You know this one: a dashing young hero exists on the outskirts of proper society. Denied justice by conventional avenues, he nonetheless cleaves to his own sense of right and wrong, taking from the undeserving wealthy and showing largess to the desperate and downtrodden poor. Songs are sung, legends are forged. Sometimes Errol Flynn shows up; sometimes it’s Kevin Costner.
Robin Hood has been a staple of English literature and folklore since the 14th century. But now filmmaker Dylan River and writer Kodie Bedford has taken the basic narrative framework of the legend, filtered it through a specifically and idiosyncratically Indigenous Australian point of view, and plonked it in the middle of contemporary Alice Springs, where there’s not a leaf of English Oak or a scrap of Lincoln Green to be seen.
Across six 10-minute episodes, Robbie Hood gives us a set of archetypes and scenarios that are instantly familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of Robin Hood, and instantly relatable to anyone who has spent time in an Australian country town.
Instead of Robin Hood, our hero is the titular Robbie, an amiable 13-year-old Indigenous tearaway played by Pedrea Jackson, his red hoodie an inversion of the outlaw’s usual costume, his winning grin the equal of Errol’s. His right-hand man is lanky doofus Little Johnny (Levi Thomas), a distant echo of Little John. Their outlaw triumvirate is rounded out by sardonic Georgia Blue (Jordan Johnson) a gender- and colour-flipped take on Will Scarlet (importantly, she’s not Robbie’s love interest – our Maid Marian is cheerleader Mim, played by Tiara Doolan).
In opposition to our little gang stands local lawman Shane the Copper (Dan Falzon), an altogether more likable take on the Sheriff of Nottingham than we’re used to seeing. In truth, the real villain is the pervasive poverty that plagues the Aboriginal community of the Shire, and Robbie and the gang’s antics are often in aid of getting over or around the various economic speedbumps the world drops in front of them. Less than legal? Well, perhaps, but they wanted to hang Robin Hood too, you’ll recall.
Robbie Hood impresses because, for all that it’s a fun, knockabout bit of children’s entertainment, it steadfastly refuses to sugarcoat the socioeconomic hardships Robbie and the kids are dealing with. It’s considerably more hard-edged than most of the kids’ fare on Australian television. One episode’s plot revolves around getting enough pre-paid power tokens in time for Christmas. Another sees Robbie, Johnny and Georgia packed off to a foster home. Sneaking into the town pool or the local speedway is common occurrence. Robbie’s dad, played by Andy Golledge, is an alcoholic; his mother died young.
All this adversity counterpoints the good-natured action of the narrative. Robbie lives in this world, but he doesn’t let it break him. The stakes add meaning and texture to the story, but they don’t mire it in misery. Rather, they give the series a unique flavour, hopeful but clear-eyed, and an unignorable ring of authenticity.
Speaking of the series’ origins, River observed, “Robbie Hood is my gift to the youth of Alice Springs and the rest of the world. It’s inspired by my own life and the first-hand experiences of my friends and family. The show is a combination of the highs and lows of our upbringing in a small desert town that we have a love–hate relationship with.”
He’s absolutely nailed it. Combining legendary archetypes, social realism, and a very wry and specifically Aussie sense of humour, Robbie Hood flies like an arrow out of Sherwood into the red heart of Australia.
Robbie Hood will screen on NITV (Ch34) Friday July 12 at 9pm and is also is streaming at SBS On Demand.
Fiona is joined by longtime listener, first-time co-host, Ben Nguyen, who takes time out from his day job as SBS Channel Manager to join The Playlist. Ben's been watching HBO's 'Chernobyl', and Fiona has been watching and loving Bong Joon-ho's Palme d'Or winning 'Parasite'. Director Bong returns to The Playlist to talk about his darkly funny thriller.