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Sherwood review: Probably not the show you expected

The BBC series, from Quiz's James Graham, isn't your typical crime drama.

Sherwood review
Published: Monday, 13th June 2022 at 11:13 am
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A star rating of 3 out of 5.

Only 2 of 6 episodes were made available for review.

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Playwright James Graham (Brexit: The Uncivil War, Quiz) returns to his old stomping ground in Sherwood, a six-part BBC drama inspired by true events that took place in Nottinghamshire, where he was raised.

The series charts the investigations into two murders in a former mining community, with Detective Chief Superintendent Ian St Clair (David Morrissey), who was born and bred locally, and his team charged with piecing together what happened, albeit with difficulty given the natives' mistrust in the police.

two detectives looking into a garage in Sherwood
Ian St.Clair (David Morrissey) and Sergeant Cleaver (Terence Maynard). House Productions/Matt Squire

That suspicion towards and loathing of the authorities dates back to the miners' strike in the mid-'80s. Sherwood opens with archive footage depicting the clashes that tore apart once thriving, close-knit regions up and down the country, irrevocably altering the fabric of families and terminating decade-long friendships.

Those who crossed the picket lines were labelled "scabs", a word Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong), an ex-miner and National Union of Mineworkers member, spits at those he considers traitors. The strikes are the reason his wife Julie (Lesley Manville) and her sister Cathy (Claire Rushbrook) no longer have a relationship, despite living just around the corner from one another.

More than three decades on, that hurt remains as entrenched as it ever was, with both sides of the debate unable to forgive.

Sherwood is as much a mood piece as it is a crime thriller interspersed with kitchen sink drama, which might come as a surprise. There's a man terrorising locals with a bow and arrow (just in case you forgot we were in Nottingham) – as depicted in the trailer – but there's a deliberate lack of urgency.

The drama takes its sweet time – the first victim doesn't meet their maker until episode 1's halfway point – with the lead-up to that concerned with meticulously fleshing out the different warring factions (angry men scowling at one another in a variety of locations).

For some viewers, that pacing will tip over into glacial, and while Sherwood's refusal to commit to a single genre holds water given the multi-stranded nature of the narrative, it does feel disjointed in places – Adeel Akhtar's Andy belongs in a different story.

But there's much to praise. The performances are solid, with Manville (unsurprisingly) the standout, and the dialogue authentic. Lead director Lewis Arnold (Des, Time) has also done a stellar job of capturing that pressure cooker environment in which people who hate one another – so much so that some of them resort to murder – cannot help but get in one another's way, such is the geography of where they live.

The ugliness and pain of those long-standing grievances fades momentarily on the occasions we're swept up in verdant forests and sunset-soaked fields, if only to return swiftly, and with renewed vigour.

a man with a bow and arrow walking through the forest
Scott Rowley (Adam Hugill). House Productions/Matt Squire

The series also feels especially timely given the current lack of confidence in both the police and the government following the events of the past two years, and the threading in of an undercover policing scandal adds another compelling layer, teasing yet more turbulence ahead.

But without the remaining four episodes, it's difficult to form a substantial opinion on Sherwood. There's a jaw-dropping moment in episode 2 that, in hindsight, was written in the stars right from the off, and yet you won't see it coming. Had you been planning to tap out, that will keep you locked in. But it lacks the propulsive drive of Manhunt, for example, that some viewers will have been wanting.

With four more hours remaining, that could well change.

Sherwood airs on Monday 13th June at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Drama hub for the latest news.

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