Drama: The freshman class
When it came time to re-create the character of Robin Hood for the BBC, writer-exec producer Dominic Minghella looked within himself for inspiration.
And he found it — sort of.
“If I were Robin Hood,” Minghella recalls wondering, “what kind of Robin Hood would I be? And I thought I’d be a pretty useless Robin Hood.”
That’s even if Minghella had granted himself Robin’s unimpeachable ability with an arrow.
“Even though I had this super skill, I wouldn’t actually want to (use it),” Minghella says. “I wouldn’t want to kill anybody.”
So Minghella’s “Robin Hood,” which airs Stateside on BBC America, features an expert bowsman with loads of swash in his buckle but one arm tied behind his back.
“I didn’t want it to be Errol Flynn — I didn’t want it to be a cozy, British, safe show,” Minghella says. “(But when) you’ve got an easy solution, but you don’t want to deploy it — what kind of character does that give you?”
The restraint in this setup for Robin (played by Jonas Armstrong) dovetails with another larger ambition for the show — to make its tales relevant to present-day audiences. Robin has just returned from fighting in the Crusades, and any parallels between those conflicts and modern-day battles are not coincidental.
“There are some pretty obvious and I guess a little bit blunt political analogies,” Minghella says. “We drove that maybe a little bit harder than we needed to, but when you’re spending public money, you have to be able to answer the ‘why now’ — why are we telling a Robin Hood story now. I think there are valid questions, particularly out of Iraq, about what we do with our military strength. There are moral questions there, which ‘Robin’ is in microcosm.
“I think it would become ridiculous if we were trying to draw direct analogies. It’s Saturday-night entertainment for the families. But we are at war, so it would be (difficult) to ignore that.”
Ultimately, as relevant as the show needed to be, Minghella didn’t want anything to get in the way of “Robin” being a good time.
“I loved ‘The A-Team’ when I was young,” he says. “I love shows that know what they are.”
Best episode: “We lost a regular character early on,” Minghella says, “the character played by William Beck, and he looked like he was going to be a regular. We killed him off, and we did that deliberately so we felt like there was proper jeopardy. So you couldn’t be sure that people wouldn’t die in a fight. We hated to do it when it came to it.”
Underappreciated character: “I particularly enjoy Much — played by Sam Troughton — who hasn’t really had a screen presence before now but comes from a long line of actors — his grandfather (Patrick) used to be a ‘Dr. Who.’ I love him, because his part could be throwaway because he’s a comic foil, but actually he’s got real integrity underneath. But at the same time, he doesn’t shy away from playing the character in a vivid way.”
Great line: “Underneath the haughty, there’s a bit of naughty,” says the Sheriff of Nottingham.