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Robin Hood series 1 : Playing Guy of Gisborne (1)

Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin HoodRichard Armitage plays Sir Guy of Gisborne, the evil henchman of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

“He’s described in one of the early scripts as a sadistic lieutenant. He’s a dispossessed lord.” The Gisborne family’s lands were taken away by King Richard. This clearly rankles with him – in an early episode, he tells Marian he’s aware that his men laugh at him behind his back because he has no land of his own. “He’s very ambitious, he wants his land back. It’s very important to him to have title.” [1]

His route back to power and influence is through the Sheriff. He is cruel and sadistic, willing to murder or torture on his master’s instructions.

Gisborne and Robin

Richard Armitage and Jonas Armstrong in Robin HoodWhile Robin, Earl of Huntingdon, was away fighting in the Holy Land, Gisborne was given his lands to look after. But once Robin comes back from the Crusades, Gisborne has to give them back and so is in effect dispossessed a second time. However, by the end of the first episode Robin is an outlaw, and Gisborne moves back into Locksley Hall. Unlike Robin, he’s not popular. “In the eyes of the people, he’s an absolute tyrant.” [2]

He resents Robin. “Everything that Robin has, Gisborne wants. He’s been babysitting Robin’s lands and his wealth while he’s been away in the holy land, and he’s had his eye on Marian as well. When Robin comes back it’s like his world has flipped upside down. So his whole focus is on destroying Robin.” [3]

Comparing Robin and Gisborne, Richard Armitage said, "They're opposite sides of a similar coin – they were contemporaries of each other and they've grown in very different directions. While Robin is the hero, Gisborne is the anti-hero. He wants the trappings of fame, fortune and popularity but he just doesn't have the qualities to achieve that." [4]

Gisborne and the Sheriff

Richard Armitage and Keith Allen in Robin HoodAlthough his position with the sheriff gives him status, it’s not a comfortable existence.

“Gisborne works directly for the Sheriff and his view of the Sheriff is that he’s very useful to him. They’re useful to each other actually. Guy needs the Sheriff desperately, to give him status and occupation, and the Sheriff has promoted Gisborne in a very favourable way.

“However, his position is incredibly precarious, as the Sheriff constantly reminds him. The Sheriff is quite cruel to Gisborne. He ridicules him and he doesn’t really give him an opportunity to shine. At the same time, Gisborne is constantly being foiled by Robin and is being shown up as incompetent in front of the Sheriff, so this winds him up into a very tight coil. He’s constantly battling with Robin and at the same time trying to remain in favour with the Sheriff, which keeps his world in constant flux.

“And although there’s loyalty between Gisborne and the Sheriff, I think that Gisborne would not hesitate to stab the Sheriff in the back given the opportunity. I think the Sheriff would finish Gisborne off in the blink of an eye as soon as Gisborne became in any way dangerous to him, or a threat, or useless; I think that he would just dispose of him instantly.” [2]

Gisborne and Marian

Richard Armitage and Lucy Griffiths in Robin HoodThe other character with whom Gisborne interacts is Marian - in this version of Robin Hood, there is a love triangle between Robin, Marian and Guy. Marian clearly has feelings for Robin that she will scarcely admit to and she is frequently dismissive of what he does as an outlaw. But she is also wooed by Gisborne.

"His initial move towards her is that she could be a token bride. She's a lady, she's the daughter of the old sheriff, she carries great status with her – and also she's obviously the most desirable woman in the vicinity,” said Richard Armitage. “But actually he does fall for her and when Robin is made an outlaw it is very convenient for Gisborne because it sets him in a much more favourable position as a marriage option.” [4]

Marian has no feelings for Gisborne, but there are reasons why she might marry him nonetheless. “On a practical level she has got to think of her father and Gisborne knows this. Whether or not she will ever love him doesn't really matter, because she may well be bound to him by those practical voices." [4]

At the beginning of the first series, Gisborne is seen as little more than cruel and cold. “Early on in the story I actually thought he might be a robot because you never saw his hands. I thought that maybe this man wasn’t human because the things he was doing were so inhuman.” [2] All Gisborne appears to do in the initial episodes is to bully, threaten, torture, and murder – and then attempt to woo Marian, very ineptly. His attentions and his gifts to her are clearly unwelcome.

But then he starts to fall in love with her. At this point Gisborne begins to show the vulnerabilities that Richard Armitage plays so well.

“His love for Marian is something which is beginning to unravel him and he’s becoming more human through her. It’s actually surprising him. I don’t think he quite realises what’s happening to him - he’s becoming human throughout the course of the series, I think.” [2]

But his love can turn on a sixpence. Marian is playing a dangerous game with him – she’s using him to get information she can feed back to Robin. Although Gisborne is mostly unaware of this, at one point he does think she has been betraying him. His anger towards her then is frightening to see – he would happily see her hanged because she has made a fool of him.

Continued on page 2 >>

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Robin Hood series 1 : Introduction | Playing Guy of Gisborne, page 1, page 2 | Video clips
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