9 March 2010

At the urging of a friend, I’ve watched four episodes of the BBC show “Robin Hood” and find myself frustrated with it. And after advancing a series of arguments about how it could have been better, I find myself at the bottom of a logical rabbit hole. It has to do with darkness.

First the obvious: The star, Jonas Armstrong, is hopeless. He’s a twerp — smug, skinny, twitchy, lacks gravitas. He’s Robin as a skater-dude with all the sex appeal of a Jonas Brother (how fortuitous the name). After a single scene you’re convinced that you have no desire for his lips — so it’s no surprise that Lucy Griffiths, as Marion, doesn’t either. Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne, on the other hand, possesses everything Robin lacks, as my friend here ably argues. Not to mention three dimensions and an appealing set of inner conflicts between greed, ambition, and that luscious Lucy Griffiths.

So what is this show doing? It’s not merely another retelling of Robin for young viewers, although I can see that kind of appeal. Armitage is too good and the references to a larger War on Terror are too frequent. It’s a show that hasn’t found itself, or at least not in its first season. It’s trying to please the Disney viewers with a preteen idol like Armstrong but it also wants something more — I can’t imagine how much the writers argue at their meetings.

Here’s my train of thinking: First I found myself arguing that it needs more “Dark Knight”-style long, elegant explanations of Robin’s motives, inner conflicts, experiences overseas on the Crusades, etc. Then I decided to abandon Robin entirely, making an argument that the real protagonist should be Gisbourne — turning it into a kind of “Wicked” take on the Robin Hood classic. This led me to think about all the dark heroes we have now, from the Christian Bale version of Batman to Harry Potter wrestling with his own dark impulses and fuzzy morality. Even the wide-eyed Tobey Maguire turned Spider-Man into a complicated man by the end.

In an age of terror, we’ve turned our heroes into dark figures. None of them wear white anymore. “Robin Hood” is sophomoric because it refuses to engage fully with our new, bleak canon. (But I’ve only seen four episodes. And even though this promotional image looks, to me, like Robin in a hoodie, it’s grasping at something darker.)

21 Responses to “Darkness”

  1. servetus Says:

    Thanks for the pingback. No disagreement that it is sophomoric, at least in the first season. It is trying to do way too much. Last night I watched Season 1, Episode 6 again, in which Marian wrestles with the constraints on her action.

    I do think that the series engages with the bleak canon–but only with its tongue in cheek until the end of series 2, when something terrible happens.

    • didion Says:

      Yup, I can see that I’ve gone snotty with very little information about the show. It’s truly thanks to your posts about Armitage that I’ve come this far and have every intention to keep watching. A girl can dream that the show will take dramatic turns toward making Robin a better character, one more fully capable of matching Armitage’s better acting. (But then, I think I’ve merged Armitage’s version of Gisbourne with his Mr. Thornton.)

  2. servetus Says:

    Nah, I don’t think it’s great art, so I am not going to defend it on that level. It’s just an ordinary story, but I fall into those more easily. I like moralistic stories, as you may have noticed! I just don’t want to spoil it for you if you do decide to keep watching. Robin gets somewhat better material, but Gisborne remains the star. And you are right that it is difficult to read Gisborne without Thornton in the background. I think this is part of why the screenwriters have Gisborne do so many excessively bad things in the beginning–shaking the impression of the romantic lead that got Armitage the role in the first place.

    • didion Says:

      It occurs to me today that we’re not just reading the two characters as related because of Armitage (or, worse, because he’s incapable as an actor of drawing sharp connections between them). Rather, they’re actually perversely related. Both are men haunted by occupying a status that requires hard work — but if Thornton has made it in his world according to the rules of upward mobility and industrialism, Gisbourne must play according to the rules of his social betters for the chance to make it. Gisbourne is more abject; Thornton more proud. (And again, Robin looks like a jackass — born to status, he throws it away but demands perpetual love from his townspeople nevertheless.)

      • servetus Says:

        Nice point about Robin. I said something about Guy’s status anxieties on my blog the other day (“Guy’s insecurities”).

  3. servetus Says:

    Here is the post; I tried to connect it with gender. I think there is increasing evidence that Guy is a woman.

  4. […] write about such twaddle as this) has moved it a bit further, by noting that Robin’s willful rejection of everything Guy wants in order to live in the forest has to grate precisely because Guy is working so hard to get it. Not only does Robin have what Guy wants, he […]

  5. juditanne Says:

    Okay, we all have the right to worship our idols as we see fit so keep your unintelligent remarks and your thoughtless opinions to yourselves. There are many who don’t approve your choices either so unless you can do better, never mind criticising unless you can improve your manners. I make no secret of the fact that I adore Jonas Armstrong and consider him the best ever Robin, I love how he brought Robin to screen this time around and I’m perfectly entitled to appreciate his portrayal. Armitage is over-rated but I am not prepared to comment on his attempts at acting or lower myself to your standards by making cruel, nasty remarks on his performances, so don’t criticise my favourite and keep in mind, they acted the parts they were given, in excellent fashion and if any blame is to be laid, try pointing the finger at the writers and producers.

  6. demelzabunny Says:

    It could be argued that our society’s leaning toward championing the dark hero/bad guy is a major contributing factor in causing the breakdown of morality, and thusly, civilization as we know it. Having said that, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments posted by the previous poster. For me, Jonas Armstrong did not come off as being smug or twerpy at all; remember: his character required of him to take the high road, in direct contrast to the anti-hero, played by Richard Armitage. I just think Jonas is sex-on-legs and completely irresistible! (And for the record, he’s got the best lips I’ve ever seen.) As for Richard, believe it or not, his looks do nothing for me, his character murdered and tortured too many for my liking, culminating in his murder of Marian and the resulting destruction of the Happy Ever After for Robin and Marian we all so desperately yearned for, and I personally found his acting rather one-dimensional. But chaque a son gout.

  7. servetus Says:

    Oversensitive much, @juditanne? It’s didion’s blog, and she’s got the right to write on it what she wishes. Blogging is all about opinions. I don’t see any reason for such venom. It’s a tv show, for crying out loud, and this is not a holy war where Armitage and Armstrong are the only options.

    Nonetheless, whatever we think (or don’t) of Armstrong’s sex appeal, it’s my perception that Armitage was able to rise above the rather tedious scripts and Armstrong was not. I’ve just finished watching season 3, where Robin finally is given some plot lines that make that character a bit more subtle and offer him a few moral challenges that actually make him pause for a moment, but we don’t see a lot more from Armstrong in terms of facial expression or physical gestures than we’ve already seen in seasons 2 or 3, whereas Guy makes at least two complete transformations in self-image, posture, facial expressions and gestures.

    Armitage is ten years older than Armstrong, and has a decade and half more professional experience. It’s bound to make a difference. Not say that Armstrong will or won’t become a better actor, but in this show I didn’t see his attractions move much beyond the physical, sorry to say, which don’t appeal to me in his case.

    • juditanne Says:

      Me! Oversensitive – perhaps, but venomous! Definitely not! It might be Didion’s blog but she invited comments from readers and I reacted because she attacked the actor playing the role which I admired most, the same as anybody has the right to choose their own preferences, the entire cast imho equipped themselves perfectly well in spite of the scripts they were handed, they were the best ensemble cast to date and the producers have done them no favours with the often silly storylines but were often funny nevertheless. Whether one actor is senior to the other and more experienced, doesn’t make any difference whatsoever, I made allowance for all the characters including my No. 1 favourite on their ability and I’d never seen any of them prior to this version. I commented before because you attacked my favourite actor personally, not his character and as a relative newcomer, he equipped himself extremely well, on the other hand, I thought Gisborne was too brutal and sadistic. My point in getting involved in this argument is to defend my choice against the nastiness that seems to exist between the two camps, I prefer to support Jonas and you support Richard so please, cut out the hurtful comments and be a little more constructive, if in future we don’t approve of one or the other, then switch the TV off altogether. Easy – eh!

  8. didion Says:

    Yeah, what can I say? The show didn’t speak to me, and neither did Armstrong. Like I said in my admittedly snarky post, I wound up fascinated by the fact that I wanted a dark version of Robin Hood (and now apparently I’m getting it via Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott), despite thinking that really, the dark hero is a bit overdone these days. I think I watched only about five episodes before quitting — it just didn’t work for me. Chacun a son gout indeed.

    But I also think it’s obvious that I seldom resort to screed or unconsidered ranting on my blog, and that I think of every post as an opportunity to be thoughtful. My apologies if this one didn’t adopt enough of this tone to make my larger point.

  9. demelzabunny Says:

    Please! Jonas Armstrong’s eyebrows could act the pants off Richard Armitage!

  10. “Feminéma
    Movies, Feminism, Free Thought”-

    (………..uh and OH YEAH,marian………..)

    Article: Maid Marian Made Possible: Feminist Advances in Late Twentieth-century


    With the rise of modern feminism in the 20th century, the character has often been depicted as an adventurer again, sometimes as a crack archer herself. In modern times, a common ending for Robin Hood stories became that he married Maid Marian and left the woods for a civilised, aristocratic life.


    ROBIN HOOD As the media power of the modern feminist movement gathered momentum,
    Marian reacquired an altogether more active role. Robin Hood himself has been …

    But that feminist plot is not all that Roberson offers. … Both Robin and Marian are understood in contemporary terms, and the writing and plotting largely …


    *-ETC ETC ETC………..http://www.feministfilmcritic.blogspot.com/*

    Anonymous, in addition to being responsible for 85% of all quotes ever cited, is the source of 91% of all Internet truth and justice.

  11. Traxy Says:

    Very interesting post. For series three, they definitely upped the darkness – and got a brand new (and more fitting with the times) wardrobe to boot. Series three was brilliant! I didn’t think all that much of the first one, but watched it because, well it’s Robin Hood. Series two, I therefore watched less of as I couldn’t really be bothered, because it wasn’t all that great. Series three – wow. I was just following it because Toby Stephens was going to be in it (yeah, in episode SIX!) but thanks to Gisborne, I was hooked straight from the off. Glad I did. It concluded my journey to the Armitage Side. 🙂

    • didion Says:

      I should never post on a topic until I’ve watched a representative sampling of the show, but in this case I really did get frustrated early on, and my Dear Friend at the Me + Richard blog has assured me that I would have been happier had I stuck with it — like you, till Season 3 when Guy becomes a much more prominent and complex character. But then I’m still so in love with Richard Armitage’s version of Mr. Thornton from North And South that I’m not sure I’m prepared to love him as much in Robin Hood.

  12. perry322 Says:

    Yes it’s three years later- but I have to tell you that I read this post a few days ago when I was preparing for my own post on Guy of Gisborne, and then spent 3 hours trying to find it again by searching archives on other blogs- with no success, before I published an hour ago.Then, just today, WP suggested I would like your blog, so I took a minute to take a look because I have seen your ID lately in a comment section, and you keep good company.
    Smack my head.
    Just had to say that. Now I’m going back to re-read the post.

    • Didion Says:

      Sigh. You’ll see, Perry, that I didn’t get very far with Robin Hood — and not for lack of interest in Guy! But those first few episodes made me hate the actor who plays Robin. I’ve since heard from many friends how much Guy’s story becomes rich and complex over the course of the seasons. But I’ll keep my Armitage coming in other forms instead … not sure I can take that cocky, twerpy Robin!

  13. perry322 Says:

    I now fast forward through any scenes that take place in the forest, have more than 3 people wearing brown or anyone in a hoodie.

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