Richard Armitage and the durability of Guy of Gisborne

rh107_020Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood 1.7. This was the cap that did it to me. Source:


Having had occasion recently to look back at the beginnings of this blog, it struck me that while Mr. Thornton gave me Armitagemania, and Lucas North was my second Armitage love, Guy of Gisborne tipped me over the threshold of silence into blogging about Richard Armitage. After I’d seen series 7 of Spooks, I got temporarily hungup on the fact that the series 8 DVDs were not yet available (eventually I watched an illegal upload on youtube, and then I ended up buying a region-free player and the DVDs anyhow), but I was looking for more, and that was why I got Netflix — so I could stream Robin Hood. And after seeing Guy that I realized there would be no way out, anytime soon, and what I was feeling would have to come to words. Some of this was this look (I must have been in that target demographic, occasionally described as “mums,” even if I don’t have kids), but there were other fundamental issues. I just rediscovered that I was writing about status conflicts even then, though I was talking about them as a matter of narrative as opposed to acting style.

During FanstRAvaganza 3, I speculated that Guy of Gisborne would be one of Richard Armitage’s most durable characters. Admittedly, in Armitage’s last posted showreel, Guy does not figure in any of the long scenes (as opposed to the scene from Sparkhouse that I discussed here and two other scenes I’ll be moving to eventually). In the montage, Guy’s role seems to be mostly to demonstrate Armitage’s capacity for action; extreme, even brutal emotion; and danger. That decision makes sense to me; interest in strong and complex dramatic roles precludes the inclusion of long excerpts from Robin Hood, which is too likely to be written off by any casual viewer as kid tv, even thought it was often more than that and in my opinion Armitage’s skill as an actor had developed by several steps in the interval between the roles. But when asked in a BBCA interview that preceded the broadcast of series 2 of the show which scene he’d enjoyed most filming, after some thought Armitage mentioned the sequence between Guy and Marian over the necklace (Robin Hood 1.7), which he described as “a mini-play.”

So I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at these scenes. Not least because “it was like a play” is a term of praise for a scene that Armitage has used at least one other time as in referring to the proposal scene in North & South as one of his favorites in the interview on the DVD. The reference reads like a signal that he particularly liked something or thought the work worthy of his creative energy.


In this episode, Allan (Joe Armstrong) is drawn into conflict with the gang over the criminal activities of his brother, but the part of the episode that interests me is the sequence Armitage mentions in the interview above, the conflict between Sir Guy of Gisborne and Marian over the necklace, which culminates in an inescapable conclusion for Gisborne — Marian must be betraying him and causing the constant failure of his plans at the hands of Robin et al. What we think he must know, at least unconsciously, in episode 1.5, about Marian’s duplicity, Guy must confront head-on in this episode, and that confrontation shows his character from a number of frightening sides.

When a young woman and her fiancé ask Guy for permission to marry, Guy takes her necklace as an exchange for the favor. He gives it to Marian; Marian gives it to Robin; Robin gives it back to the young woman; Guy sees it on the her neck; Guy takes it again, but gives it away out of a feeling of being spurned and betrayed. The Sheriff is convinced that the traitor must be inside the castle, which causes Gisborne to suspect his right-hand man, who is tortured. The man’s unnecessary death must make Gisborne’s awareness that Marian has betrayed him even more galling.

In the end, the Sheriff hangs Tom and his accomplices. Robin learns what Gisborne knows about the necklace and exerts himself to get his hands on it again to give it back to Marian to withdraw her from suspicion as the traitor. The scenes in question open with Guy seated across from Sir Edward at Knighton manor house, waiting for her to return and explain herself. They end with Marian, who’s received the necklace from Robin just in time to “prove” her innocence, forced to promise Guy that she will marry him.



I want to concede right away that a good deal of the success of this sequence has to do with strongly effective editing — it’s certainly done “for the videogame generation” and in a way that accentuates Armitage’s performance in particular. That admitted, I now want to look at his performance in more detail.

The first portion of the sequence opens with Sir Edward (Michael Elwyn) at table with Guy, offering him hospitality. Guy’s response couldn’t be more disdainful, and Armitage draws out his response — which involves a rude spitting into his plate, what feels like a deliberately grobian indication of his scorn for Edward’s offer, and a direct look across the table into Edward’s eyes that offers the older man a direct status challenge — to the hilt.


It’s hard for me to say how just much I like this choice of a way for Guy to indicate his purpose. Armitage winds Guy up so tightly through this entire scene, and the choice of iron, freezing rage as the primary driver of his psyche is masterful in that, much more so than anger, rage gives us an indication as to the inner shame of the character. Moreover, there’s something about the way that Armitage’s face gets shot or lit in these scenes — his eyes taking over his entire face and, in their activity, jarring the impact on the viewer of the (shaming, shamed and) bowed position of his head.

We can see that lighting impact here and its effect — as Guy indicates, with feigned bravado and apparent irony, that he doesn’t know where Marian (Lucy Griffiths) is, Armitage’s eyes move out of view with the twist of his chin,


but by the time he moves his chin back into center and his visible eye back into the light, his face against wears that so typically Guy combination of anger and weariness — a sort of introspection that implies that he is so angry about what’s happened that he simultaneously doesn’t care any more and can’t bear to confront his memory that he used to care so much.vlcsnap-2014-02-14-19h14m18s106

His response to Edward’s worry that Guy might have hurt Marian replays equally this status conflict between low-level, betrayed, resentful party


and powerful person who scorns any possibility that Edward can thwart him.


Generally in Armitage’s repertoire of facial gestures, there’s a neat contrast between the way that he forcefully moves his lips out for enunciation and the scornful way that he tends to hold them away from his teeth, making that emotion much more intense for the viewer. Guy in particular was great at that gesture (as, for example, in 2.6), using Armitage’s brief upper lip to combine scorn and fatigue in his sneer.

At that point, Marian bursts in, and the low tone of Guy’s response (“speak of the devil”) indicates both tedium and danger. Indeed, Armitage seems to pair these reactions in Guy’s response, insofar as one suspects that if he’s angry as he must be about the betrayals, the tedium is merely ironic — and yet, on some level, to be betrayed is exactly what Guy expects, so that it is only painful that his wish-object has done it, not so much that it has happened yet again. Now Guy will have to treat Marian in the same way he’s been treating problematic villagers all along, but one wonders whether his emotions will let him.

He won’t even look at her, he’s so beside himself. Armitage inserts a series of Guy’s characteristic flat affect microexpressions,


but they are strong odds with the intense resentment that practically streams from every pore.


The sequence begins to gain energy as Guy asks about the location of the necklace. He’s still basically at flat affect as he begins to insist,


so that we are not expecting what comes next, as Edward ventures to intervene and Guy’s engine of rage goes from zero to sixty in a split second. Now everything that’s been hidden under that mask comes to light, but so quickly, in a half second of film, that we as viewers pick up on mood rather than explicit expression.


What I find interesting about this sequence is not so much the violence (although it does, given the way the sequence is edited, appear to come out of nowhere) as the way that the suddenness reveals something we haven’t completely seen in Guy’s demeanor so far, even if we’ve suspected it’s there — a sort of bloodlust for vengeance, which seems to serve to reestablish Guy’s open authority over Marilyn as the first third of the scenes ends.


To be continued tomorrow sometime. Sorry, have to go to bed. Continues here.

~ by Servetus on February 15, 2014.

21 Responses to “Richard Armitage and the durability of Guy of Gisborne”

  1. It is Guy that did it for me. Seeing Richard in other smaller roles such as Miss Marple they didn’t stand out like Sir Guy.


  2. […] from here, an analysis responding to Richard Armitage’s statement that his favorite scene to film in […]


  3. It is interesting that this is his favorite scene. Thank you for the great analysis of the scene. Richard really made the show about the evolution of Sir Guy and not about Robin Hood and the gang, or the Sheriff. Whenever it was just Robin and Marian in the scene the show seemed to lose energy for me. Even when Guy was standing in the background, you just knew what he was feeling and thinking. The real chemistry to me was always between Marian and Guy. Marian was “stirred by him” and so were we.


    • Caveat — when this interview was filmed, he’d already made series 2, I believe, but it had not aired (he couldn’t give spoilers for it) and he hadn’t envisioned what would happen in series 3. So this is really “what was your favorite scene in series 1.” Still, this is a good candidate even up against what he did in the later series, I feel.


      • Thanks for the placement of the interview – couldn’t remember, even if I’ve seen the interview hundreds of times 🙂 Though S2 is my favorite, agree that this is one of the best Guy scenes of S1.


  4. I love your analysis of Guy’s minute expression changes and, of course — the lush pic spam! Thanks and keep it coming 🙂


    • There are scenes from 2 that I’d also put in the caliber of this one (notably, Guy’s murder of Marian), but it’s hard to think of one from S3 that measures up in quite the same way — I think because once Marian was gone and the Sheriff had more or less disappeared, Armitage never got an actor of that level of execution in a major role to rub up against regularly (possible exception = Lara Pulver). I am just polishing the last bit and I was thinking — the weakest moment in that scene is where Robin looks anguished as Marian says she despises him — because he’s the weakest link in the love triangle. He *only* looks anguished, nothing more. No (for example) rage, which Armitage is fantastic at.


  5. […] from part 1 and part 2 of a meditation on Richard Armitage’s remark that he felt the scene in Robin Hood […]


  6. This is my favorite episode, he radiates rage, and for me, it’s always been Guy. Even though Lucas could get my blood pumping pretty fast, Guy is my all time favorite character. When it comes to fantasy time, I only use Guy. He’s the man I want, period… Not as a partner, mind you, he’s too unstable for that. But man oh man, between the black leather, the stubble and those eyes, I’m done. I just wish he wasn’t such a dope when it came to Marian. He almost busted her that time.


    • this is interesting and it’s something that hadn’t occurred to me, why Guy doesn’t notice that Robin is practically in the room with them. Armitage complained once that the script writers found these bizarre ways to humiliate Guy w/o rhyme or reason, and this could be an instance of that. Or he could just be so upset that he doesn’t notice everything going on around him.OR he could be aware that Robin is listening …


  7. I would love to think he was aware that Robin was in the room, but I don’t. There were just too many instances where Robin was pretty much hiding in plain sight and Guy never caught on. They made him just a little bit dim poor thing, which I really hated. The one time Guy really kind of came into his own in was in “Walkabout”, when he could have gotten away from the attack by Prince John’s army, but went back to fight at Marian’s side. Of course just like every other time she was using him, and by the time the Sheriff got back it was business as usual. I really hated Marian. I cringed every time she started jerking Guy’s chain.


    • yeah — this was a topos of my post about 1.5, how do you play a character who is not as smart as you are personally? Hiding intelligence is really, really difficult.

      I agree that there’s no signal from Guy’s acting that he knows that Robin is there. (Except the possibility that the choked out marriage proposal is happening in part out of some sort of awareness that there is a witness and he might get turned down — but i really don’t read that here.) That must have been hard, too.


  8. Hi there, I’m another one who can’t get enough of RA, although I am new to posting. I am so happy to have just found these posts of yours. I love this type of analysis – because I love talking about the complexity RA brings to his characters. I found him in Hobbit 1, then had the treat of a lifetime discovering his other work; N & S (OMG!), then his astonishing elevation of RH as Guy, then I fell simultaneously in love with Lucas and Harry. He really is an astonishing actor. I hope you will continue with your analysis – and please go back to episode 1.1. I was immediately struck by the fascinating choices he made in that very first scene with Robin at Locksley Manor. After first falling for his drop-dead-sexy, tortured hero Thorin, then his commanding and complex closet-romantic Thornton, seeing him as Guy was an unexpected thrill – I think RA’s ability to insert such relatable humanity into what could easily have been a two dimensional thug will be studied by generations of actors to come. Lucky Lucy Phillips, who got to play off him. Thanks for your hard work, please keep it up! – Oh, one other thing, I totally agree with your response to rhapsody – the only thing that bothered me about Guy in RH was that RA was forced by the scripts to hide his innate intelligence. It was hard to believe Guy could be so dim, missing clue after clue, episode after episode. I found myself secretly thrilling to the few moments when his intelligence DID win out – he got a line that just slayed me early on, and still does when I re-watch it – the episode where he plants his own bastard child in the woods and then tracks Robin’s gang through specially shod horses… “Maybe he’s here already”. Which, of course, reminds me that I am so “stirred” by Guy (against my better judgment) that I actually forgive him for getting that poor girl pregnant and treating her so callously. Anyway, call me a grateful fan of RA and your posts. 8~)


  9. Hello! Just wondering where you found/ were able to watch RA’s showreel? Thanks!


    • Thanks for the comment and welcome — re his showreel, it hasn’t been visible for quite a while — [fans were asked not to publicize the link or location].


  10. Thanks for your quick reply! After leaving my post I did some searching and found this. Is this it?

    [edited b/c fans were asked not to publicize that link.]


    • ah, my apologies (re. ppl being asked not to post the link). I found it pretty easily so I didn’t think it was anything that needed to be kept on the DL, especially since it is “old.” But now I know. Thanks so much!


  11. They should protect it better, I admit, but I don’t want to take the risk that fans end up causing some kind of administrative hassle.


  12. […] Guy of Gisborne — who got me to blog […]


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