Robin has sent Sir Guy an invitation to meet in single combat. Initially Gisborne refuses, but when Marion artfully remarks that this is because he’s a coward, he naturally changes his mind. Given that the Robin/Gisborne feud has formed an integral part of the serial, it might be expected that it would be the climax of the story. Instead, it’s essentially a prelude to the main action.
Robin and Sir Guy meet in Sherwood Forest. It’s a brutal fight (shot on film) which obviously took some time to record. It was worth it though, as director Eric Davidson (and the highly experienced film cameraman Elmer Cossey) made full use of the impressive location. Gisborne elects to start the fight with a shield and a wicked-looking mace whilst Robin only has a sword (clearly chivalry doesn’t demand that they have equal weapons!) Indeed, there’s not a great deal of chivalry in the fight as Robin is content to aim some well timed kicks and punches to disorientate his opponent.
Eventually Robin emerges triumphant which means that Marion is finally free from Sir Guy’s advances. But if he believes that the death of Gisborne has removed the obstacle to their union, he’s to be sadly disappointed as she returns to her own lands.
At the same time, John continues to push for power. He’s keen to depose Longchamps and install himself as regent, but the Bishop of Durham (Malcolm Rogers) is a major obstacle. The power-hungry Sheriff sees a chance to kill two birds with one stone – dispose of the Bishop and blacken Robin’s name – so he pays a convicted criminal to kill the Bishop whilst claiming to be one of Robin Hood’s men.
With a survivor left alive to spread the news that Robin and his friends are nothing but common criminals and murderers this marks the beginning of the end for Robin’s band of men. Ralph Gammon and Much are hanged by soldiers in the forest and elsewhere Tuck is mortally wounded (our last sight of him is his lifeless body slumped in a forest clearing). It’s a brutal turn of events and one which most adaptations of the Robin Hood legends wouldn’t attempt, but it’s an accurate indication of just how short life could be during this period.
Richard returns to put paid to John’s scheming and he promises Robin a full pardon and the restoration of his lands and titles, but there’s one final twist to the tale. Robin, ill with fever, returns to Huntingdon. He’s tended by a woman who he later discovers is Gisborne’s sister, but only after he’s drunk a goblet of poison she gave him. It’s a logical and circular, conclusion to the story – Robin kills Gisborne so Gisborne’s sister revenges her brother’s death by killing Robin.
It has some similarity to the early ballad Robin Hood’s Death, which survives only as a fragment of a larger, now missing, work. A later variant adds the familiar scene of Robin shooting an arrow into Sherwood and asking to be buried wherever it lands. Here, we see Little John do it, and Marion is at his side as they both watch the arrow fall. It’s the final scene in a quietly outstanding serial that manages to take many very familiar story elements and weave them into something cohesive.
With Little John the only merry man standing at the end, it’s possible to see the whole story as an exercise in futility. What did Robin achieve and will things really be better now that Richard is back? If you enjoy Robin Hood for swashbuckling derring-do and witty one-liners then this darker interpretation may not be to your liking.
When Richard captures the Sheriff and tells him that his treason will cost him his life, the Sheriff wonders if Prince John will also suffer the same fate. Of course not, as though Prince John was an equal and willing partner, his royal blood will protect him from any punishment. Paul Darrow is one of the serial’s many strengths and he continues this right up to his final scene. Richard tells him that he’ll hang, but the Sheriff replies that his rank entitles him to the axe. So he’s told that he’ll have it, with his head to be displayed on a pike on the castle gate.
Although some rate this as one of the best versions of the Robin Hood legend, there are a few dissenting voices – mainly highlighting the staginess of the studio scenes. It’s a fair comment, but the positives of the extensive filming and the performances manage to outweigh any little niggles about a few of the studio sequences.
Martin Potter is an energetic Robin Hood (although maybe just a little too well spoken for somebody brought up as a commoner). There are very few weak links in the cast and Potter, along with William Marlowe, Paul Darrow, Diane Keen, David Dixon and Tony Caunter are especially good. It’s certainly a production that still holds up today and is worth seeking out (the 2 Entertain DVD is deleted, but can be found for a reasonable price).