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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ROBIN HOOD: SEASON THREE -- DVD review by porfle


I like a good retelling of an old story, as long as it's done right. ROBIN HOOD: SEASON THREE takes the classic legend of Sir Robin of Locksley, the noble outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and gives it a lavish presentation that's quite rightly-done indeed.

Filmed in Hungary but looking pretty much as I'd imagine medieval England to look (like I'd know), the third season of this popular BBC series continues the story of an England in turmoil during the absence of the benevolent King Richard, who's off fighting in the Holy Land. His power-mad brother, Prince John, is making a mess of things while local government goes to hell. This is especially true in Nottingham, where the cruel Sheriff and his evil lackey, Sir Guy of Gisborne, tax the citizens to the hilt and rule with cruelty and brute force.

The only thing standing between these crumbs and the common folk is ace bowman Robin Hood, once a nobleman but now an outlaw living in the forest with his motley gang and constantly relieving the rich of their riches for the benefit of the poor. He's aided in his quest by two brave but occasionally inept lads, Much (Sam Troughton) and Alan A Dale (Joe Armstrong), and the gentle giant Little John (Gordon Kennedy).


Some important new characters are introduced early on--the courageous and wise warrior-priest Friar Tuck, who encourages Robin to keep up the good fight after Maid Marian's death in season two plunges him into despair, and a spirited young lass named Kate who joins the outlaw band after her brother is murdered by Sir Guy. Casting a black actor, David Harewood, as Tuck is an interesting choice which pays off handsomely since it soon becomes hard to imagine anyone better suited to the role. Joanne Frogatt is appealing as Kate and adds a feminine element to the group in the absence of Maid Marian.

It took me awhile to get used to Jason Armstrong as Robin Hood, since his decidedly un-dashing looks hardly fit the traditional Errol Flynn-type image we're used to. I began to accept him in the role after awhile, however, as this interpretation is an interesting change from the norm. He and his band of outlaws actually look like a bunch of scruffy forest dwellers instead of refugees from a Renaissance fair, and the actors playing them also have a believably common and earthy look.

My initial impression that this was a lightweight show without much substance--sort of a medieval "Dukes of Hazzard"--faded as the early stand-alone episodes gave way to an increasingly involving overall narrative. As the storyline gets deeper and more intricate, it begins to take on the feel of a long, engrossing novel filled with suspense, intrigue, and excitement. By the time Robin and his followers finally take over Nottingham--at the cost of at least one of their dearest members--and brace themselves for a bloody siege against a mighty attacking army, the saga has assumed almost epic proportions. (By television standards, anyway.)

One of the main things that make this show so entertaining are the hissable villains. Keith Allen is wonderful as the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, who alternates between being unyieldingly cruel and playfully droll. Toby Stephens, who menaced Pierce Brosnan's James Bond in DIE ANOTHER DAY, is absolutely delightful as the monstrously narcissistic Prince John. Stephens has a field day in the role and is an utter joy to watch, whether preening like a rock star before his not-so-admiring public or ordering mass executions out of petulant boredom. Always insecure about his image, he has the following conversation after an unfortunate encounter with the villagers of Locksley:

"Why do the people not love me as you love me, Isabella?"
"You burned their church to the ground with them in it!"
"Yes? And?"


Best of all, the dark, tormented Sir Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage, who resembles a demented Ray Davies) is like the Darth Vader of the series and makes an exciting and dangerous nemesis for Robin Hood. He'll undergo some fascinating character development as the season progresses, especially after two major events occur. One is a surprise reunion with his sister Isabella (the beautiful and exciting Lara Pulver), who despises him for selling her into an abusive marriage in her youth and now has her sights set on becoming Sheriff of Nottingham herself. (She'll also become quite a fascinating and formidable character.) The other is the stunning revelation that he and Robin share a half-brother, Archer (Clive Standen), a devil-may-care arms dealer and all-around scoundrel whose allegiances are uncertain.

The series is handsomely mounted, with warm, glowing photography which evokes the period and consistently solid production values. Only seldom does the CGI look noticeably bad. The musical score by Andy Price, which often resembles something out of the LORD OF THE RINGS films, is sufficiently rousing. Direction and editing are good and the stories are well-paced, colorful, and exciting, leading up to an explosive and emotional series finale that you won't soon forget.

This five-disc, thirteen-episode DVD set from the BBC has a 16.9 enhanced aspect ratio and 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound, with English subtitles. The fifth disc contains a 32-minute "making of" documentary; two featurettes exploring the series' costumes and the trebuchets created for the final battle sequence; character profiles; and a couple of interesting video diaries by castmembers Lara Pulver and Clive Standen.

Even if you missed the first two seasons as I did, it doesn't take long to catch up with the story and get swept along with ROBIN HOOD: SEASON THREE's scintillating drama and swashbuckling adventure. Rendered in that uniquely British fashion which has a special appeal all its own, it's one hell of a ripping yarn.

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5 comments:

dave starry said...

Thanks for the review. I'd been interested in this show, but haven't taken the opportunity to watch it yet. Note, for Netflix subscribers the first two seasons are available for Instant Viewing and provide an easy way to get caught up with the series.

porfle said...

I hope you enjoy the show as I did. I've just been checking out the message board on IMDb and reactions to it are pretty mixed.

One thing this set has that the earlier seasons may lack is a strong momentum toward the series finale.

deena wendell said...

if you checked out the imdb board it is full of demented obsessive fans of Richard Armitage who don't watch the show like the average viewer and tend to say bad things about the show if anything happens to Richard that that they don't like which ultimately in this series there are a lot..for any NORMAL TV viewer this is an amazing show and series 3 is well worth a watch

porfle said...

Sir Guy wouldn't be nearly as interesting if he weren't such a tortured soul! I really like the evolution of his character over the course of the season.

Unknown said...

After the death of Marian I was very disappointed in season 3. That reckless Kate became one of the gang and Robins new look just doesn't do it for me :/