REVIEW Sherwood (S1 E6/6)

Sherwood has been just terrific so far, expertly weaving an intricate murder mystery into an engrossing tale of a fraying community pushed to the very edge of its sanity.

But as terrific as it has been, a crime drama often lives and dies by how it lands. So far, writer James Graham has paid close attention to his characters, giving them deep, rich histories, and to his community that is still suffering the after-effects of the miners’ strike back in the 1980s.

Such gnarly and dense social context has been truly great for this drama, giving it a depth that we’ve not seen for a long time.

It changed slightly from a whodunit into a cat-and-mouse and, to some extent, a whydunit as the story evolved. We knew fairly early on that lone crossbowman, Scott Rowley, killed Gary Jackson and was the man wreaking havoc around Ashfield. But why?

Graham also gave us a compelling and intriguing mystery concerning a ‘spy cop’, one of five undercover Met police officers sent to Ashfield to infiltrate different groups, cause trouble and sow seeds of mistrust. State agitators, sent to heighten the conflict and who were content to sit back and let the two warring groups tear themselves apart.

In episode five, we found out that the spy cop who stayed in the town was Daphne Sparrow, now the matriarch of a crime family.

Such a fantastically delicious juxtaposition.

In fact, Sherwood has been full of these terrifically drawn characters, and I’ve really marvelled at how Graham has managed to keep all the plates spinning. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to create a compelling, addictive murder mystery – with all the beats, and with all the cliffhangers that we come to expect and demand – that is given equal weight to a really meaty character drama. One often overshadows the other – procedural snuffs out character, or vice versa. Rarely are they balanced.

But they are here.

Let’s just take a moment to list some of the amazing characterisation and stories explored in this six-part series. Ian St Clair – the white-knight cop – and his relationship with his wife Helen, his community, and what happened with his dad and brother in the 1980s; what happened to Kevin Salisbury during his stationing in Ashfield, his relationship with Jenny and how that affected him for the rest of his life; the dynamics within the Sparrow family; the sad tale of Andy Fisher, losing his wife and then exploding in a fit of murderous rage; his victim Sarah Vincent and her relationship with her father, and now an unapologetic Tory councillor in a mostly Labour area; the Jackson sisters and their causes of their estrangement… the list goes on and on. And there was even time for a star cross’d relationship between the younger members of the Jackson and Sparrow families.

To carry all of this off, you need a top-notch cast, and the likes of David Morrissey, Robert Glenister, Lesley Manville, Lorraine Ashbourne, Adeel Ahktar et al were all brilliant.

But now to the ending.

When Scott Rowley was finally caught by members of the community (a nice touch… the community putting animosities aside and teaming together to capture him) as he sought to sneak in and out of his family home, the thought was that he was doing what he was doing because he knew who the spy cop was and was taking out key players in the miners’ drama as an act of some sort of revenge.

Not so. In custody, he told a stunned St Clair and Salisbury that he had no idea who the spy cop was, although he quite enjoyed toying with the police making them think he knew who it was. No, Scott Rowley murdered Gary Jackson because he was fed up with his uncle lording it over everyone, and he continued his spree because… he wanted to make a name for himself. He had been passed over by his birth mother, his dad didn’t care about him and his life was going nowhere.

Was this satisfactory? I’m not sure. I’m still not sure after watching it a second time. Part of me thinks this was a bit… of a cop-out. In crime dramas, we like to not only see the bad guy get his comeuppance but also to find out why he did it. After all the build-up – the spy cops, the history of the miners’ strike – I was expecting something more. Much more. To see Scott Rowley (clearly a highly disturbed psychopath) laugh his head off because there was no real reason for committing the atrocities he did, felt like a bit of a cheat.

And yet, they were perfectly plausible human reasons for doing what he did – we heard that he had been rejected by his birth mother, rejected by his dad and, in a sense, rejected by his whole community.

The Scott Rowley issue had been resolved fairly early in the episode, which left a good half an hour to build up the tension again… would Daphne Sparrow be found out? She came perilously close on numerous occasions, and she was ready to end it all after it seemed her true identity would be revealed.

However, thanks to St Clair’s intervention, she stayed her pistol. Not to live happily ever after, but at least to live.

And this seemed to be the message – the big theme – in this series: no matter who you are, what you did 30 years ago and what you believe, it’s ok to change, and it’s ok to heal. Healing, reconciliation, redemption. They’re all needed in order to live life.

So while I perhaps had a few issues with some of this final episode – I’d be interested to know what you thought of it – Sherwood was one of those rare things: a crime drama that gave us characters and characterisation you could luxuriate in, the type and quality of which we haven’t seen since Happy Valley.

Paul Hirons

Episode rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Series rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.





Sherwood is now on the BBC iPlayer in the UK


10 Comments Add yours

  1. Bazza says:

    A great series but I still don’t understand why the retired police officer committed suicide, and where did they get their guns from?


    1. Elizabeth Macpherson says:

      I’ve given my thoughts in my reply below.


  2. Keith says:

    I thought it wrapped up pretty well. Where psychopaths are involved, most of the time the ‘reason’ lies only within their heads so I wasn’t unduly concerned about his lack of involvement with the spy cop element.

    In fact, if he HAD known who Keats was it would have led to a very different denouement. As it is, she lives on in anonymity if she chooses, possibly with the option to change the family’s criminal path as a form of atonement for what she did in the past.

    The characters were all strong, even the relatively minor ones although I found Ian St Clair a bit too dour and ‘troubled’ throughout, even at times when he didn’t need to be.

    It’s based on a true story and I wonder what the real Ashfield is like today. Have people moved on (that final meeting suggested there was appetite for that to happen among many of the locals) or are the old wounds still there?

    I hope Season 2 (and maybe 3) follows the pattern set by Broadchurch and finds a new story to tell as I’m not sure what life is left in this one to justify a sequel but who knows…


    1. Christopher Frow says:

      I can’t entirely speak to what Ashfield is like today, as I’ve never lived there, but I’ve been a lifelong resident of the Newark area in East Nottinghamshire, and I’ve made regular trips to the Ashfield region throughout my life. It’s only about 15 miles down the road.

      I’m 22, so like the younger cops in this series who had to be lectured on using the word ‘scab’, I had no idea about most of this stuff with the strikes. I knew they happened, and I knew they were tumultuous, but I never had any idea Nottinghamshire was quite so embroiled in that, nor just how impactful they had been. Part of that is also where I live – East Nottinghamshire, by the Trent, is primarily market towns. I feel fairly confident saying my hometown is more sore about our town hall burning down in the 90’s and never being replaced.

      My experience of West Nottinghamshire – Ashfield, Mansfield, Ollerton, Worksop – by contrast, has more often been that of a stagnant land. Empty collieries still standing tall; tired, depressed town centres with the occasional indication of a rejuvenation project – a new cinema or shopping centre. Like Julie’s speech towards the end of this episode perfectly captured, there’s a feeling that West Notts is steeped in everything it’s lost since Thatcher hijacked it for her own ends. I never could have imagined people in that area would be as inflamed as the characters in this series, though.


  3. Elizabeth Macpherson says:

    I & my ex were police officers at the time of the strikes..oh the 12 hr+ shifts, no time off etc. I didn’t want to watch the series as that time still initiates strong feelings within me.
    However, due to the excellent stars you gave it (I only read the reviews after watching each episode) I thought I’d give it a go. I am glad I did – I binge watched. Excellent.
    I had no problem over there not being a ‘reason suitable for us’ re the murders committed by Scott.

    With regards to the undercover officers having guns (the same type), I assumed they’d been given to them by their bosses. With regards to the suicide, he said it he didn’t want his family to know.


  4. Pratul Chatterjee says:

    Hi Paul,

    I have always been a silent admirer of your reviews. “Healing, reconciliation, redemption. They’re all needed in order to live life” – well said.

    Sherwood is possibly the best crime drama from BBC this year. James Graham was absolutely at his best in painting the sufferings of several characters. The reconciliation between Jackson sisters was really moving. Perhaps nobody will talk about the brief encounter between Kevin Salisbury and Jenny Harris [Nadine Marshall] in the hotel room which was so beautifully portraited. Kevin was carrying the guilt, the horror and the loss of Jenny all his life. Finally, he had a chance to say, “I’m sorry”. For the first time in a long time, he felt it was okay next morning.

    I agree with you on Scott Rowley’s motives as a murderer which was a little unsatisfactory. Of course, a psychopath doesn’t need any reason but we had sky-high expectations to hear something clever!


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Hi Pratul, nice to hear from you and thank you for the kind words. And I agree with everything you said!


  5. Christopher Frow says:

    I found the reveal of Scott’s motivations to be perfectly fine – great, even – knowing this story is heavily based on a real-life double murder. Obviously, they’ve dramatised it significantly – there was no hunting spree, with both killers doing the initial act and then hiding in Sherwood Forest until they were found – but in the broad strokes, they stuck to the real thing.

    In real life, everyone thought Frogson (the real Gary Jackson) was killed as revenge for his days in the NUM, until the killer was captured and confessed he did it just because, as the court found, “He had convinced himself that Keith Frogson was trying to dismantle his house brick by brick, that acid was being thrown at the brickwork and that a screwdriver had been used to chip away at the bricks.”

    I like that they kept to the mundane motivation, but also changed it to tell a different story that I think really resonated. Scott killed Gary not because he deludedly thought Gary was on some campaign against him, but because he resented everything his uncle had that he didn’t: a family that loved him, a future. The masterstroke was following that up with Julie’s speech at the community therapy session – I don’t know if it’s JUST because I’m a lifelong resident of the area, but it felt almost cathartic to hear her say it; how Nottinghamshire seems defined by its mining days, with its “post-industrial”, “former mining towns”, and how it seems hard to move on from that. Scott was a killer, but in a small part, he was also a victim of a community that had been scarred by the mining strikes, which had been left stagnant.


  6. Elaine says:

    May I firstly say thank you for the reviews. You know I am a fan of your work, Paul. Occasionally, very occasionally, I might not agree with everything, but you have been bang on the money with all these reviews. The series itself has been excellent- headlined by the wonderful cast, but the writing and direction has been top, top draw. As Pratul said, it’s the best crime drama from the BBC this year. In fact I would say it’s been my favourite crime drama of the year, beating the excellent Hidden Assets and series 2 of The Truth Will Out, and only being pipped by the magnificent ‘This is going to hurt’ in the drama stakes. But like many others I felt a flush of disappointment at the reasons behind Scott’s actions-no conspiracy? No deeper reasons? But then as the episode progressed and it felt unsettling, I realised that was what it should feel like-unsettling and not making sense, as that’s what events like this often are. I just hope the second series is half as good.


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Cheers Elaine, it was a very good series. And it’d be boring if everyone agreed with each other, so I always value your opinion!


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