  Image and audio quality, despite the absence of a lossless mix (no doubt Dolby Digital is all that Network UK made available), are to be preferred over the DVD.  And there several new bonus features - good ones - that look back on production that are well worth your time.  If you’re new to the series and work for a living I suggest renting first to see if “Robin of Sherwood” is to your taste.  There will be some who resist its mythic aspects (not I); others (this would be me) who find Michael Pread sticks out from the cast, though he looks great with his Marion.  Finally there’s the question of its juvenile nature at a number of levels.  (So is Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which doesn’t keep that series from being one of my all-time favorites - and I’m decades older than its target audience.) My guess is that this aspect of the series will either entice or turn you away.  My advice: give it a try.  You might become a convert.

 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 22, 2011


More screenshots from Robin of Sherwood:


     

     

     
   
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



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