The Bien Pensant Robin Hood

Have you been watching Robin Hood on the BBC? It is pretty damn good.

As any first year cultural studies student will tell you, in each successive era, the retelling of the Robin Hood tale reflects the preoccupations of the day.

And so it is with the present adaptation. The BBC’s Robin Hood is a pacifist. He will not take the life of his worst enemy, even when it is in his very grasp. He does not simply steal from the rich to feed the starving poor. He also acts as a proto-Health and Safety at Work officer, closing down a mine in support of some striking miners who have been forced to labour in a dangerous workplace.

Robin Hood has been on the Crusades: and travel has broadened his mind. He quotes the Qu’ran in times of crisis. He travelled to Jerusalem to reclaim the Christian Holy Places, only to realise that they were Holy Places for Muslims and Jews as well. And so he returned home to fight for justice in England, having been wounded defending King Richard from an attempt on his life by the Saracen foe. But he’s no bigot. He frees the Sheriff of Nottingham’s Saracen POW slaves by trickery, when they refuse to avoid slavery by affecting to embrace Christianity. And one of them – the scientific genius, Djaq, who turns out to be a woman in disguise – joins his Band of Merry Men.

But this week, Robin’s worldview was shattered by the discovery of a conspiracy at the heart of the State which brought the very rationale of the Crusades into question. Robin discovers that it wasn’t the Saracens who tried to kill King Richard. It was, rather, Guy of Gisborne disguised as a Saracen. And the Sheriff of Nottingham put him up to it.

Why? Simple really. King Richard was going to make peace with the Saracens. However, Gisborne’s faction could not have that. Apparently, their objection to peace is that King Richard should not be fighting in the Pope’s war. He should be fighting for England instead. Therefore, by dressing up in a turban and flowing robes to kill the King, the Saracen would get the blame, and peace would consequently never be made with the Muslim foe.

No, I didn’t understand it either. But the very complexity and incoherence of the explanation shows what a fiendish conspiracy it must be.

In case you haven’t got the point, here’s the fabulous Sheriff of Nottingham, Keith Allen, to spell it out:

He enjoys the comments the show makes on life in the 21st century, particularly the conflict in Iraq, and thinks it’s important the viewers pick up on them.

“I think the morality of each story has a very contemporary resonance about it.

“We can’t ignore Iraq and the war, it’s as simple as that. I think the writers have been incredibly brave to have taken it on and included it in the script.

“They haven’t run away from it, and I think they’ve struck absolutely the right balance.”