K. (infinitemonkeys) wrote,

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In defence of anti-Thatcherite televisual feasts

I'm not devious really, I just fancied seeing a different mood icon.

I have decided to leave this open on my desktop and sneakily play it as sarcastic commentary whenever anyone says anything stupid -- Sad Trombone

* * *

cofax7 linked to this post by rushthatspeaks about Robin of Sherwood., in which s/he calls it "one of the greatest works of hilariously bad television ever made", which is, as C says, not entirely unfair but not entirely fair either.

Firstly, Robin of Sherwood was made in the 1980s and they did things differently then -- drama pacing was slower, special effects were more likely to consist of weirdy filters that made the sky turn burnt umber and feathery mullets were an acceptable haircut outside of Australia.

Secondly, it had a cracking ensemble cast. Michael Praed may have played Robin in much the same way he would later play Prince Michael of Moldova in Dynasty -- as a sort of vapid prettyboy who could at least not bump into the furniture -- but there are plenty of pleasures. Ray Winstone plays a psychopathically intense Will Scarlet who is called that way because of his shame at being unable to save his wife, rather than being a merry rebel. Marian was well, mostly sort of sulky, but she could shoot and fight and moped attractively. Tuck was wiley and northern (woot!); Little John was exactly as I imagined him -- big and goodhearted. Gisbourne and the sheriff were hissable without too much scenery-chewing à la Rickman in Prince of Thieves (now *that* was a shite film) Even dear wooden Jason Connery might have grown into the part given a bit more time.

There was also the addition of Nasir, a Saracen who was unbewitched and chose to fight in England because he believed in the cause. And yes, it wasn't a huge advance in the cause of mutual understanding between faiths or representation of non-white mediaeval characters or anything but it was a smidgen of progress. And every adaptation of Robin Hood that I've seen since includes a Moorish or Saracen character so it was obviously something that resonated.

Thirdly, even though some of the plots elevate the silliness to a spectacularly nuclear level, not all of them do. Some are about the rapacity of the rich and the powerlessness of the poor and how people will love an outlaw who acts to break that paradigm. Some of them are about the power of words and legend and how Herne is just a mad, possessed old man but the legend he is creating is powerful because he makes Robin believe. Some are about the colonial power and its relationship with the colonised nation.

And some are about mad sorcerers and mystical swords and Gulnar painting himself with woad. You can't have everything.

What I think modern day watchers of Robin of Sherwood miss is what it meant at the time and what it was saying about the society that Britain was, and was becoming.

It was produced from 1984-86 in a Britain which had just elected Margaret Thatcher for the second time. Thatcher had presided over one of the biggest meltdowns in British manufacturing ever, and had not given two fucks how it affected the areas concerned, because they were in the north or Scotland, which hadn't voted for her anyway. She said there was no such thing as society. She presided over a period when the City became ever more rampantly rapacious, so you had whole towns where half the families were scraping by on the dole while at the same time on the TV down in London, there were City brokers blowing thousands on champagne and mobile phones the size of bricks and young southerners would travel to football games in poor northern cities and wave their clips of twenty pound notes at their opponents.

Whole ways of life, centred around the factories and working men's clubs of the skilled working classes were blown away by "economic reality" and those who were thrown out of decently paid, skilled manufacturing jobs were told to sink or swim and that their history -- wakes week, brass bands, friendly societies, in short, community and civic responsibility -- had no place in a modern Britain.
[insert obligatory and expected remark about looking forward to joining the conga line across Thatcher's grave]
So if you get a programme which shows a band of outlaws standing against a rich and tyrannical sheriff who is only interested in soaking them for their taxes and wiping out their old ways of life in favour of "modern" and less peasantish customs; a programme which says you can fight back, the old ways have some value and "nothing is ever forgotten", it's going to have a big appeal.

Plus, it was *hated* by the National Viewer's And Listeners Association; Mary Whitehouse condemned it as pagan trash which had no place on our television screens. Anything which got up Mary Whitehouse's nose was all right by me. In fact anything that got up Mary Whitehouse's nose was practically appointment television. That's why I watched so much Channel 4 as an impressionable young thing.

So yes, if you watch it here and now, deracinated and stripped of its cultural freight, it can be a bit silly.

There's still plenty to love if you watch it with the remote control close to hand for fast-forwarding the boring chase/fight bits with the baow-eee-oww drums; and make sure the mental dial is turned to "imagine...".

I still like it better than the most recent adaptation, which doesn't really say anything about anything, unless you include "we need something to keep the kiddies amused until Doctor Who comes back"
Tags: fannishness, rambling, robinofsherwood

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