Gisborne: Stalker or Sexy Bad Boy?

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ETA: SERIES TWO SPOILERS IN COMMENTS. This review covers Series 1 only. Series 2 has not yet aired in the US at the time of this writing.

I’ve been meaning to write about the dynamic between Marian and Guy of Gisborne on BBC’s Robin Hood series for a while now. Watching an episode commentary in which one of the producers debates it with Lucy Griffiths (Marian) prompted me to do so tonight.

SBG described the events between Marian and Gisborne a while ago, so I’ll just summarize some key points, assuming you’ve read SBG’s article or already know the plot: Gisborne is in a position of great power over Marian. She reluctantly accepts his courtship for fear of what will happen if she doesn’t. Her fears are realized when she accidentally angers Gisborne and he retaliates by telling the sheriff she’s a traitor (which jeopardizes her father’s life as well as her own). Her only option then is to convince Gisborne she really cares for him. At which point he says she must marry him, or else he can’t protect her or her father from the sheriff.

She agrees. It’s unquestionably a moment of duress, but Gisborne doesn’t get that. Being the one in power, he perhaps doesn’t realize – and certainly doesn’t care – that she’s not making a choice, she’s accepting an inevitability. As the wedding looms ever closer, she admits to several characters she doesn’t want to marry Gisborne, but at the same time starts trying to talk herself into the idea it wouldn’t be so terrible. Gisborne acknowledges during a fight with Robin that he knows Marian doesn’t love him – but “she is stirred by me.”

During the DVD commentary I watched tonight, the actors and the producer began debating whether or not she’s attracted to him. There’s a scene in which she confronts Gisborne and asks him point blank if he tried to kill the king (an allegation Robin has made). Predictably, Gisborne denies it, and the scene ends with a very awkward kiss. This is the first time she’s failed to escape one of his attempted kisses, and she’s clearly uncomfortable. She draws back when it’s done, trying to hide a look of utter misery on her face.

The producer – in response to something I couldn’t hear, or perhaps an earlier discussion before the taping of the commentary? – demands to know why she would go there and ask him that question, knowing he won’t admit guilt, unless she’s “stirred” by him (in other words, wanted that kiss). Lucy Griffiths says Marian might ask him just because she’s trusting. The producer scoffs dismissively and begins talking about how “women like ‘em a little rough.”

Guy isn’t “a little rough”. He’s a murderous thug with more than a few loose wires in the head and the social graces of an enraged bull. He has the idea that by marrying her, he will be cleansed of all his many hideous sins without any effort on his part. He only wants Marian because he wants everything of Robin’s.

You could write a story in which Marian finds him attractive despite these things (especially with Richard Armitage in the role). It’s just… they didn’t. And the producer doesn’t know that. He thinks it’s a fact of life that women secretly crave men who hurt people. And if he’s like any of the several dozen men I’ve talked to who believe that, no number of women telling him “I don’t” will change his mind, because he’ll assume they’re just prevaricating or deceiving themselves.

Lucy Griffiths has been playing a woman cornered by her lack of options, forced by social and political constraints into an unwanted relationship. This is what I find so interesting and uncomfortable (in a good way) about the dynamic: even though it takes place in a time and place very different from my own, it doesn’t feel all that unfamiliar. Gisborne is the stalker who always manages to find a way to force you to engage with him socially. The guy who’s having a relationship with you in his head, who’s too oblivious to the real you to notice you’re trying to get away from him. And Marian feels she has no choice but to make the best of it, for her father’s sake.

I’m quite pleased that Gordon Kennedy (who plays Little John) expressed shock at the idea Marian was attracted to Guy. He pointed out how Marian “definitely goes cold” when Gisborne kisses her. He then says in an excited tone, “I’ve never seen that. What do you think you’re playing at?” Which is exactly what I wondered.

I wonder how often this tension between what an actress is playing and what the producers are hallucinating is the source of the cognitive dissonance I get watching female characters I want to like because they’re often cool, but can’t because they’re so inconsistent they’d need multiple personalities to explain all their behaviors.

Comments

  1. says

    I really love DVD commentaries and special features for the most part, but sometimes it’s just so disappointing to hear what the people behind the scenes have to say… :-(

  2. says

    Especially when the person saying the really dumb thing is the one in charge.

    There was also a bit I probably should have mentioned because it just got SO bizarre: as Gisborne was leaning in for the kiss, the producer started saying that Lucy/Marian was flushing, that her pupil was dilating, etc. I certainly couldn’t see anything like that. Richard Armitage joked, “She’s heavily drugged” and that’s when Gordon Kennedy started in on the producer.

    I already suspected the producer was an idiot because he’s referred to Marian as “feisty”, which AFAIC is a word one uses to describe pets, not humans. What I heard on the commentary did make me love the actors, however. So there’s that.

  3. sbg says

    The producer – in response to something I couldn’t hear, or perhaps an earlier discussion before the taping of the commentary? – demands to know why she would go there and ask him that question, knowing he won’t admit guilt, unless she’s “stirred” by him (in other words, wanted that kiss). Lucy Griffiths says Marian might ask him just because she’s trusting. The producer scoffs dismissively and begins talking about how “women like ‘em a little rough.”

    Uh, is that guy smoking crack? There are several reasons she’d go there looking for the truth that have nothing to do with her being “stirred” by him.

    1) She knows he’s stirred by her, for one thing, which in theory should make him more likely to tell the truth. Not so much with Gisborne, of course, which leads us to

    2) She, I think, wants to believe he’s not as bad a guy as she suspects he is, because it will help her live with the decision she pretty much had to make and so gives him the opportunity to be honest or

    3) She, y’know, wanted the answer to the question. Isn’t that why most of us ask a question?

    (especially with Richard Armitage in the role)

    Woof. You ain’t kidding. *ahem*

    I’m quite pleased that Gordon Kennedy (who plays Little John) expressed shock at the idea Marian was attracted to Guy. He pointed out how Marian “definitely goes cold” when Gisborne kisses her. He then says in an excited tone, “I’ve never seen that. What do you think you’re playing at?” Which is exactly what I wondered.

    That, by contrast to the producer, is awesome. It makes you wonder how people filter things to see them so differently than others.

  4. says

    Comments like those in the commentary bring up memories of a line in the series, Millenium.

    To paraphrase, “That analysis tells more about the speaker than the subject.”

  5. says

    SBG, do you get any sense she’s attracted to him? I don’t, and it’s all because of the acting. Richard Armitage COULD put across “Yes, I’m dangerous, but never to you, my beloved” but instead he puts across “Escaped mental patient.” Lucy Griffiths could certainly react to his looks (I myself get lost checking out his butt), but I’ve never once seen her do that. To me, she plays it like he’s a mental patient and she’s trying very hard not to upset him before the nice men with the white coat show up.

    Odd Jack, that’s very appropos here. Not that I’m saying the producer is a horrible person or anything. I just think he needs to revisit his assumptions or something.

  6. says

    There is a point when Marian walks in on Guy trying on armour, bare-chested and you can see her visibly holding her breath.

    I have to say I have a love-hate relationship with this show. It has high highs and low lows. I won’t even get into the inaccuracy of Marian’s costumes.

    I do like how the Sheriff isn’t so namby pamby. He does follow through on threats. He does actually kill people.

    And Guy, Guy is seriously screwed up. I think it’s from all those years having the Sheriff leaning over his shoulder.

  7. says

    There is a point when Marian walks in on Guy trying on armour, bare-chested and you can see her visibly holding her breath.

    Eh? Is that from series 2? We’re not there yet in the states. I definitely haven’t seen him without a shirt, so I know I never saw this scene.

  8. says

    This is interesting. It reminded me of a discussion of the original King Kong, actually. Many people, if you ask them what Fay Wray is thinking at the very end of the movie, will say that she is sad Kong is dying. But she isn’t- she is clearly depicted as feeling nothing at all. But the audience is sad for Kong, and so they project that onto the main character.

    I completely agree that Marian is depicted as behaving towards Gisborne with nothing but wary watchfulness. But I was plenty attracted to Gisborne (because, well- Richard Armitage), so it was hard not to project that feeling onto Marian.

  9. says

    That’s a good point, PnR. But you’d think a producer would know you have to do more than hire an attractive actor and assume everyone watching will find him attractive and therefore assume every other character in the show does. After all, most actors are more attractive than average – even the ones intended to be playing people who can’t get dates.

  10. sbg says

    SBG, do you get any sense she’s attracted to him? I don’t, and it’s all because of the acting. Richard Armitage COULD put across “Yes, I’m dangerous, but never to you, my beloved” but instead he puts across “Escaped mental patient.” Lucy Griffiths could certainly react to his looks (I myself get lost checking out his butt), but I’ve never once seen her do that. To me, she plays it like he’s a mental patient and she’s trying very hard not to upset him before the nice men with the white coat show up.

    Not genuine attraction. If anything at all showed like that, I think it fit more into the “I have to make the best of this horrid situation, pleasepleaseplease let him not be such a sleeze” than it did Marion being “stirred” by Guy.

  11. says

    Wait a second. Between PnR and SBG, I think I’ve got it.

    Marian IS stirred. Not to sexual arousal, but to fight or flight combat readiness. Guy of course can’t make the distinction – he’s nuts. But the producer seems to fail to make it as well, and that’s alarming.

    Because the projection PnR is talking about audiences making while watching TV for fun is one thing; but are we getting an unintentional glimpse into why many people tend to assume everything from how a woman dresses to where she goes at what time of the day is a cue from a woman that she’d like to be sexed now, please, by anyone who’s available.

    I’m not saying the producer is that unenlightened. I’m saying maybe this is the mechanism by which claims of stalking get dismissed as exaggeration or “you should be flattered” and so on. Maybe that’s why Gordon Kennedy (and I) had such a visceral reaction: that it’s not just about the show, but about this as a demonstration of the projection that allows people to believe the privileged accused over the less privileged accuser*.

    *Conversely, if a white woman accuses a black man of rape, there isn’t nearly the outcry of “I bet she’s lying” that there is when a white man is accused.

  12. says

    I have to say I too was attracted to Guy but it was to Richard Armitage and not Guy the character.

    In some ways he seems the saddest of characters on the show. How isolated and in your own world can you be when you don’t even know proper procedure for a wedding? He’s like the most naive of children in some circumstances and as crazy as a stalker in others.

  13. SunlessNick says

    Marian IS stirred. Not to sexual arousal, but to fight or flight combat readiness. Guy of course can’t make the distinction – he’s nuts. But the producer seems to fail to make it as well, and that’s alarming. - BetaCandy

    At best it’s another example of the myth that all tension (or all the best tension) is sexual, and therefore reads attraction into everything. At worst, it has the connotations implied by the producer’s own line about “women [liking] ‘em a little rough.”

    [I saw the same thing attributed to Buffy over and over by fans of Spike (while she did end up sleeping with him, it looked to me more like an equivalent of cutting herself)]

    I remember you making a comment about Heroes wherein you referred to seeing a lot of shows that were really good, provided you ignored the portrayal of women. I wonder if, between Djaq and Marian, this is a show approaching the opposite (since I would characterise almost everything about it as complete dross).

  14. says

    See, and I just can’t watch the show without believing in my soul that Guy is only after Marian in order to make Robin jealous – because Robin is who he really wants.

    This is not necessarily relevant to the conversation. You’ll have to forgive me. Robin Hood: The Historically Inaccurate Drinking Game is a beautiful, if hazy, recollection of my time in the UK.

  15. says

    Duck thief, that’s very true. And Marian acknowledges this when she talks about him being “deprived of love” in the same way Robin’s rescue cases had been deprived of money.

    Nick, the show is definitely campy and cheesy, and I think it’s meant to be. :D The producers talk about going for “feisty” women characters, which is not encouraging, but by the time the directors and actors have had their say, what we’re seeing in Marian (and I hope we’ll see with Djaq, who’s good so far but not very explored) is a fully-drawn character who happens to be female and living in a gender-biased, class-biased, etc., world.

    Anna, Jonas Armstrong has stated that Keith Allen says he thinks the sheriff “secretly fancies Robin” and plays him accordingly, so you may not be far off.

  16. says

    Anna, Jonas Armstrong has stated that Keith Allen says he thinks the sheriff “secretly fancies Robin” and plays him accordingly, so you may not be far off.

    More like the Sheriff fancies Guy. How many times has he leaned over Guy’s shoulder and they’re cheek to cheek. Don’t tell me you don’t see Guy close his eyes in those scenes. Go check them out for yourself. The Sheriff even offers to kiss him in Marian’s stead. And Keith Allen is too delicious as the sheriff.

    Anyone see the latest episode where he came up with a brilliant plan and left Guy to try and burn a tree down?

  17. Jennifer Kesler says

    WARNING: GINORMOUS SERIES 2 SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW.

    Interesting quote from Richard Armitage at the very end of this interview (I typed it below so you don’t have to watch):

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=GgqgnvDWbbo&feature=related

    “I’m really hoping that when people sit and watch this, that, you know, when Gisborne is trying to woo Marian, they absolutely squirm in their seats and their skin is crawling. That was my main aim with this character, was to make people absolutely despise him.”

    I thought this was his intent, because I know from other roles he’s quite capable of the layered performance you’d need for a “charming psycho”. But he plays Gisborne as a very blunt instrument, someone who doesn’t even know how to hide his rough edges from Marian’s view, but hopes nice presents and the occasional kindness will make her forget he’s the sort of guy who left his own inconvenient baby in the forest to die.

    And yes, if anyone wants to talk about series 2 in relation to this, I’ve posted a spoiler warning. Yeesh, that’s going to require a new post once I actually see the whole second series. *is still gobsmacked*

  18. SunlessNick says

    With my earlier comment, I did neglect how often Marian manages to get into more trouble than she can handle and need saving (I’ve only seen three episodes, and will probably see no more, but all three included that).

    In the latest one, BIG SPOILER WARNING FOR SEASON 2

    Gisbourne captures her as the Nightwatchman, while the Sherrif is out of town, looks under the mask. He arranges for a “nightwatchman sighting” while she’s in custody to get her off the hook, but makes her promise not to be the Nightwatchman again. By the look of the final scene, the director was going very heavily for the bizarre love triangle/sexyGisbourne/melting Marian angle.

  19. Jennifer Kesler says

    Nick, that’s true. In most of the cases where she needs rescued, my impression is that she’s the one in the lion’s den (dealing directly with the sheriff and Gisborne), so it’s only natural she’d get into trickier situations than the Sherwood gang.

    But I can think of an example that got on my nerves. There’s a bit in S1 where the sheriff is starving a village and she thinks she can just ride in with supplies and the guards will let her. The guards not only refuse, but start implying they can do whatever they want with her, when – Robin to the rescue! I didn’t buy for one second she’d go into a situation like that without an exit strategy. After all, the Night Watchman made it for three years without backup.

    Also, there’s an ep where Djaq is captured and held at the castle. She gets to be brave and engineer her own escape, then when the guys show up to rescue her, she ends up getting re-captured because she stays behind to protect their exit from being noticed. While this is all awesome and cool, it’s not filmed very well and I come away from it feeling like she could’ve gotten away with the boys. While lots of shows fail at execution from time to time and viewers get used to overlooking it, I can’t think of a time when one of the guys or even Gisborne have missed an opportunity to facilitate plot. It’s like the writers and directors realize how important it is to make it clear they didn’t miss a chance, but if it doesn’t look that convincing for the women, well, who cares?

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