BBC Radio 7, 7 June 2010
Forget the recent Ridley Scott epic (a wonderful palimpsest of previous
Scott movies including Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven); this 1992 version of the legend presented
as warts-and-all portrait of Robin and his Merrie Men. Rather like a symphony it was divided into three movements; the first
depicting Robin Hood's (John Nettles') struggle with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Norman Rodway). In this episode the language
was deliberately heightened, full of extravagant metaphors, as the characters enjoyed taunting one another verbally as a prelude
to battle. The narrative was deliberately far-fetched - at one point Robin was imprisoned in the Sheriff's castle, so Little
John rescued him by shooting an arrow with a piece of twine attached into the air from afar. Inevitably it reached its
target - the window of the Sheriff's castle - enabling Robin to make his escape by shinning down the twine to the ground unnoticed
by the Sheriff's troops.
The second episode - involving Robin's fruitless quest to Jerusalem to help the Crusaders
- involved a considerable shift of tone. The Crusaders were nothing more than colonists engaged on an orientalist quest
to exterminate all non-Christians. Meanwhile the Saracens were portrayed as bestial, shouting loudly, scimitars in hand, indiscriminately hacking
their way through the invaders in a desperate attempt to defend their homeland. Unlike the Crusaders they appeared
to have no knowledge of fair play; they simply annihilated anyone who dared to block their path. The Christians responded
by burning the Saracens' bodies in an attempt to remove "the infidels" from the face of the earth. While we were
led to believe that such acts were committed "in the service of Christ," this was nothing more than a smoke-screen to justify
the colonizing spirit. When Robin Hood was forced to return to England, his quest unfulfilled, we felt that he deserved
everything he got.
The final sequence saw Robin returning to Sherwood Forest and discovering to his
horror that the Sheriff had destroyed everything, while capturing most of Robin's followers (those who had stayed behind).
Inevitably Robin managed to restore order, defeating both the Sheriff and Sir Guy of Gisborne, a professional hit-man
hired by the Sheriff to destroy Robin. Robin died at the end, a victim of his own blood-thirstiness, as he was mortally
wounded by the Sheriff.
While the dramatist Fletcher clearly invited us to sympathize with Robin,
describing him as "the last great oak of England," and a man whom "no one ever overcame," the overriding impression of
this drama was that Robin loved fighting for its own sake. Hence his fruitless trip to Jerusalem. If he had taken
a little more time for reflection, he might have decided against going, and hence protected his followers and their families
from the Sheriff.