No one — at least not in America — mentions Michael Praed, who starred in the title role of the British television series “Robin of Sherwood” in the mid-1980s. Perhaps Acorn Media’s release of its first 13 episodes on Blu-ray will help change that.
It’s not that Praed’s acting makes him an iconic Robin — in fact, his himbo hair and looks work against him, as do more seasoned actors, including Ray Winstone of “The Departed” — but the production values in particular gear it toward those who take the character and programs of medieval settings very seriously.
Shot on film against terrific sets, the series carries an air of authenticity, only furthered by all those British accents. With that, however, comes a slower pace than many viewers will be used to. This is not the rousing, fast action of “Prince of Thieves” or even the recent BBC series, but more in line with Ridley Scott’s recent, ridiculed reboot.
Those with patience will be rewarded with some interesting storylines that involve the likes of witches and sorcerers, mixed in with the continuing saga of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace); you just have to sit through some awfully elongated scenes of exposition to get there. I think each would be better at half the length, but I’d bet others would challenge me to a duel to prove otherwise.
One standout was “Seven Poor Knights from Acre,” which finds seven monks moving into the Merry Men’s territory in search of a religious item (you’ll find that religion seeps into the themes of many an hour) taken from them. That gives Robin more combat opponents than usual, and ones who ride in menacingly, in a manner that brought to mind the zombie Templar Knights of Amanda de Ossorio’s “Blind Dead” films.
Another was “The Enchantment,” in which a not-ugly brunette witch casts a spell via dolls to get Robin to steal for her. I liked that the series played up these elements of mysticism and the supernatural; even some shots qualify as horror. Overall, it looks like it shares a lot in common with John Boorman’s “Excalibur,” but at a reduced scope.
Whether or not you’ll find it as “definitive” as the cover quote hypes, Acorn certainly has packaged it as such. Documentaries dot the three discs, as do isolated music tracks (you’re in luck, Clannad super-fans!) and commentaries and photos. The one feature I wish other TV box sets would do can’t be found on the discs: an old-fashioned print booklet detailing — and I do mean detailing, at 40 pages — the series’ entire history; apparently Jason Connery, son of Sean, took over the Robin Hood role in the third and final season, which will comprise Acorn’s forthcoming Blu-ray of “Set 2.”
It’s impressively assembled, if not for everybody’s tastes. —Rod Lott