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Robin Hood Spotlight of the Month

Robin Hood

2006 TV Series

Created by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allan

Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Richard Armitage and Keith Allen

(Tiger Aspect for BBC One)

Page 2

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In this 21st century TV version of Robin Hood, Robin is a returning crusader. That wasn't always the case. The Crusades have almost no impact on the early Robin Hood ballads and plays. Those stories were largely local in origin and often reflected the later Middle Ages -- a time after Richard's Third Crusade. But the Crusades often appear in the Robin Hood legend today.

In many versions of the legend, Robin's outlaw career involves fighting bad Prince John while King Richard is on the Third Crusade (or during Richard's imprisonment following the Crusade). Robin Hood stays behind in England to fight the good fight in Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe, the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and the 1952 film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men starring Richard Todd. Errol Flynn's Robin rebukes the king for his involvement in the Crusades.

ROBIN: No, I blame Richard. His task was here at home defending his own people, instead of deserting them to fight in foreign lands.

KING RICHARD (disguised as an abbot): What? You condemn Holy Crusade?

ROBIN: Aye, I'll condemn anything that leaves the task of holding England for Richard to outlaws like me.

    - The Adventures of Robin Hood, Warner Bros. 1938

Robin Hood stories have been critical of the Crusades since at least the early 19th century. In her book Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century England, Stephanie Barczewski lists several Robin Hood books and poems that contain similar sentiments, serving as a critique of 19th century British Imperialism (pages 224-6). These references range from the anonymous 1805 The History and Famous Exploits of Robin Hood to the 1887 Edwin the Boy Outlaw by J. Frederick Hodgett. Hodgett shows the Crusades resulting from Richard's lust for blood and gold - a depiction similar to how writers James Goldman and Richard Carpenter depicted the Plantagenets in Robin and Marian and Robin of Sherwood, respectively.

Sean Connery from Robin and MarianHowever, the 2006 Robin Hood is far from unique in portraying Robin as a former Crusader. It's possible that the Crusading motif entered through Ivanhoe. While Robin isn't a Crusader in Ivanhoe, the title character Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe is. In the 19th and 20th century, many elements of Sir Wilfred's story were transferred to Robin Hood. These include Sir Wilfred's Crusading background, battling Norman knights, rescuing his true love from a castle, conflicts with his father -- all of which became associated with Robin Hood in one story or another.

In Joachim H. Stocqueler's 1849 novel Maid Marian, The Forest Queen, Robin serves as an archer captain in the Crusades. This Robin returns home along with treacherous Saracens, Suleiman and Leila. Much of the action in composer Reginald De Koven and librettist Harry B. Smith's 1901 operetta Maid Marian takes place while Robin is on Crusade. Although not as popular as de Koven and Smith's earlier Robin Hood operetta (which featured Guy trying to marry Marian), this show was widely performed and likely influenced what came after. In Douglas Fairbanks's 1922 Robin Hood film, Robin rushes home after leaving for the Crusades in response to a note from Marian. The 1950s TV series starring Richard Greene, and also the American comic books of the same era, begin with Robin returning home from the Crusade to find his castle seized by Prince John's allies. It was designed to invoke recent memories of returning World War II vets.

Robin's background as a Crusader is a notable part of the 1976 film Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery as an aged hero, returning home after 20 years of serving King Richard in the Crusades and in France. (In the name of supposed realism both Robin and Marian and the 2010 film Robin Hood distort history by eliminating Richard's return to England. Historically, as in the 1938 film, King Richard did return to England in 1194. These films make it seem if Richard's later campaigns in France followed directly from the Third Crusade with no return home.) In Robin and Marian, the Crusades serve as an allegory for the Vietnam War, with Robin morally troubled by his experiences in the Holy Land, particularly those in Acre. As Robin (with some degree of historical inaccuracy) explains to Marian,

ROBIN: On the 12th of July, 1191, the mighty fortress that was Acre fell to Richard -- his one great victory in the Holy Land. He was sick in bed, never struck a blow. And on the 20th of August, John and I were standing on the plain outside of city, watching as every Muslim left alive was marched out in chains. King Richard spared the richest for ransom, took the strong for slaves, and he took the children -- all the children -- and had them chopped apart. When that was done, he had the mothers killed. And when they were all dead -- three thousand bodies on the plain -- he had them all opened up, so their guts could be explored for gold and precious stones. Our churchmen on the scene, and there were many, took it for a triumph. One bishop put on his mitre and led us all in prayer. And you ask me if I'm sick of it?
- Robin and Marian, 20th Century Fox, 1976

Acre is also a source of contention between ex-Crusader Robin and the king in Clayton Emery's 1988 novel, The Tales of Robin Hood. In the new Tiger Aspect/BBC series, Much, Robin and guest character Harold are all haunted by the events of Acre. Of their nightmares, Much cryptically states "it's our punishment". In the 2010 film, Russell Crowe's Robin tells King Richard that the actions at Acre made them all "godless".

And of course, the 1991 movie Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves begins with Kevin Costner's crusader Robin locked up in a Jerusalem dungeon. Costner's Robin returns to England with Azeem, a much more positive Islamic role model than his 19th century counterpart, Suleiman. Costner's Crusading adventure influenced the novels of the 1990s, which invoked memories of both Vietnam and the recent Gulf War (the first one).

Sam Troughton as ex-Crusader, Much.Despite having been tortured in prison for years, Costner's Robin didn't have many emotional scars. Since this film, some novels have given Mr. Hood the post-traumatic stress disorder common to Vietnam veterans. These books include Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson -- where Robin's torture and imprisonment left him cursing in Arabic -- and the bodice-ripper The Thief's Mistress by Gayle Feyrer.

In the new TV series (and later the 2010 film), the Third Crusade serves as a thinly-disguised allegory for the current "War on Terror" in Iraq. For example, the Sheriff only slightly paraphrases Tony Blair when he states "We stand shoulder to shoulder with Rome. Robin responds "And we fall shoulder to shoulder too, I have seen it." Like many Robin Hoods before him, Jonas Armstrong's Robin is critical of the need for a Holy War when he asks "Is it our Holy War, or Pope Gregory's?" The pope is obviously standing in for George W. Bush. My friend was annoyed with the unchallenged dismissal of Rome -- "either he's the head of their religion or they are all atheists!"

But the 2006 TV allegory is not entirely clear. While Robin does not believe in the war and is very tolerant of Islam (using Turkish weapons and quoting the Koran, for example), he still defends King Richard who he calls "a king with principles" in the 8th episode. Also, while the sheriff and Guy publicly support the war and King Richard, they are privately opposed to it and tried to assassinate the king.

GISBORNE: There will always be war. So, let's have a king who will fight for our gain -- not the pope's.

ROBIN: Do you know why I went to war? To recover Jerusalem -- to recover our Holy Land. When I got there I met the Muslims and the Jews. And I saw it was their Holy Land too.

GISBORNE: What are you, Locksley? Lord of the Dance?

ROBIN: You're right. There will always be war. As long as people like you revel in their own ignorant bigotry.
Episode 8: "Tattoo? What Tattoo?" aka "The Assassin", Robin Hood, Tiger Aspect 2006.

Still, one wonders who King Richard is in the political allegory. Tony Blair? Does he still support the Holy War? Is Robin's trust in the king misplaced, as in the Robin of Sherwood episode "The King's Fool"?

If you like Robin Hood - the 2006 TV series, you might also be interested in:

All three series have been released in box sets, along with commentary tracks and featurettes about the making of the series. Series One was also released on Blu-Ray.

Buy the Complete Series One DVD (Region 1, NTSC, North American players only) on Amazon.com
Buy The Complete Series One DVD (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy the Complete Series One Blu-Ray (Region 1, NTSC, North American players only) on Amazon.com
Buy The Complete Series One Blu-Ray (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy the Complete Series Two DVD (Region 1, NTSC, North American players only) on Amazon.com
Buy The Complete Series Two DVD (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy the Complete Series Three DVD (Region 1, NTSC, North American players only) on Amazon.com
Buy The Complete Series Three DVD (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk

Originally, the series was released in the UK across three different DVDs.

Buy Robin Hood -- Series 1, Vol. 1 (Episodes 1-5) DVD (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk

Buy Robin Hood -- Series 1, Vol. 2 (Episodes 6-9) DVD (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk

Buy Robin Hood -- Series 1, Vol. 3 (Episodes 10-13) DVD (Region 2 PAL, only for European players -- not for North America) on Amazon.co.uk

Purchase the Robin Hood Audiobooks

For series three, Big Finish produced six original Robin Hood audiobooks read by members of the cast. The Audiobooks are available in both CD and download formats directly from Big Finish's website. (CD purchase include a downloadable copy.)

Robin Hood at BigFinish.com

The Audiobooks are also available on Amazon.co.uk

Audiobooks of the early episodes were also released, read by Richard Armitage (aka Guy of Gisborne).

Buy An Audiobook of Episode 1 "Will You Tolerate This?" written by Kirsty Neale and read by Richard Armitage on Amazon.co.uk

Buy An Audiobook of Episode 2 "Sheriff Got Your Tongue?" by Kay Woodward on Amazon.co.uk

Buy An Audiobook of Episode 3 "Who Shot the Sheriff?" by Jacqueline Rayner on Amazon.co.uk

Buy An Audiobook of Episode 4 "Parent Hood" written by Mandy Archer on Amazon.co.uk

The soundtrack with music by Andy Price and performed by the Danubia Symphony Orchestra has been released on CD.
Buy the soundtrack on Amazon.com
Buy the soundtrack on Amazon.co.uk

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Text copyright, © Allen W. Wright, 2007.