First look UK TV review: Sherwood
Ivan Radford | On 13, Jun 2022
Sherwood premieres at 9pm on Monday 13th June with all episodes available at once on BBC iPlayer. This review is based on the opening three episodes.
“That’s really what it’s called? Robin Hood?” “I wouldn’t. The boss hates that kind of thing.” “What kind of thing?” “Stories.” That’s DI Kevin Salisbury (Robert Glenister) and Sergeant Cleaver (Terence Maynard) while inspecting a train on the line between the city of Nottingham and the market towns and villages around it. The boss? DCS Ian St Clair (David Morrissey). The story? An archer running around the village of Sutton-in-Ashfield, bumping off people one bolt at a time. But like Kevin, whose reflex to make light of the name is swiftly kept in check by a grim reality, Sherwood is a show that deliberately plays away from any conventions or clichés you might expect.
The show is written by James Graham, who grew up in the mining community where Sherwood is set. His script is inspired by real deaths that took place in 2004, but with fictionalised events and characters. The result is a crime drama grounded in a sense of place and community more than red herrings and corpses.
Ian, we learn, is similarly rooted in Nottinghamshire, having grown up there. “I know the potential to inflame divisions in the community,” he says at one point, and he’s not kidding – what becomes clear from the off, after a flashback to the miners’ strike in the 1980s, is that lines are still drawn between the residents today, as they remember who was on the front line and who crossed the picket line because they couldn’t afford not to work. It’s not long before we hear the word “scab” shouted at someone in the present day, and that shameful word is still enough to keep Julie (Lesley Manville) from speaking to her estranged sister (Claire Rushbrook). Not helping the friction are outspoken former miner Gary (Alun Armstrong) and Tory councillor Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggatt), who now proudly goes about leafletting, talking about how Labour’s “red wall” has fallen.
In short, it’s precisely the kind of bubbling pot of social unease that you’d expect the writer of Quiz and Brexit: The Uncivil War to be drawn to – and, true to form, he goes long on every nuance of class conflict going, with a real ear for the way that the personal intersects with the political, both with a big and small “p”. This is a superbly realised world of long-held grudges and snooping neighbours, all the richer because it rings so true and personal, with everyone set on edge by the lingering rumours of an undercover cop embedded in the town decades ago to serve as a spy for the government.
It’s a drama driven by reconciliation as much as partitions and the ensemble cast are uniformly excellent, from Manville’s moving portrait of a grieving widow to typically strong supporting turns from Brassed Off veterans Philip Jackson and Stephen Tompkinson. Adding a wild card into the mix is the always-great Adeel Akhtar as Andy, a troubled train driver. But the lynchpin of the drama is the quietly grinding tension between the two police officers brought together by these circumstances, with Morrissey’s brooding local lad brushing up against the brasher approach of Glenister’s outsider Kevin, whose connection to a strange non-arrest of a miner years ago leads him to become a potentially vital source of information. Glenister has always been a chameleonic character actor but he’s almost unrecognisable here as a man haunted by his past as well as driven by a need to escape from more present pains.
Des director Lewis Arnold and Baghdad Central helmer Ben A Williams stitch all this together with a patience that allows the tangible atmosphere around the town to build, to the point where sudden outbursts of violence feel as shocking and unpredictable as they are inevitable. This might not be a Robin Hood tale, but Sherwood doesn’t miss its mark.
Sherwood is available on BBC iPlayer after broadcast.