BBC’s Robin Hood: Marian

For those who plan to watch the show, please note there are spoilers for series one in the post and comments that follow…

I’m a bit late in the game on this one, but to be fair Robin Hood aired in the States quite a bit later than it originally played in the UK. I intended to watch it from the beginning, but BBCAmerica’s so far away from the channels I usually flip through that I tend to forget it’s there. I missed the first three episodes, but watching the subsequent episodes helped fill the gaps. They had me at Richard Armitage, for what I think are obvious reasons, but I found myself pleasantly surprised in other regards.

One of those surprises is Marian. Now, I’m the first to admit I don’t know that much about the Robin Hood legend so I don’t know what her role has been, historically speaking. I’m just guessing that she’s always been a bit of a damsel, but one with strength and will of her own. This version of Marian certainly has that.

It would appear at first glance that Marian’s role is the unfortunate middle position in a love triangle between Robin and baddie Sir Guy of Gisborne. And she is that. You all know how I feel about love triangles – they rarely work for me. But the love triangle in Robin Hood isn’t quite as lame as most. The reason? It’s not really woman-in-middle-choosing-between-men. Marian loves Robin, but he’s an outlaw and being with him would mean ruination for her family and those dependent upon it. Marian does not love Guy, and does not like the attention he gives her, but he’s in a position of power and could protect her family and those dependent upon it. Her choice, then, is not her own romantic fate but a more practical, real one.

She makes it. She chooses to accept a marriage proposal from Guy (while Robin’s hiding right outside her window, ouch), with a caveat that she won’t wed him until the king returns. This, of course, is complicated by the Sheriff bringing in a fake king to root out those who’d undermine him (including Marian’s father). Marian is resigned to marrying Guy, and in fact makes it to the altar with every intention of going through with it. She tells herself that he’s got “qualities” and isn’t all bad. (This is when, naturally, she finds out just how bad Guy is, that he’s pretty much lied to her from day one. I think she knew this, but wanted to not believe it. And, tra la, Robin rides into town and carries her off.)

On a somewhat separate note, another thing I like about Marian is her role as Nightwatchman. Nightwatchman is a local hero, known for the same thing Robin Hood is – helping the poor. No one outside of her sphere knows it’s her, as she wears a mask. As Nightwatchman, Marian shows physical as well as mental strength.

In Robin Hood’s predominantly male cast of characters, Marian holds her own. (So does Djaq, but that’s another post.)


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    YES! I was going to write on this, too, and now I don’t have to. 😀

    I totally agree. I kept waiting for this to go off into stereotype land, but it never did because they always bothered to let us see where she was coming from. At no point did she stop critiquing both men, having opinions about them. Even when it felt like she was trying to convince herself Guy wasn’t so bad, I understood why she felt the need to do that: because she might end up having to marry him… and not because “women had it bad back then”, but because her ethics forced her to do what she could to protect her father, even if it meant an unwanted marriage.

    At every turn, she had agency. She was never fully and truly stripped of choices, because she could have chosen not to worry about her father’s fate and run off with Robin. Her choices define her.

    It was also smart, I think, that Guy wasn’t utterly repulsive (and I don’t mean just the cuteness factor). He treated Marian with a sort of strange fevered devotion that fell right on the borderline between actual potential love and an unhealthy obsession. She was understandably intrigued, and because of this there was no sense that she was going to be forced into icky porny sex with an over-the-top creep (like, say, the Sheriff 😀 ) – a trope that always leaves me feeling the writers are casually chucking in a form of rape because they’ve been rejected by pretty girls in real life and this is their revenge. I completely understood why marrying Guy would be preferable to leaving her father in the lurch – it wasn’t what she wanted, but nor was it the worst thing that she could have endured.

    I also like that she’s not a “nice girl” who falls for “bad boys”. She rejects the “bad boy” in both Robin and Guy, but finds Robin worthy despite that.

    And the Night Watchmen thing is great – in addition to your points, I’m told she was doing this routine while Robin was still away at war. Basically, she’s doing what he does, but more cautiously and with less nose-thumbing at the Sheriff because she wants to help people without getting them killed. Robin’s methods do bring the authorities down on villages and individuals. So while they shared a common goal, she had her own very strong and sensible opinion about which methods were better.

  2. sbg says

    Hee. You’ve said it all better than I attempted to.

    I admit I’ve got a bit of a girl-crush on Marian. She’s just as layered as the male characters (more than some of them) and is a complex creature, not some cardboard cutout Love Interest type.

    I do like that she calls Robin on the methods he employs – I think at one point she even says that as Nightwatchman (Night Watchman?) she’s doing it more intelligently than he is, and he doesn’t really disagree. How can he? She’s right. There’s a bit of “stay at home and stay safe, woman” in Robin’s attitude about this facet of her, to which she also offers rebuttal.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, you said it perfectly, and that launched the ideas for me.

    She does refer to her method as “more intelligent” than his. In the first part of the season finale, he does actually wind up saying she should’ve stayed at home and knitted. But it’s so ridiculous a thought, neither of them manage to take it very seriously. It comes off as the sort of thing anyone would think when a loved one is in grave peril. Women have been conditioned to accept the men they love going off into dangerous situations, but I think our first instinct is also to tie them up at home where they can’t get hurt. 😉 It takes nerves of steel to love someone who’s in a dangerous line of work; but if you love them and you respect what they’re doing, you cope. Even if you do say stupid things now and then. 😀

  4. Ide Cyan says

    Haven’t seen this new Robin Hood series, but the topic of Maid Marian has reminded me of another TV show, in which *she* was the leader of the rebels of Sherwood Forest.

  5. firebird says

    I still remember a scene from an ancient (okay, probably 40’s era) Robin Hood series I used to watch as a child. Maid Marian was more often than not helping Robin and his men out of scrapes, and probably the only person living outside of the forest who knew how to get to where they lived in the forest (top secret because it meant their safety of course). The scene involved her offering Robin’s help to a male relative of hers who needed something only Robin could provide (resources probably though I don’t remember). With no hesitation she spoke for him and offered to take him to Robin, and when the male relative said, “I can’t hide behind a woman’s skirts,” or something to that effect, she impatiently pulled off her skirt (revealing male garb of some kind underneath) and said, “Let’s go.”

    I’ve always fondly remembered that moment – and loved the empowered Maid Marian I remember – I should see if Blockbuster online has that series so I could see if it holds up to adult viewing. :-)

  6. says

    Hi SBG,
    I confess, I didn’t read your entire review, because Netflix is sending us Disc 1 of Robin Hood *today*. I am delighted, however, to hear that Marian is an interesting and complex character.
    Back with you, as soon as I Watch The Show!

  7. Richie says

    I remember watching Maid Marian & Her Merry Men religiously when I were a young’n. I think the present day successor is Sir Gadabout, where the damsel in distress princess-type is secretly a crime-fighting knight whose helmet has little ears like Batman’s.


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