Sherwood finale review – every arrow hit its mark

Stuffed with the best British acting talent in a generation, this gloriously directed, superbly written ending was quietly devastating. There seems to be nothing its creator James Graham can’t do

A crossbow is a silent weapon. It devastates, but quietly. The arc of James Graham’s Sherwood, in the end, did likewise.

The six-part series didn’t falter in its intricate plotting, attention to detail or its perfect evocation of place. It has put psychological acuity, inner suffering (oh, Andy …) and intra-community tensions over the traditional suspense of a thriller or police procedural, though it has had aspects of both running through it. And if it felt like a very slightly underwhelming final episode, that was almost entirely due to the sky-high expectations aroused by the preceding five.

There were still plenty of narrative coils to be unwound during this last hour in the divided former mining village of Ashfield, and unwound they duly were. Though young Ronan Sparrow’s theory, that because the arrow that thudded into their door at the end of the fifth instalment rhymed with Sparrow (“I’m just saying”) it might have had “summat to do with it!”, was quickly shot down by his father, Mickey(Philip Jackson). “He’s not a beat poet, Ronan, he’s a psychopath.”

If a writer can capture the gentle brutality of family sarcasm, you know they can do pretty much anything.

The first mystery was why Scott (Adam Hugill) had murdered Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong). Was it to do with Gary’s enduring hatred of “scabs” – including Scott’s own father? Was it tied to the Sparrows’ skulduggery that he and Gary were both, in different ways, involved with? Or was it something to do with that long-ago fire and events behind Gary’s redacted records?

It turned out to be – and this is where the slight underwhelm comes in – none of these. He resented Gary for being such a force to be reckoned with in the village; a symbol – as he sees it – of a happier, stronger generation. “All the old men round here are so proud … And we’re going nowhere. I’m not complaining. It is what it is.” Disaffection, frustration and alienation combining into murderous intent.

It felt, in light of the emotional depths plumbed for every other character, just a little trite. A later scene, however, obliquely chided us for the need for such tidy answers. During the semi-cathartic showdown among villagers gathered together by St Clair to try to lay ghosts to rest after Scott has been charged, Ian’s brother Martin (Mark Frost) rejects someone else’s version of the events that left him scarred. “No one did this to me – it were an accident. But that’s not a good enough story, is it? Nowhere to put your anger then.” And maybe he has a point.

Elsewhere, things did resolve more satisfactorily for those of us who still hunger for such basic fare. Thanks to a favour owed to DI Salisbury by a crime-scene photographer and a tiny, missed reference during a conversation with a fellow villager, which snags in Julie’s mind in a way that could only happen in a tight community like theirs, the identity of Keats starts to become clear. It is finally confirmed in a slightly – again, very slightly – unconvincing manner at the school harvest festival (mirroring the one they gathered for the night of the fire – Sherwood has been filled with these callbacks to mesh past and present). “Keats” exits, pursued by Ian St Clair (David Morrissey), who averts the impending suicide by using all that he has learned about the need to forgive yourself as much as others for the sins of the past.

That, ultimately, is what Sherwood has been about. While it has taken in much else, including such timely issues as how power protects itself and whose interests are best served by keeping the working classes at each other’s throats, its underlying concern has been how psychic wounds are made, how they fester, whether they can heal – and what could be done with the new energy unleashed if they are.

The entire cast has been rightly and unanimously lauded. Sherwood has been stuffed with the unquestionable best of a generation of British acting talent in Manville, Morrissey, Lorraine Ashbourne (who gets all the work she deserves but not always the glory – despite never failing to convince absolutely every moment she’s on screen) and those filling every other main role. They all had a fine script to work with and glorious direction that made it even more than the sum of its parts.

Every arrow found its mark.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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