REVIEW Sherwood (S1 E5/6)

Every series has one, especially every crime drama series.

Sherwood is no different.

So much is going on in this superb British series, we needed an explainer episode. And make no mistake, this is the explainer episode.

As recently the series finale of Welsh-language series, Y Golau, on S4C, we’ve discussed the use of flashbacks and the best, most impactful and judicious times to use them. However, episode five of Sherwood was more or less one big flashback, which not only revealed what really happened on that fateful night back in 1984, but also the nature of St Clair and Salisbury’s beef and, crucially who the spy cop was. It was thrilling, nicely staged and added more weight to what is already an undeniably weighty (in terms of social context) story.

If you’re reading this review you’ll no doubt know what happened, but I was so impressed by the production design and the new characters – St Clair’s brother and father (oh hello, Mark Addy!), the moral dilemmas they all faced, the betrayals, how families were torn apart… the female spy cop’s training back in London and her expert infiltration into Ashfield life, the guilt she felt after spreading the gossip that indirectly caused the fire that claimed lives… Salisbury and Jenny’s forbidden love and their role in it all… it was like an episode within an episode and it was just terrific. Hat tip also to director Lewis Arnold, especially during what seemed like one single, mega-take in the miners’ club that was comparable to Scorsese’s famous opening shot in Goodfellas.

So after that little lot, we know a lot more about the story, and who really is who in Ashfield.

And one person we now know is not the spy cop is Helen St Clair, even though she was pegged as the infiltrator at the end of episode four. In this episode, she met with Salisbury to explain she actually came to Ashfield under witness protection, which just happened to coincide with the troubles.

So that was a clever twist, and throughout this episode we saw more development in the present day, juxtaposed with backstory from the 1980s. But of course, we needed to know what was happening with Scott Rowley and Andy Fisher out in the woods. Rowley used Fisher to help throw the Met super-cops off his scent, while Andy himself was still debating whether to end it all or turn himself in.

I know I keep mentioning Andy Fisher, but he’s such an intriguing, engrossing and morally complex character (one of many in the series) – at once repugnant, sympathetic and vulnerable. And this combination was worked for all it was worth in an emotional end for him. Honestly, I thought Adeel Akhtar was simply superb as this difficult-to-portray character. He’s played despicable characters before, but here he did the business yet again. I genuinely think he’s one of the most underrated actors in the country.

There’s so much to say about every episode of Sherwood, and it’s very impressive how so much heavy characterisation is being juggled with plot and tempo in such exemplary fashion.

And there’s even time for a twist – a big twist – right at the end: the revelation of the identity of the spy cop. It was none other than Ma Sparrow herself, known as Daphne Dunne in the 1980s. As if to confirm her hidden identity, an arrow thudded into her front door.

Perfectly constructed, executed and with a huge emotional wallop.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 5 out of 5.





Sherwood airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK