Sherwood is the best BBC drama of the year so far

  • This review contains spoilers for the final episode of Sherwood.

Having flown straight and true for most of its six hours, the finale of sherwood (BBC One) landed with a satisfying thud, fletches shivering to a neat stop. Sure, there were a few rogue storytelling likes along the way. But James Graham’s drama of murder, scabs and old wounds in a Northamptonshire colliery town was that rare beast: a TV show as emotionally involving as it was intellectually engaging.

So who was “Keats”, the mischief-making spy cop implanted in the community in the 1980s? And why was Bowman Scott (Adam Hugill) murderous after them? In the end, it didn’t matter. In the final episode’s dry-mouthed interrogation scene, Scott was revealed to be just a lonely young man with no plan other than “to be seen” – a misfit with a crossbow, not an AR-15. After his first victim of him – Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong), picked because he was a “big man” who bullied his father of him – his targets of him were chosen at random. His stalking of Daphne Sparrow (Lorraine Ashbourne) was a coincidence.

that she was Keats, revealed at the climax of episode five, was, in the end, by-the-by. It was only her sense of guilt at betraying her de ella adopted community, her de ella four decades of life there, that put her in danger: this time, at her own hands de ella via a hidden revolver. Her climatic kitchen table high-noon with David Morrissey’s DCS Ian St Clair was devastatingly played. As with the rest of the series, Graham was less interested in clunk-bang mechanics of plot – the scanty fumes which power shows such as Line of Duty – and more in the emotional truth of his story. Here were believable people, in a believable world, broken on the rack of history and their own mistakes. It was a real achievement. And all the more impressive because it’s so unique in today’s TV landscape.

That world was Sherwood’s greatest asset. Sure, its indecently good cast didn’t hurt. But Graham was inspired by two real-life killings in 2004 in the village he grew up in, Annesley Woodhouse, called “Annesley” in the show. And from the decades-long feud between neighboring sisters to the wrong-un Sparrow family in the ramshackle farmhouse down the way, it rang true. You could smell the stench of spilled beer and stale resentment in the working men’s club. And some of the design choices were inspired: St Clair’s eye-candy extension, all light, french windows and four built-in ovens – count ’em, James Brokenshire – was as revealing of his character of him as the bottled conflict of Morrissey’s performance . It became a glass cage as his quest to catch the interloper “spy cop” grew obsessive, prowling around the village without realizing that he was now its true outsider of him.

The sense of deep England, too, was evoked with an admirably light touch. There were ringing echoes, of course, of the mythology of Robin Hood, the green-hooded outsider coming to wreak havoc on an enclosed, moribund community. But just as much heavy lifting was done by the sweeping shots of full-leaved trees, swaying in the wind. The landscape was achingly gorgeous, and just a little too bright – in some ways, it was like a folk horror without the horror.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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