Alan a Dale (Peter Hutchinson) is a wandering minstrel who happens to wander through Sherwood Forest. He’s stopped by Robin and the others, although after they find his pockets are empty (maybe he’s not a very good minstrel?) the Hooded Man tells him he can go on his way. But then they learn he’s heading to Nottingham to kill the Sheriff ….
Alan, who seems incapable of not speaking in purple prose, is a most unlikely murderer until he reveals the reason for his torment – his heart is broken because the Sheriff plans to marry his true love, Lady Mildred de Bracey (Stephanie Tague). It doesn’t go unremarked that maybe a humble minstrel is setting his sights rather high, but no matter. Alan’s blithely confident that love will conquer all.
Alan a Dale was a fairly late addition to the legends of Robin Hood, first appearing in the seventeenth century. Richard Carpenter sticks fairly close to the original story – a lovesick minstrel – but he adds a little extra spice by changing Alan’s rival from a faceless Baron to the Sheriff of Nottingham.
de Rainault is far from enthusiastic about his impending nuptials, describing poor Mildred as a “pansy-faced sixteen year old virgin”! This same scene has to be one of my favourite Sheriff/Gisburne two-handers. Gisburne is still fuming that Little John was spotted in the village of Wickham (more about this in a minute). In order to teach the villagers a lesson he proposes driving them into the forest and then burning the village to the ground.
The Sheriff’s rage – he’s taking a bath by the way – is wonderful to see. After overturning his tray of food so that it ends up in the bathwater, he acidly tells Gisburne that the people of Wickham are his property – if they burn the village who will work the land? To say nothing of the fact that Gisburne plans to send them into the forest where they’ll be able to join up with Robin Hood! Grace and Addie continue to entertain (and it’s easy to spot a possible homoerotic undertone when de Rainault asks Gisburne to rub him dry – “harder!”). Look out too for the extra who puffs out his cheeks after the Sheriff leaves the room as if to say “he’s in a right mood today.”
John’s been spending his nights in Wickham with the small, but beautifully formed, Meg (Claire Toeman). As we see John enter Meg’s hut, the camera rather prudishly remains outside. Instead, we focus on an owl who listens impassively to Meg’s giggling questioning comment about why they call him Little John, when that’s not the case at all …..
These scenes are a nice chance for Clive Mantle to add a little character to the bluff John. John obviously loves Meg in his own (rather selfish) way, but reacts with barely disguised horror when she talks about joining him in the forest. That possibility had clearly never even crossed his mind. It’s also escaped his attention that he’s putting Meg and the others in danger, leaving Robin has to spell it out. John can disappear into the forest but they can’t – therefore the villagers will be the ones who’ll suffer at Gisburne’s hands. Praed’s Robin shows a pleasing flash of anger at John’s stupidity, which helps to emphasise that he possesses the steel to be a real leader of men.
The Sheriff is at his beastly best when speaking to the unfortunate Mildred (he spends his time wondering why she cries so much). Mildred is undeniably rather wet, which does suggest she’d be the perfect match for Alan. It’s certainly impossible to imagine a life of wedded bliss between her and the Sheriff – although it’s stated several times that he’s only interested in her dowry (ten thousand marks).
Robin wants the money to pay the fine levied by Gisburne on the villagers of Wickham, whilst he also sees a way to stop the marriage (waylay the priest and substitute Alan in his place). Not everything goes to plan – the Sheriff keeps the money and doesn’t have to marry the girl – but this means thar Alan and Mildred are able to ride off into the sunset together. They don’t have any money, but they have each other. Aww, bless.
Although Alan a Dale doesn’t have the most gripping story, it’s simply choc-full of wonderful moments. The Sheriff/Gisburne bathtime spat I’ve already mentioned, but there’s also the extraordinary sequence where Robin and Gisburne battle it out in the mud. It looks hideously uncomfortable – and doesn’t advance the story one jot – but it’s all good fun.
Robert Addie enjoys a classic comedy moment when he attempts to coach the guards into giving a rousing cheer to celebrate the Sherrif’s forthcoming marriage. Their first attempt is wonderfully half-hearted, but they get better with a little practice. Oh, and Much dresses up as a woman and the Sheriff and Gisburne are attacked by bees! It’s all happening.
I’m rather intrigued as to why Peter Hutchinson was dubbed throughout by Simon Shepherd. Surely it would have made sense to cast an actor who both looked and sounded the part? The dubbing does add a little distance to Alan’s character, but since it’s done rather well it’s not the disaster it might have been.
Although more than a little predictable – it’s so obvious that Alan and Mildred will end up together – Alan a Dale works well as a light-hearted interlude before the darker themes of the season closer, The King’s Fool.