Richard is a prisoner of Leopold in Austria, who demands a ransom of 150,000 marks for his release. It’s a substantial amount, but Richard’s mother Queen Eleanor (Yvonne Mitchell) is determined to raise it. John on the other hand would probably be quite happy if Richard remained a prisoner for the rest of his life ….
This is a familiar thread in the Robin Hood tales and Richard’s imprisonment is historical fact (as is John’s later offer of a substantial amount of money to his captors if they kept Richard a prisoner).
There’s enough money to pay the ransom – safely held in Nottingham Castle – since John has been illegally diverting taxes that should have gone to London. Queen Eleanor meets with Robin and he informs her of this. Evidence of John’s treachery clearly pains her, but she is powerless to interfere as she has no authority in Nottingham. But maybe Robin and his men could sneak into the castle and steal the money?
It’s clearly a risky venture, since the castle is heavily fortified. And Tuck asks Robin why should they “throw away our lives for King Richard? A King who’s never in England and now beggars his people with his holy wars, his crusades?” It’s a fair point, since the historical Richard spent very little time in England during the time he was King (and he didn’t even speak English). Robin’s response is a traditional one. “In King Richard lies England’s only hope. It’s either his rule or the evil of a man like Nottingham.” In fact, John turned out to be a decent king, although he certainly had his flaws. But the Robin Hood tales require a hero and a villain and usually we see Richard on the side of the good and John on the side of the bad (irrespective of the actual historical truth).
Elsewhere, Robin and Marion’s relationship seems to be doomed. She refuses a trinket he offers her (because it’s stolen). Marion grieves for the way that the life of an outlaw has changed him and she considers that their love is a doomed one. Meanwhile, Sir Guy grows impatient to marry her and tells Sir Kenneth that he’ll take her whether she’s willing or not. He also tells him that he’ll drown him in a barrel of his own ale if he complains! This is finally enough to convince Sir Kenneth that Marion’s marriage to Sir Guy is a very bad idea.
Highlight of the episode is the slightly incestuous relationship between Eleanor and John. Considering his age it’s disturbing to see – at one point she cradles him like a baby as well as kissing him on the lips several times. William Marlowe and Paul Darrow continue their excellent double act and Conrad Asquith’s Little John is allowed a nice character beat at the start of the episode (when he wonders exactly how he’s fallen into the life of an outlaw). Little John has probably been the most underdeveloped of Robin’s men, so it’s a welcome moment.
As a former worker at Nottingham Castle he does have his uses though – he knows a secret way in (which makes the infiltration by Robin and his men a little more plausible). Delightfully, they come across both the Sheriff and Sir Guy and take great pleasure in tying them up. Robin tells Sir Guy that he wouldn’t attack a bound man, but the next time they meet both of them will have swords in their hands and there will be a final reckoning. Sir Guy’s response is rather muffled by the gag!
The raid isn’t a total success though as John is captured. Later, Sir Guy demands to know from Sir Kenneth where Robin and his friends have taken the money. If Sir Kenneth knows then he’s not telling and it’s inevitable that the two men will fight to the death. It’s just as inevitable that the much younger Sir Guy will emerge as the victor (and Sir Kenneth’s bloody demise is viewed by a horrified Marion). Had the sword-fight been shot on film it might have been easier to cut it in a tighter way, alas videotape doesn’t allow such luxuries. So it does look rather stagey and unconvincing – but it still has a certain impact, especially when Sir Guy finishes him off with a dagger to the neck.
Little John is due to hang in the grounds of Nottingham Castle, so tradition decrees that Robin will attempt a daring rescue. This he does, but the celebration is short-lived when he learns that Sir Kenneth is dead and Marion is a prisoner of Sir Guy. So everything is now in place for the final chapter of the story.