When a one-eyed thief called Siward (Simon Rouse) steals a sacred emblem from a small band of warrior knights, it spells trouble for Robin and the others. Their leader, Reynald de Villaret (Yves Beneyton), mistakenly believes that Robin was the thief and he’ll stop at nothing to exact his revenge. Much is taken hostage whilst Robin is easily defeated by de Villaret in a one-sided swordfight. Robin then has to endure trial by battle, facing the imposing form of Heinrich von Erlichshausen (Duncan Preston).
Seven Poor Knights from Acre opens sedately enough, with Robin and the Merry Men indulging in a game of skill. Who can shoot an arrow into a swinging sack which has been placed some distance away? Nobody it seems, until Marion steps up and does! Robin then goes one better by piercing the rope which suspended the sack. He mutters that it was a lucky shot, but he’s probably only being modest.
As the contest continues, there’s an interesting conversation between Robin and Will. Will wonders why Robin hasn’t killed Gisburne yet (which no doubt had also crossed the audience’s minds). Robin replies that the people hate Gisburne, so as long as he’s alive his cruelty will drive more people to their side. It’s reasonable to assume that Robin has also considered the possibility that he might be replaced with someone fairer – which obviously wouldn’t suit their purposes quite so well.
I didn’t mention last time that the Merries have now increased by two, James (Steven Osborne) and Martin (Martin West). This is probably because they do so little it’s easy to forget that they’re there (think of Private Sponge in Dad’s Army – always in the background but never really one of the “gang”). And poor James doesn’t go any further than this story, as he’s cut down in the brutal battle between the Knights and the Merries. Martin continues to the end of the first series and then just disappers sometime before the start of series two.
The initial tussle between the Merry Men and the Knights is another excellently directed sequence by Ian Sharp. It’s plain that Robin and the others are way out of their depth as the Knights, encased in armour and mounted on horseback, herd them around the forest like sheep. Sharp also elects to shoot from inside one of the Knights’ helmets, which adds to the sense of claustrophobia and dread.
If one was being picky, then you have to wonder how these incredibly professional warriors allowed a sneak-thief like Siward to steal their most sacred relic. Was nobody keeping guard? It’s also something of a coincidence that Siward crossed paths with Robin at exactly the right moment for de Villaret to jump to the wrong conclusion that the Hooded Man was the thief.
Speaking of coincidences, what are the chances that the Sheriff and Gisburne would turn up at the village where de Villaret and the others have set up camp? No matter, as it allows the Sheriff and de Villaret to face off very entertainly, whilst Gisburne blunders around annoying everybody.
Simon Rouse, later to play DCI Jack Meadows in The Bill has the small, but key, role of the shifty Siward. Duncan Preston, best known for his work with Victoria Wood, is very butch as the impressively named Heinrich von Erlichshausen. This warrior knight doesn’t say much, but he scowls impressively and his face (bearing numerous scars) is obviously his own personal battlefield. The majority of Yves Beneyton’s roles are in French language films and television (although his English credits include Chariots of Fire and The Borgias). Still, it’s nice that for once a role like this wasn’t played by an English actor putting on a dodgy accent.
de Villaret is a formidable foe, and that’s one of the main reasons why this episode works well. Even this early in the run, the Sheriff’s soldiers seem to be little more than a never-ending supply of stuntmen whose sole purpose in life was to fall off a horse and/or a castle battlement (after they’ve been filled full of arrows). But the warrior knights offer a much sterner challenge and although we know that eventually Robin will win through, it’s more satisfying if he has to work for his victory.