RSS Feed

Related Articles

Related Categories

Robin Hood arrows in for a second series

24th September 2007 Print
Robin Hood arrows in for a second series, starting soon on BBC One. Made by Tiger Aspect Productions, the drama proved a huge hit with Saturday night viewers last year. Starring Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Keith Allen and Richard Armitage, the show struck a chord with family audiences and in one of the most competitive slots on TV gained average ratings of 7 million for the first seven episodes in 2006.

The critics also lined up to praise the series. The Daily Mail called it "rip-roaring, great entertainment for all the family", the Daily Mirror commented that "the Beeb spoil us with yet another fab adaptation of an old classic", the Times opined that "new Robin rules the Hood", while Chris Moyles on BBC Radio 1 said simply that the series was "absolutely brilliant".

Once again written by co-creator and executive producer Dominic Minghella, the 13-part series features an outstanding, magnetic cast.

The drama centres on the charismatic Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong), who leads his gang of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Using outrageous scams, disguises, tricks, ingenuity, breathtaking archery and swordplay, the band of brothers attempt to outwit the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) and his sadistic lieutenant Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage).

In this series, shot in eye-catching locations near Budapest in Hungary, Robin is aided in his quest by his feisty, kick-ass love interest Marian (Lucy Griffiths) and his loyal troupe of outlaws, Much (Sam Troughton), Little John (Gordon Kennedy), Allan A Dale (Joe Armstrong), Will Scarlett (Harry Lloyd) and Djaq (Anjali Jay).

Jane Tranter, Controller of BBC Fiction, says: "The cast have engaged and delighted a whole new generation with this fresh and modern retelling of Robin Hood. Keith Allen's captivating portrayal of the menacing Sheriff, coupled with the great performances from our young cast headed up by Jonas Armstrong, equals compelling drama."

Foz Allan, co-executive producer with Dominic Minghella and Sarah Brandist, adds that: "We are delighted to be returning and that audiences seem to have really taken to the series and its characters. What continues to be exciting about Robin Hood is not only Dominic Minghella's scripts but working with such fantastic new young talent."

In this series, which also features such notable guest stars as Dexter Fletcher, Ralf Little, David Bamber, Josie Lawrence, Denis Lawson, Tony Slattery, Mathew Horne, Charlie Brooks and Lynda Bellingham, Robin is in even greater peril than before as he tries to foil the Sheriff and Guy's evil scheme to hire a mercenary troop of Black Knights to assassinate King Richard and put Prince John on the throne.

Foz explains how Robin has moved on since the last series: "The biggest development is that the stakes have been upped considerably. The Sheriff is involved in what in modern parlance would be called 'regime change'. So when Robin clashes with the Sheriff now, it's as much about the very soul of England as taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

"Robin's relationship with Marian has also taken on an extra dimension. They have declared their love for each other, but she puts herself in genuine danger by spying on the Sheriff at the castle for Robin. That also ups the ante."

The executive producer carries on that, in addition to the magnitude of the prize he is fighting for, the character of Robin has also evolved. According to Allan: "Robin is much more of a leader and decision-maker this year. His choices and dilemmas are that much greater because the stakes are so much higher. If Robin has to kill someone in order to prevent a catastrophe, then with respect, that's what he will do."

Dominic observes that Robin Hood remains a perennially magnetic figure: "He's an eternally popular character because there's a natural sense of justice about him. He's a proper, quintessentially English folk hero, with a heart of oak.

"One of the things about Robin that chimes with audiences today is that he crosses the class divide. He's a noble who champions the poor, and there is something timelessly appealing about that. He is an unquestionable hero and people warm to that."

Foz concludes: "If you liked Robin last year, you will like him even more this time. He was a boy last year, but this year he is very much a man. He has bulked up and is a more imposing, sexy and manly figure now.

"We've cranked up the jeopardy and the tension, and even more than before you're guaranteed fabulous entertainment in you living room every Saturday night for the next 13 weeks."

Jonas Armstrong is Robin Hood

Jonas Armstrong is delighted to be back as Robin Hood in BBC One's highly popular series of the same name. He couldn't wait to get back to filming in the wild forests of rural Hungary.

"As soon as we got off the plane in Budapest five months ago, it felt like coming home," beams the actor, who made a huge splash in the first series as the dashing leader of the outlaws who take from the rich and give to the poor. "We all loved doing the first series so much, that we came into this season with renewed enthusiasm."

Jonas continues that the shoot in Hungary fosters a great sense of team spirit amongst the cast and crew: "It's lovely all being out here together, it gives us a wonderful sense of camaraderie. In a way, all we've got is each other, so we're all really close."

That's not to say that Robin has stayed the same, far from it. The actor, who previously starred in Ghost Squad and Teachers, asserts that his character has developed a great deal over the last year. "Last time, Robin was carefree. It was almost like he was slapping his thigh and saying, 'come on, lads, danger doesn't worry me'. He breezed through life more.

"This year, however, Robin is a worried man. The stakes have got much higher, and the weight of the world is upon his shoulders. Now, because of the Sheriff's dastardly plan, the whole country is at risk. The threat to England is very grave indeed. So I wanted to make Robin less cheeky and more dark, troubled and introverted. He's far more real and interesting."

Robin's relationship with Marian has moved on, too. "It has evolved. They kissed at the end of the last series and now they're an item. But the fact that he loves Marian is yet another burden for Robin.

"He is desperate to protect her from the evil Sheriff and Guy. She's a spy for Robin and has to keep up the pretence at the castle. He is very concerned because her role is very dangerous, she risks her life for him every single day. Robin certainly has a lot on his plate in this series!"

The character of Robin has also changed physically. "I've been working out and have bulked out considerably," reveals 26-year-old Jonas.

"I saw a picture of myself at the launch last year and I looked a bit thin. So I made a decision to get a personal trainer and I've put on a stone and a half in muscle. I now train four times a week, and I feel a lot fitter. The stunt guys have been telling me, 'you look much more confident in your body'."

Jonas, who is also an expert horseman, has found his increased fitness very beneficial in Robin's numerous fight sequences. "I love those scenes," beams the actor, who hails from Blackpool. "I always want to make them look as convincing as possible."

In addition, Jonas' archery has improved no end. "At one point," the actor recollects, "to test me out, the armourer said 'aim your bow and arrow at that cross on that tree'. The tree was about 30 metres away, but my arrow hit it right in the centre of the cross. I suppose it was a bit like William Tell!"

All in all, this has been the perfect job for Jonas. "When you're a little boy, you dream of playing Robin Hood, hanging out with your gang of outlaws in the forest, riding horses, fighting with swords and bows and arrows and battling to right wrongs. How could it get any better than this?"

Keith Allen is the Sheriff of Nottingham

Keith Allen was simply born to play the Sheriff of Nottingham. The actor revels in the sheer wickedness of one of best baddies ever to grace the small screen. And the funny thing is, despite his unashamed vileness, viewers lap up the Sheriff.

So how has the Sheriff developed since the first series? "He has become even more evil," says Keith with a wry grin. "In one episode, he employs a poisoner, echoes of Mengele and the death camps there. He wants that power at his disposal and will stop at nothing to get it."

But in cahoots with his evil sidekick Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff is also plotting an even greater crime – the murder of King Richard and his replacement with Prince John. "In the last two episodes," Keith reveals, "the Sheriff and Guy travel to the Holy Land to try to carry out their fiendish plan.

"But the feeling is that the Sheriff has ambitions way beyond that," chuckles the 54-year-old actor, who has over the years starred in such diverse projects as The Comic Strip, Bodies, Shallow Grave, Roger Roger and Martin Chuzzlewit. "He wants to bump off John and grab the throne for himself."

This series also explores further one of the most fascinating relationships at the heart of the drama that between the Sheriff and Robin. "It's like a father-son relationship gone wrong," observes Keith, whose recently published autobiography has become a bestseller. "How much would the Sheriff miss Robin if he killed him? A lot!

"In this series, Prince John has issued a decree that if the Sheriff were to die of unnatural causes, he would send his shock troops to raze Nottingham to the ground. This marks a big shift in the relationship between the Sheriff and Robin. The Sheriff starts to act with impunity because he realises Robin cannot kill him. For his part, Robin has to find ever more clever ways of combating the villainous Sheriff. It's great!"

The Sheriff's relationship with Guy of Gisborne has also evolved. "During this series, you become more acquainted with the idea that the Sheriff is grooming Guy. He sees him as his boy and is training him in the ways of extreme evil."

But at the same time, Keith adds: "the Sheriff never lets Guy forget who's boss. He always holds the reins, he's delighted to have power over someone so much taller! He also loves winding Guy up. He's always taking the micky out of Guy for his love of Marian. It's really cruel but great fun to play!"

Finally, the Sheriff has proved especially popular with younger viewers. They lap up scenes such as the moment from the first series where he blithely crushed his own budgie as a way of taking out his rage about Robin.

So why do younger viewers warm to the Sheriff, despite his outrageous sadism? "Kids adore the Sheriff," beams Keith, the contentment clear for all to see. "They get him immediately. They realise that he's a heightened character, but above all they just find him hysterically funny."

Richard Armitage is Guy of Gisborne

Richard Armitage adores playing the bad guy. In Robin Hood, he portrays Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff's brooding henchman. To underline just what a villain he is, Guy only ever wears black leather, which matches his sombre stubble and hair.

"You've got to have baddies that you can boo," Richard says with a knowing smile. "While you always have to play your character with truth, at the same time you have to make him dastardly. For the purposes of the plot – because he is Robin's great rival in politics and in love – viewers have to dislike Guy. And the music backs that up – it seems to boo Guy every time he comes on screen!"

But Guy is no mere cardboard cut-out villain. In Richard's skillful hands, he is a flesh and blood human being who is torn between his ambition to please the unremittingly evil Sheriff and his yearning to be with the good-hearted Marian.

According to the 36-year-old actor, who has also starred in North And South, George Gently and Miss Marie Lloyd:

"In order to sustain the character of Guy you have to find conflict within him. He's constantly pulled between good and evil, between who he really wants to be and who he actually is. He could have been a good man, but he is forever dragged down by his fatal flaw – that he wants glory at all costs. I think that internal conflict works very well, because after all, all the best drama is fuelled by conflict."

The first series of Robin Hood was a massive hit. Why does Richard think the show has been such a success with such a wide audience?

"Because it works on so many different levels. Trying to please everyone can be very hard, but, like Shrek or The Simpsons, Robin Hood manages to entertain adults and children at the same time but in different ways. Adults will not necessarily laugh at the same thing as their children. Making a drama succeed for different audiences is a very hard feat, but I think we've achieved it really well."

Lucy Griffiths is Marian

Lucy Griffiths has always had an affinity with her character, the kick-ass action heroine Marian. The actress, who is from Brighton, has always been drawn to Marian's unquenchable spirit and courage as she spies for Robin on Guy and battles to right wrongs as her feisty alter ego, The Nightwatchman.

However, this year, Lucy feels closer than ever to her character. "I really like her," beams the actress, who is just 19, but is mature way beyond her years. "She's had to change a fair bit since last year – but for the better.

"Last year, she took everything a little too seriously, but now she has been through a lot of trials and tribulations and has a greater sense of perspective. She is far less stuffy and haughty."

It helps that the "love triangle" between Marian, Robin and Guy has now been resolved. Marian feels a lot more self-confident now that she and Robin have declared their love for each other. And yet they must keep this hidden from Guy so that Marian can still inveigle secrets out of him about the Sheriff's wicked plots.

"The fact that Marian now loves Robin has made her grow up a lot," opines Lucy, who has also appeared in Sea Of Souls and Sugar Rush. "There is no doubt surrounding their feelings for each other now. When they thought she was going to die last year, they both confessed their true love, and that can't be taken back now."

Lucy continues: "Having had the emotional stuff out with Robin at the end of the last series means that Marian can now relax. The biggest worry in her life has been eased – she and Robin know that they're very much in love, and that has given her a strength she never previously possessed.

"She no longer gets het up about the tiniest thing. She's less precious about life and more relaxed. In the last series, her attitude was, 'it's my way or the highway'. Now she's much more open to other ideas."

Marian is also more canny in the way she handles Guy. She knows that she has to pretend to like him so that he will confide in her about the Sheriff's clandestine schemes.

According to Lucy: "In the past, Marian was apprehensive and dismissive of Guy's advances, but she's much wilier now. She's figured that she has to play along with him so she's in a better position to get information out of him that can help Robin. She's a very clever double agent!"

Finally, that difference in her outlook is mirrored in Marian's costumes. "They're a lot cooler this year," enthuses Lucy, laughing that they are rather more glamorous than what she usually wears away from the set. "There is a drastic difference in how Marian looks. Her waistlines are tighter and her necklines are lower. All in all, she is a lot more sassy!"