New Adventures of Robin Hood

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Its pants! Here's why.....

New Adventures of Robin Hood –  is it an ‘error’ of chivalry?

Imagine a group of TV executives sitting around a table and discussing what their next addition to the current glut of fantasy series will be.  On paper, a fantastical series about Robin Hood seems like a sure-fire winner.   Robin Hood himself is a cult figure in his own right, bringing with him a ready made fan base and a library full of books charting his adventures dating right back to the middle-ages.  Films about Robin Hood have generally performed respectably at the box-office, Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood and Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves are two cases in point. TV shows about the legendary hero have also done well.  Perhaps the two most famous series are The Adventures of Robin Hood with Richard Greene and Robin of Sherwood starring both Michael Praed and Jason Connery in the title roles. With such a wealth of riches, “New Adventures” couldn’t put a foot wrong. Could it?

 Perhaps it was the confidence of the past successes that caused the powers-that-be to look no further into Robin’s chequered history than 1984 when Robin of Sherwood first aired.  Robin of Sherwood was the first retelling of the legend to incorporate magic and a mentor for Robin into the tale.  It was also the first version of Robin Hood to feature an Arabian character; the Saracen Nazir.  It was hugely successful, cleverly written so that the original medieval ballads were incorporated into storylines, along with Irish mythology and elements from the Arthurian saga.  With such a good grounding in the history of Robin, the magic was an added element, but it was not always integral to the plot.  The influence of Robin of Sherwood can easily be seen in the next incarnation of Robin Hood; the Prince of Thieves film. Here, magic is again included, along with a dark-skinned character called “Azeem” who owes more than a little to Robin of Sherwood for his existence .  New Adventures draws heavily on Robin of Sherwood for its structure, and it does not seem to understand the hundreds of years of fact, fiction and legend that operated before the 1980’s incarnation.  It falls down heavily on a basic lack of knowledge of the subject matter it purports to be dealing with.

 Without seeing New Adventures of Robin Hood it is easy to assume that it will continue along the same vein as the Richard Greene ITC series which ran from 1956- 1960 and with which it almost shares a name.  However, if you can imagine a series which draws more on the current Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess series than the previous Robin Hood character and stories you may be nearer the truth.

 Hercules and Xena work on levels that New Adventures does not.  Firstly, Hercules has always been documented as a ‘super-human’ character.  His mythological tales are full of hydra-slaying and the like. In other words, Hercules has always inhabited a fantastical world; it’s his home.    Xena , on the other hand is purely a TV creation, she is 100% a creation of the 20th century like Wonder Woman or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  She has no legendary baggage to bring with her to her TV World, but as an offshoot of the Hercules series she also inhabits his monster- ridden homeland.  Both series work because they operate within a set parameter of their world, and when it does get silly, or the writers wish to write a humorous episode, its done with a knowing wink, so that the audience laugh with them not at them.

 New Adventures of Robin Hood attempts to follow closely along the Hercules and Xena blueprint, but it falls down on several major issues.  Firstly, it does not understand its characters.  Robin Hood has never been a superhero; he fights like a medieval man would do, using a sword, quarterstaff or his excellence at archery.  It is anachronistic to have Robin using ancient Chinese fighting skills (like Kung Fu and their ilk), or gunpowder (which was not brought to Britain till hundreds of years later). I have seen both of these employed in New Adventures, and yet Robin’s speciality skill of archery is rarely used.  It’s main outing on the show seems to be in the laughable opening credits where after the voice-over announces “It was an error of chivalry” (more of that later), a flaming arrow is shot by Robin and cuts through the heart of several trees. Longbows were powerful, but there can be no way that this feat was possible or even probable. (Incidentally the ‘flaming arrow’ idea is likely to have been borrowed from Robin of Sherwood and the whole sequence of the arrow shoot is heavily influenced by a similar shot from Prince of Thieves – although there at least the arrow does not implausibly pierce several trees.)  Robin in this series is an affable enough character, even if he does not appear charismatic enough, clever enough or to possess the great leadership qualities expected of Robin.  

The ‘merrie men’ themselves are pared down to their bare bones. Noticeable by their absence are Will Scarlet, Much the Miller’s son and Alan a Dale.  On the whole Little John’s character fares quite well in this reincarnation.  He is the right height at least!  However I do feel that making Robin’s right hand man a little naive and unintelligent is not a good move.  Tuck also comes out quite well; he is not fat enough in my opinion, and he rarely seems to mention the church which is odd for a monk, but on the whole a passable adaptation.  Marion on the other hand is an anachronism of the highest order.  Again, the creators have made the mistake of giving her superhuman strength and a Xena inspired costume to go with it.  She has not an ounce of medieval behaviour about her and her character is jarring within the Robin Hood universe.  Her one saving grace is that Barbara Griffin who plays her from Season Two onwards is Irish, so there is at least some degree of authenticity in the accent.  Two characters owe much to Robin of Sherwood, Season Two sees the recurring character Kemal introduced, complete with dreadlocks and more high-kicking fighting style.  It is interesting to note that a dark-skinned character now seems to be almost obligatory to Robin Hood’s tale and yet this element was only introduced a decade before.  Robin’s mentor Olwyn (played by Christopher Lee) is very much a Merlin type figure and again this character draws on that of Herne the Hunter which was meshed with the legend during Robin of Sherwood.

 One of the main characters of Robin’s world has been taken out by the removal of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Instead, Robin interacts directly with King John.  This is of course historically inaccurate. King John could certainly not afford to spend a lot of time in Nottingham when it would have taken him days to travel there. Secondly a King would not be too concerned by one outlaw living in a forest far from his home. He would naturally employ men (like the Sheriff) to remove the problem.  Another historical character who has been taken liberties with is Queen Eleanor, the King’s mother.  She is used in at least one episode and as a historical character is inaccurately represented.   Firstly the opening titles spell her name as Elinor despite the fact that this is not the accepted spelling.  As for having her communicate with Robin via ‘bat signals’ and silly hoodoo while cavorting round the country with a band of Greek Amazons, perhaps some things are better left unsaid.

 A grave error was also made with the casting in general. Not surprising for an American production, American actors were mostly chosen for the main roles.  The creators should have listened to the British snorts of derision that greeted Kevin Costner’s accent in Prince of Thieves before they committed this mistake.  Hercules and Xena work with American accents because English is not the language spoken in Greece, and so to understand them we must already suspend some disbelief.    However, Robin Hood is an English character and he must therefore speak English with an English accent, giving him an American sound is careless to say the least.  The incongruity of the accents is only highlighted by the English actors who are usually hired to play the episode’s “bad guys”.  The series also has a worrying trait of losing and replacing main cast actors and carrying on regardless. At the present time the series is on its second Maid Marion and unbelievably, it’s second Robin Hood.  No explanation is given for these major changes to cast, and the series again loses much credibility on this front.   

  The sets and costumes also fail to create an accurate medieval feel.  The forests of Lithuania do not feel British for a start, but this is something that may not be so apparent to those outside of the United Kingdom.  Where is the Great British weather full of torrential downpours and biting winds?  Instead, we have what is apparently a warm climate where nubile young girls can wander about in flimsy gauze dresses, leaving little to the imagination. Where are the floor length dresses, wimples and modesty that any self-respecting medieval babe should possess?   Robin’s costume also often contains an obviously 20th Century black T-shirt with a token piece of leather sewn across the chest.   The castles themselves sway in any stray breeze and are the wrong style; they are fairytale not functional.

Perhaps that is the main problem with this series, it has no basis in reality and yet at the beginning of each episode it tells us       “Centuries ago, in England, It was an era of chivalry and magic.” It also refers definitely to King John and this sets the series firmly between 1199 and 1216 (the dates of John’s reign.).  The fact remains that by committing itself to an historical date, the series fails in everything it attempts to do.  It does not work on an historical level, as even on closer inspection I cannot find anything historically accurate about it.  And yet, it cannot be taken as a purely fantasy series as it allows us to date it in an actual place and time.

 So, is New Adventures of Robin Hood a classic programme? In my opinion, no.  It simply does not have the quality of writing, acting or simple charm to make it as a fondly remembered programme in ten or twenty years time.  It simply exists, expecting nothing of its audience and more importantly giving nothing.  Will many people mourn its passing? I very much doubt it.

Karon Hollis

Page Last Updated Sunday, February 13, 2005 at 12:28:26