Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Under the hood

I spent my teenage years in the 1980s, a modern era which had no mobile phones and no internet. Thus our media focus was pop music and TV. The music is still with us, thanks to YouTube and Spotify, but the TV programmes have faded rather more into the background. And the one which sticks in my mind the most is a show I never actually watched whilst I was growing up...

In 1984, a show came onto our screens which felt very much out of sync with the styles and aspirations of 1980s Britain. This was no flashy magazine-style production promoting the trends and fashions of the decade. Rather, it was a thoughtful reinterpretation of a centuries-old figure of English folklore, Robin Hood, in an adaptation called Robin of Sherwood.

Of course, Robin Hood had made many previous screen appearances but this adaptation seemed to indicate a move to a more realistic, 'grittier' son of Sherwood. The production is authentic, with practically all of the scenes shot in outdoor locations and in genuine historical buildings. Outdoors, the natural light fills the frame; indoors, interior shadows heighten the drama.

Whereas a modern director would shoot digitally, Robin of Sherwood was shot on film. However, there is nothing pedestrian about the camerawork in Robin of Sherwood: the director, Ian Sharp, makes very creative use of camera filters and of angles which would not look out of place in any modern film.

I have discovered this telling of the story of Robin Hood only in the last couple of months. I cannot now remember why I never watched any of it the first time around, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it now, thanks to the purchase of DVDs of the show.

At the moment, I'm halfway through the first series. I'm struck by how quiet the show is compared to modern fantasy films: the dialogue is wonderfully written, but sparing; in the woodland scenes, birdsong fills the air; the actors use facial expression and movement to convey much of what they need to say; and, often, as the drama builds, there is silence. It is almost another world.

The show, though now over 30 years old, still has a devoted fan-base. Much more about the show and its creation can be found online. A good place to start is the Spirit of Sherwood site, and there are many others.

There is much more to say about this wonderful production and the themes which it draws together. For now, though, I will simply recommend you seek out an episode or two. And if you're ever up in my neck of the woods, as it were, we can wander into Sherwood together.



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