Richard Armitage as “sinister lizard”: Tomorrow, Guy of Gisborne is ten years old!
Ten years ago tomorrow, UK audiences saw that particular black leather-inflected smirk for the first time when Guy of Gisborne rode into Locksley to investigate a theft. Robin Hood was commissioned to alternate with the revived Doctor Who episodes in the Saturday night evening slot on BBC One. You can read about the origins of the series; it got a big budget, was designed to be shot in HD — only the first of Richard Armitage’s association with high resolution formats! — and its first series was bedeviled by the theft of its tapes. When it aired, responses were mixed, but Armitage and Keith Allen generally came in for praise. In the reviews of the first episode, “Will you tolerate this?” Armitage was described as “flouncing darkly” and “a cool and sinister lizard.” That episode got a 37 percent share.
All ups and downs of the series itself aside, and no matter how he himself might think about it now, I still find this one of Richard Armitage’s most successful and durable roles. I’ve written about it a fair amount but the fact that I don’t write about it more is mainly because I find what Armitage does here so complex and so difficult to analyze — not least because he regularly sweeps me both into emotion and lust here. Armitage is well known as a master of portraying humiliation and this is the character whose emotions have often come closest to my own in that regard. Perhaps that is the genius of Richard Armitage as Guy — that although I’d like to think I’m nothing like him, I so often see my own reactions mirrored in his face. So much about him is ambiguous or subtle or simply left to the viewer’s judgment.
Fans have remained loyal, too — with “Guyday Friday” being one of the most persistent informal fan appointments of the week. I think it’s not just about ogling him, although that plays a role: he is the most persistently stare-at-able Armitage character, inviting it, perhaps, because the character himself stares. As the show got worse the character got more physically attractive. I wish that more episodes of this had been made while acknowledging that this must have been one of the most frustrating roles on the planet to play and I can’t imagine Armitage wasn’t relieved when his three-year contract ran out.