When you call your show Sherwood you know you have quite a lot to live up to. Since Little John was just a tiddler, there have been countless adaptations of the story of Robin Hood.
Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Kevin Costner and most recently, Taron Egerton, are just some of those who have donned the green tights to play this dweller of this particularly leafy part of Nottinghamshire.
We’ve even had a father and son in the roles, Sean and Jason Connery both having a go at robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
Thus when the first people to pop up on the screen are Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher, or the anti-Hood if you like, then you know this is going to be slightly different.
What hasn’t changed is the new norm — the practice of opening these new dramas with a double-hit, episodes put out on a Sunday and Monday to lure you into the woods and it has worked a treat this time.
The story, and it has many tangled back bits, is a murder in a mining village that is still bitterly split between those who came out in support of the miners’ strike in 1984 and those who crossed the picket line to continue working.
The village of Ashfield was unusual as it was mostly made up of the latter and as a result the seam of bitterness is never far away from the surface.
Episode one consisted mostly of creating a huge number of suspects for a crime that hadn’t even been committed and not even a murmur of Robin Hood et al.
But if it’s familiar faces you are after then Sherwood is full of them with David Morrissey the lead protagonist as Chief Supt Ian St Clair, an Ashfield boy who escaped to the outskirts of the village.
Throw in Alun Armstrong, Lesley Manville, Robert Glenister, Joanne Froggatt and Dennis from Corrie and you have a who’s who of British TV acting royalty.
There is also Philip Jackson as the head of the ne’er do well Sparrow family, who have a taxi firm, axe-throwing range and a vast array of hard drugs for sale.
He will also be familiar to keen Hood aficionados as Abbot Hugo, one of the baddies from the Robin of Sherwood series of the Eighties, no coincidence I am guessing.
There are other links too, St Clair is first seen heading off for a meeting with the Sheriff of Nottingham and while that’s lovely you’re wondering if his colleagues call him ‘Isla’ behind his back.
An obscure Eighties reference I hear you cry, well Glanville, as Julie Jackson, wife of Gary played by Armstrong, answers visitors to the tune of ‘there’s somebody at the door’ explaining to her bemused grandchildren that it was Rod Hull and Emu, bemusing them even more. Don’t even try and explain it.
Anyhow one of these skips to the door is stopped in its tracks by two coppers who are there to tell him that Gary got into a little trouble on the way home from the ‘clubby’, the local miners’ drinking establishment.
When I say a ‘little’, he’s been laying
out all night with a crossbow arrow impaled in his chest and thus the whodunnit begins.
St Clair is sent to investigate and we’re soon back in 1984 as Jackson’s past as a mining activist is unveiled and a series of redacted (a word we never knew until Line of Duty) lines means Glenister, downtrodden Met copper DI Kevin Salisbury, is sent back to keep an eye on things.
“Is anyone at any point going to mention the obvious cultural reference — bow and arrow, heart of Nottinghamshire, a modern-day Robin Hood,” pipes up one of the officers in the incident room.
“Can we not do that?” barks St Clair, to a chorus of silent ‘Calm down, Isla’ and it’s not long before there’s more arrows flying around than a Strongbow convention.
One of them is at a solicitor who reveals that Jackson was helping lift the lid on a spy-cop operation, where undercover police officers were given a new identity and bedded into the local community during the strike, and they think one may still be there.
Oh, and did I not mention that the surly stepson of Cathy, Julie’s sister, has a new hobby of archery and has taken to living wild in the woods and firing at trains and solicitors?
No, nor did the family. They were probably scared of getting a rollicking from old Isla.
And then there’s Andy Fisher, a very boring train driver with questionable habits, whose final act is to smack his annoying new daughter-in-law with a spade.
Next stop, Sherwood Forest, where that spade will come in handy, Andy. Roll on episode three.