Nothing’s forgotten, nothing’s ever forgotten. That’s the case for fans of the most original telling of the Robin Hood story, 1984’s Robin of Sherwood, which now receives a welcome re-release on Blu-ray and DVD following extensive restoration work.
For the last 26 years viewers have been revelling in the adventures of Robin of Loxley, aka Robin i’ the Hood, as portrayed by Michael Praed in Richard Carpenter’s version of the legend which this time weaves magic and paganism into hour-long stories of derring-do.
Robin is the sole survivor of the village of Loxley, who finds himself England’s best hope against the corrupt authorities, led locally by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace) and his often bumbling right-hand man, Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addy).
Among those aiding Robin are the hard-nut Will Scarlett (Ray Winstone), gentle giant Little John (Clive Mantle), the simple-yet-loyal Much (Peter Llewellyn Williams) and Friar Tuck (Phil Rose).
This time around there’s a new addition to the team in the shape of Saracen assassin, Nasir (Mar Ryan) and, most importantly, the figure of Herne the Hunter (John Abineri), a pagan god given to appear in human form when his help is needed most.
Topped and tailed by the somewhat epic Swords of Wayland and The Greatest Enemy, these Boys Own adventures manage to remain fresh each week, despite the unavoidable fact that the Sheriff always has to lose. Or does he?
Robin may have been screened in a teatime slot on ITV, but its makers had always aimed for evening showings, meaning there’s a darkness and adult feel lacking in other Robin Hood series. Death hangs heavy over the programme, evil and spiritualism never far from scripts which would otherwise be straightforward teatime romps.
Inevitably there’s the odd misfire, the first season’s Alan a Dale not the most inspiring story, while second season episode Lord of the Trees is hampered by having too much ambition and not enough time to do the story justice, but otherwise there’s a fantastically strong run of episodes in each series.
Intrinsic to Robin of Sherwood’s success is its sumptuous look, the standard set early on by director Ian Sharp as the forrest is bathed in a dreamlike haze, where it’s always summer and shafts of light are forever piercing the woodland canopy. Finally, there’s the music from Irish folk rock group, Clannad, their use of both traditional and modern instruments, as well as recurring songs and character themes, adding yet another layer which rewards loyal viewers.
For anyone who has invested in previous versions of the series, whether on VHS or DVD (or in the case of this reviewer, both), be aware that this isn’t merely a repackaging but a whole new proposition from Network DVD. While the DVD made the episodes appear as if they’d been shot through a thick mesh, this time everything appears crystal clear.
Extras here are mainly ported over from the previous set, the commentaries, from various members of the production team, offering a valuable insight into the making of the series. There are also some in-depth documentaries featuring the cast which cover series one and two and an extended version of the Grampian-made Electric Theatre Show documentary present on the first release.