Looking for a bit of swashbuckling fun to stream on Netflix? Check out the BBC’s 2006 TV revision of the homegrown English legend, Robin Hood. The series is a rollicking mix of action and adventure, drama and humor, and is blessed with an excellent ensemble cast, playing out an almost archetypal battle between heroic virtue and scene-stealing villainy.
Admittedly, if I put on my curmudgeon’s hat, it’s easy to see flaws. First, the near invincibility of the scrawny Robin and his ragtag band against the Sheriff of Nottingham’s superior forces beggars belief. Second, the script is peppered with anachronisms which sometimes border on silliness: Hey–is that someone giving Robin CPR? Third are the sometimes implausible script elements. Some are huge, as when, with only a few episodes to go, a significant and tragic backstory is suddenly revealed which should have affected the story from the beginning. And some are small, as when Robin’s band races from Nottingham Castle, enemies in pursuit, and bars the door behind them from the outside, locking the bad guys in. Huh? Oh, well–by the next episode, the bar is back on the inside of the door where it belongs.
All in good fun, as with Robin’s superhero prowess with the bow, or the Rube Goldberg style contraptions the gang rig up in Sherwood. Robin Hood is great entertainment, which the BBC had hoped would help revitalize family-friendly television fare. For numerous practical reasons, including the high cost of filming on location in Hungary, and the actual or threatened exit of key players, the show lasted only three seasons. But that’s 39 episodes to savor, and I intend to watch them again.
What prompts my reflection here is the motto the gang adopts in the second season: “We are Robin Hood,” a theme that plays out consistently to the series’ end. We are continually reminded that Robin Hood is not just an individual person, but an idea–one to which the oppressed people of Nottinghamshire must cling to have hope.
Early in the series, Lady Marian accuses Robin of fighting for justice in self-aggrandizing ways that bring retaliation and therefore even greater suffering upon the poor. Over time, we watch Robin Hood the person evolve into Robin Hood the ideal, the hope-giving dream. And that ideal becomes a shared one: we, together, are Robin Hood–no one can do this alone.
Shared identity, shared purpose. It’s one thing, for example, for two spouses to argue over whose turn it is to do some chore. It’s another for either to step up spontaneously and willingly to do it out of a sense of shared responsibility: we are family; this is our house; this is important to us.
Is there not something of all of this in the mission of the church? Little John and the others were held together by a shared love for and loyalty to their leader. And we, like Robin’s gang, despite our imperfections, must embody hope, imagining the kingdom as it should be and one day will be, giving ourselves to the cause of justice until the King returns.
But grit and determination, earthly love and loyalty aren’t enough. We need–and we have–the gift of the Holy Spirit. In a very real sense, we are Jesus: the church is the body of Christ.
That is the shared identity which defines our purpose.