James Bond, King Arthur, Doctor Who, Robin Hood… what do these icons have in common besides being British institutions? They have had many incarnations played by a number of actors. In 2006, the BBC launched a new Robin Hood series starring Jonas Armstrong as the man who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. In order for me to review season three, I must summarize seasons one and two, which will contain spoilers, but you should really watch those seasons anyway before delving into the third season.
The series starts with Robin (Jonas Armstrong) returning to England after fighting for five years in the Third Crusade as part of the King's Guard. He is appalled at how the sheriff (Keith Allen) is running Nottingham and protests. The sheriff then declares Robin an outlaw. Robin has to do something, so he decides to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Robin is joined by his best friend Much (Sam Troughton), Will Scarlett (Harry Lloyd), Allan A Dale (Joe Armstrong), the ex-leader of another gang , Little John (Gordon Kennedy), and Djaq (Anjali Jay), a Saracen girl who is using the name of her dead brother as an alias.
Robin receives help from inside the sheriff’s camp from Lady Marian (Lucy Griffiths) who Robin has feelings for and is reciprocated by her. But since the sheriff's second-in-command Sir Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) is in love with her and puts Marian in situations where she must be with him in order to protect the people she loves; Robin and Marian can’t be together. Marian also has created the Night Watchman to fight Gisborne and the sheriff who gives the poor food and supplies.
The first season establishes Robin as an expert bowman and smart-alec as he plays a cat and mouse game with Gisborne and the Sheriff as well as stealing moments with Marian. It did get a bit serious in the 12th episode when Gisborne does stab Marian in her Watchman outfit and she dies, or so it seems — apparently her body just shut down to deal with the trauma and the season ends on a happy note.
Season two amps things up a bit with the sheriff plotting to kill King Richard with the help of Gisborne and the sheriff’s secret group, the Black Knights. Marian is caught in her guise as the Night Watchman and is captured by Gisborne. He learns her secret and is so furious he sentences her to death. No amount of pleading or promises by her will change his mind. When Robin and his men learn of the sheriff's plan to assassinate the king they fall into a trap which leaves Marian no hope of rescue. With Robin thought dead and the sheriff now knowing of Marian’s alias, he decides to prolong her capture by taking her with them to the Holy Land.
Robin and his men escape the trap and follow the sheriff, who is enraged when he learns that Robin is alive. He springs another trap and goes off to kill the king. Robin is freed by the king this time and they go off to find the sheriff. Unfortunately the sheriff finds Richard first and shoots an arrow in his back, wounding the king. As the king tries to get to safety he is stopped by Gisborne who is there to deliver the killing blow. Marian intervenes, which enrages Gisborne, and she exacerbates the problem by telling him that she’ll never be his as she loves Robin.
SPOILER ALERT — TURN AWAY NOW! Gisborne then has what can only be described as a temper tantrum and runs Marian through! She hopes that Djaq can use her skills to heal her, but the sword is the only thing keeping her alive, which Marian pulls out in an act of defiance. Robin and Marian are then wed, and she dies in his arms. There are two rumors as to why Marian was killed. The first is that Lucy Griffiths wanted to leave the show and pursue other opportunities; the other is that the producers wanted to take the show in an entirely new direction. Either way, the show would be radically different when it returned almost 18 months later for a third season.
The third season starts with Robin and his men (minus Djaq and Will as they decided to stay in the Holy Land) returning to England following Marian’s death. Robin only has one thought — to make Gisborne pay for taking Marian away from him. He foolishly attacks Gisborne and is thrown to his apparent death; Robin would have met his demise if Tuck (David Harewood) hadn’t saved him. This version of Tuck is more of a warrior monk than the character we’ve seen before and convinces Robin that he is needed now more than ever.
There are some more new faces added to the third season. Joanne Frogatt plays Kate, a new villager who helps out Robin and who has feelings for him. Toby Stephens appears for several episodes as the corrupt Prince John; there’s Archer (Clive Standen) who shares a bond with both Robin and Gisborne. But the biggest addition would be Lara Pulver as Isabella, Gisborne’s sister whom he sold to a man for marriage.
There’s an old saying about the female of the species being the deadliest, and the writers must have had that in mind when creating Isabella. She’s ruthless, uses her wiles to try and seduce Robin, and cozies up to both the sheriff and Prince John. When Gisborne apparently kills the sheriff, a vacancy opens up for his spot and brother and sister both compete for the spot. Isabella becomes the first female sheriff and Gisborne realizes how deadly his sister truly is. As the series progresses we learn the origins of the rivalry between Gisborne and Robin which then leads Gisborne to join Robin and starts him on the path to redemption.
Sadly there are no commentaries for this season, as there were on past seasons. It would have been nice to have the cast’s thoughts on this season since this was to be the last.
There is “A Legend Reborn” which is a behind the scenes featurette which covers a good part of season three and there are spoilers for all three seasons contained within, so unless you want to be spoiled, watch this after you watch the episodes.
“A New Look” is a featurette dedicated to the various costumes used in the show.
“Trebuchet: Creating Chaos” – A trebuchet is a device from medieval times that has a sling used to hurl missiles and was used in the big battle in season three. This featurette talks about the trebuchet, what it took to create it, and shows it in action.
“Character Profiles” is a featurette about the new characters for the season including Tuck, Prince John, Archer, and Isabella.
Finally there are video diaries from both Clive Standen (Archer) and Lara Pulver (Isabella) which cover a day of filming from when they get up until they go to bed. There are some minor spoilers in each, so again, watch this after you watch the episodes.
Robin Hood was an excellent series that pushed the boundaries of the legend of Robin Hood and his merry men, but with the removal of a key character in the second season as well as a good number of characters on both sides. The producers had plans for a fourth series if it was picked up, and the way the series ended it could have continued, but it would have been so different it really couldn’t have been called Robin Hood so it wasn’t surprising that the show wasn’t renewed.
That said, the series does wrap up with a satisfying conclusion and goes out with a bang, both literally and figuratively; villains get their comeuppance, heroes save the day, and sweethearts are reunited. If they hadn’t deviated from the legend so much it might have continued for years, but alas, we’ll never know. Hopefully the upcoming movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe will fill the void and eventually a new series will be on TV.