Beware Of Arrows:
It’s Robin Hood country—Sherwood forest in Nottinghamshire—the facile use of the name irks a local cop investigating a killer, who uses the folk hero’s weapon of crossbow-and-arrow. The romance of the legendary outlaw ends there, however, as Sherwood, the disturbing crime-cum-political thriller, based on a true incident fictionalized by writer James Graham, delves into the anti-working class excesses of the Thatcher era.
The BBC series (available in India on buy-or-rent mode after a content sharing agreement with bookmyshow.com) begins with documentary footage of the 1984 miners’ strike that turned violent. The police attacked picket lines of striking miners, yelling “scab” at a small section of workers who did not join in. Decades later, acrid memories of strife between strikers and ‘traitors’ remain and affect the close-knit community of Ashfield. Sisters Julie (Lesley Manville) and Cathy (Claire Rushbrook) live next door, but have not spoken for years, because their husbands belonged to opposite sides of the divide.
When Julie’s embittered husband Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong), a striking miner who lived all his life in a village full of ‘scabs,’ is found murdered in the street with an arrow through his body, the bandage is ripped off the festering wound that had been loosely covered for years.
Local boy, once hated cop (they were derisively called pigs), now dignified inspector Ian St Clair (David Morrissey), who still has to live outside the village as penance for the past, is called upon to investigate. Much to his annoyance, Kevin Salisbury (Robert Glenister), of the Metropolitan Police is sent down from London, supposedly to assist, but actually with a different motive. Ian and Kevin have an unpleasant history from the days of their youth that seeps into their forced working relationship.
A drug-dealing family, the Sparrows, who also run an archery range are dragged into the mess, more because of who they are than what they did. A somewhat unnecessary subplot that bloats the running time of the six-part series of hour-long episodes, involves Andy Fischer (Adeel Akhtar), his son Neel (Bally Gill) and Tory councillor daughter-in-law (Joanne Froggart); these unconnected characters were probably added because of the real double-murder case that inspired Graham, but it is interesting to note that in contemporary Britain, people of Indian origin are integrated into the community. Oddly, not a whiff of racism!
When more arrows are shot into random targets, the calm exterior of St Clair snaps, more so since everything seems to point to the unfortunate incidents of 1984. Later, he gets shocking information about just how far the pro-capitalist government of the time went to break the backs of the working class.
As the series progresses, the links between characters get more intricate; the manhunt for the killer takes a backseat to the tragedies of the past spilling into the present. The killer is revealed quite early, so who did it is not a mystery, but why he did it, still comes as a jolt to the various characters affected by his indiscriminate attacks.
The English countryside is beautifully shot in all its timeless glory (Simon Archer-Sam Care) and the cast of fine actors led by Morrissey and Manville, give of their best under the direction of Lewis Arnold and Ben A. Williams. They look like they have lived through tough times, their faces lined and joyless. The suspense builds up gradually but the series does lose some energy and focus by the fourth episode. The intrusion into the village of hundreds of cops from outside is not played out for its tension and dramatic potential.
For viewers outside the UK, the politics of the 1980s and the long term ramifications of ill-considered economic decisions, may not make much sense, but for those in the country, with memories of the turbulent Eighties, it would resonate. Still, the conflict between opposing clans (there is even a teen romance amidst the hostility), unresolved rage and pain of loss is universal. Sherwood may just be worth the price because it is not just a simple police procedural, it is an atmospheric piece, with a Broadchurch and Mare Of Easttown vibe of toxicity hidden by bucolic beauty.
(An edited version of this piece appeared in scroll.in)