Monday, March 12, 2007

Things That Make Me Cry 2

If you peer back to my prediction of the plot of Father's Day (or D-Day as we knew it back then), there is a bit of autobiographical detail. Namely, Rose gets very depressed when she hears the Strangler's Golden Brown.

Why does that song depress me so? Well, it's certainly not because it's a bad bit of music. Indeed, it's usually in the top five tunes that will be the theme to Youth of Australia, assuming my sanity could cope. Anyway, back around 2003, an afternoon radio announcer called Mike Duffy chose the song as his theme. Mike Duffy... kinda like Sparacus, but with a taste in music you can't argue with. Listening to the tune caused strange melancholy in me, for a reason I could not ascertain. It felt, in short, like the dusk after a funeral. The world a smaller, less magical and less friendly place. Bittersweet is a good word for it.

But why would such music affect me? I wracked my brains and... rapidly gave up.

A year later I had my answer. Sometimes I wish I was still in ignorance.

Now, as I am probably one of a handful of people on this entire planet to know about The Legend of Robin Hood, I don't expect anyone reading this to. Now, a quick summary.

The Legend of Robin Hood was a six-part ITV series created by Robert Stewart Banks (he wrote The Seeds of Doom, you know). It was a realistically cynical story showing what, I feel, is very likely what really happened to Robin Hood. In the sense it was more like Blake's 7 than Prince of Thieves. The cast was also painfully impressive

  • as Robin Hood there was Martin Potter, a bloke you can find as Eirak in Terminus

  • as Little John there was Conrad Asquith, the big, beefy, bearded drunk copper in Talons of Weng Chiang

  • as Friar Tuck there was Tony Caunter best known as, er, Morgan in Colony in Space (though he was in Enlightenment)

  • as Will Scarlet there's a craggy faced geezer who's appeared in countless things I can't remember

  • as the Sheriff of Nottingham there is Paul Darrow (basically Avon in a beard and this role got him the part of Avon)

  • his mostly-forgotten Vila-like stoog is an Abbot (played by Selman from Cygnus Alpha

  • William Marlowe plays Sir Guy of Guisborne (Mailer from Mind of Evil, with the same moustache)

  • John Alberini as Sir Kenneth Neston, the uncle of Maid Marion (you gotta know who he is)

  • David Dixon plays King John (the TV version of Ford Prefect)

  • Michael Jackson plays King Richard (not THAT Michael Jackon, but the redhead that falls foul of King John and the Master in The King's Demon)

  • and finally I forget who plays Maid Marion... but she is beautiful. Hard to describe beautiful. She's not ugly, but she's not Cosmopoliton material either. But you can buy the fact everyone falls in love with her just by seeing her face.
Now, I swear, I'm getting the point. The plot of the series goes like this. The Earl of Huntington is forced to abandon his estate and infant son to fight the crusades. He dies in battle and, as per his instructions, his son Robin is brought up by Saxon peasants as the King's forrester - a kind of paid poacher. As Robin comes of age, he learns the truth and heads to King Richard to claim his inheritance. However, there is a problem, as a fat abbot has been 'house sitting' the Huntington estate and loathe to leave. But Robin, along with some irritated locals who do not appreciate the abbot's manner, forces him out and leaving one of his friars behind. This is Friar Tuck, a violent drunk who sums up his life with the sentence "I love the church, I just hate the clergy."

Along with Will Scarlet, a boy called Ralph and a sarcastic, one-handed bloke called Much, Robin discovers a conspiracy to kill King Richard and falls foul of the Sherrif of Nottingham. Nottingham is planning to take over England by killing Richard and installing King John as a puppet ruler, and together with his drinking buddies the Abbot and Guy, plan to take over any remaining Saxon lands by having Guy marry Marian. Sir Kenneth Neston actually wants this to happen, as he intends to breed out the Normans with Saxon blood.

Nottingham tricks Richard into thinking Robin has chickened out of the crusades and in a fit of pique Richard brands Robin an outlaw. Robin, Tuck and the others set up a rural life in the forrests when they fall foul of John Little, a gigantic bloke who turns out be rather nice if you do not irritate him in any way whatsoever. The merry men (actually, they are never called that) discover that Nottingham has instituted a new cunning plan to get shitloads of cash. Everyone in England has to pay taxes to supply the crusades with funds and no one really has a problem with this. However, Nottingham is making everyone pay the taxes again and again and not letting any of the money reach the Holy Lands.

Robin decides to put in a road toll in his forrest - you wanna get through, you pay up. This is not the good hearted decision it might be, as he explains: they will give the money to the poor until they are taxed again and this time it goes to the crusades. This is as much about getting on Richard's good side and getting him to let them all off as much as making England a safer place. Their first attempt at this goes awry and Will is killed. Nothing spectacular, just a rather gloomy swordfight and we suddenly find out one of the merry men ain't so lucky.

Now, King Richard has been captured by a third party and all the taxes are to be devoted to paying up a ransom. However, King John wants to pay the kidnapper three times what is requested so that Richard will not be released, but kept in reasonable comfort until he dies of old age. Despite his psycho rages, John isn't particularly evil, just ruthless. And clueless... Anyway, moving on, Robin and his men sabotage things and Richard is released. However, furious, Guy kills Kenneth Neston and in a wonderful display of chutzpah starts whining when Marion doesn't instantly fancy rumpy pumpy with the bloke that slaughtered her only relative. Robin issues Guy a challenge and, narrowly, manages to kill him. Marion is free and things are, if not good, decent.

Now, the last episode of the series has, after it, a video clip called Take Five which plays Golden Brown. Directly after the last episode. As such, I have emotionally fused the two together.

So, the last episode. Nottingham has a criminal pretend to be one of Robin's men, then coldbloodedly kill the Bishop of Durram (imagine the pope with the reputation of Mother Teresa times a hundred). So shocking is this crime, the peasants betray Ralph and Much to the Norman soldiers - admittedly in the belief they will be interrogated and the real murderer found. However, the soldiers orders are to execute any rebel they find. In less than five seconds, our heroes are being dragged towards to makeshift nooses, Ralph clearly thinking furiously while Much screams hysterically... the next scene is at the local pub where Robin is shocked to hear that his two freinds have been hanged in the forest the previous day.

Robin disbands the gang for their own safety, however Tuck has caught a very bad fever and needs some special berries for a cure. He stumbles out into the forest, finds them... and then drops dead before he can use them. Meantime, Richard has returned to his castle and John finds the only way he can escape death is to publically claim he is a total idiot who was tricked by Nottingham. Truth or not, it wrecks his ego forever. Richard's forces surround Nottingham's castle and he cheerfully plans to escape by a secret passage, while all his companions know they are dead meat and might as well get drunk in the meantime. However, Nottingham is caught by Robin and brought to Richard, finally convincing the latter of his loyalty.

(Incidentally, Nottingham's last scene is amazingly cool. He stands before King Richard, looking unbearably smug. "Your crimes are many, my lord. The pity is you can only die once. You will be hanged tomorrow," says the King. "My rank donates the axe," sneers the Sherrif. Remaining impassive, the King replies "Then you shall have it. And your head put on a spike outside the castle gates." Nottingham is lead out, smiling at Robin in such a way you suspect that this is some kind of cunning escape plan and Paul Darrow is escaping...)

Robin decides to head back to his castle to sleep off a fever he's got from Tuck, telling Little John to go and collect Marian. Tomorrow, they'll meet King Richard and he will get his pardon and lands back. A very weak Robin staggers into his castle and gets a boy servant called Cedrick to get him the berries required for a cure. In a room that was once his cell, Robin grows more ill. A woman arrives and gives him the berry juice. It's surprisingly bitter.

It is at this point Robin learns what the audience knows - this woman is Guy of Guisborne's sister, and she's not feeling particularly merciful to the bloke who killed her brother. The wine has been poisoned, and we remember in the first episode a strange old woman warning Robin "You will never die. Save by a woman's hand." Which means of course, this woman has killed Robin. "Yes, my lord," the woman says quietly. "It was poisoned. Soon you will feel cold. In three or four hours you will be dead. Goodbye my lord." She turns and leaves as Robin stares after her in bare horror.

The next bit we see is Robin staggering through the forest. He loses his footing and collapses in the grass. It really is a beautiful day, and that forest is a lovely place. A small boy stands over Robin, assuming he is running from the soldiers. He is, to say the least, stunned when he learns he has found Robin Hood. Robin asks the boy to run to the town and find "a very large man and a very pretty lady" and tell them to hurry back. He promises the boy he won't be gone. The boy runs off into the forest at top speed...

And we see Marian kneeling, crying her eyes out while Little John holds Robin's treasured bow and arrow. "Where this arrow falls," Little John says with hithertoo unknown poetry, "there he'll lie." As the swashbuckling theme music builds, he fires the arrow into the air and we see some shots of pleasant English countryside... looking disturbingly like Gauda Prime... as the story comes to an end.

Then it's all Cairo hotels, pyramids, people in bhurkas wandering through sun-baked marble palaces, the Sphynx, the Nial, the sun going down...

And I cry. My eyes have a painful sting in them even now.

Hell, it's just a TV program. Based on a legend which is extremely dubious from a history viewpoint (though it it is undoubtedly the most credible account there is). And, after all, Robin dying in his own forest, the world he made his own long before he became an outlaw, with most of his mates dead at the time, has a poetic justice. He didn't suffer. Heck, it's ambiguous that he died at all.

But somehow, that sad ending... and it IS an ending, unlike the end of Blake's 7 with which it shares aching similarities... gets to me. And it still stirs a sort of loneliness in me, as we must abandon that world and go back to the modern problems of today. I get the same vibe watching the end of Warrior's Gate, Survival and Sleeping in Light, but never THAT intense.

Maybe I just had a really crappy day back when I first saw it... ooh, when I was two? about that young. Maybe that near suicidal emotional keystone could have been anything. I mean, Doomsday is designed to do that. And, disturbingly, after six months, it suddenly starts working.

Good thing they didn't replaced the Doomsday music with Golden Brown or I might have slit my wrists...

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