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.