Sherwood recap: episode one – welcome to Ashfield … mind the flying arrows

Warning: this recap is for those who have watched episode one of Sherwood on BBC One.

James Graham’s beguiling quasi-factual drama began with wedding bells, strike schisms and a suitably Sherwood-themed murder. Here are your Notts notes from the opening episode …

After a scene-setting montage of archive newsreel – union leader Arthur Scargill, union-crusher Margaret Thatcher, spooks stashing files in a dimly lit basement – we were introduced to Sherwood’s dramatis personae via a wedding. In the closeknit community of Ashfield, Tory council candidate Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggatt) was marrying building society manager Neel (Bally Gill).

There was palpable tension between the enjoyably ghastly Sarah and her shy father-in-law Andy Fisher (a typically delicate performance from Adeel Akhtar), a widowed train driver who lives next door. He startled her by using the gate between their adjoining gardens. He refused to wear the tailored suit she had bought him because it clung in unmentionable places. He gave a rambling speech about his beloved railways. Hands up if you had “smallpox” on your bingo card? At least it wasn’t monkeypox.

The vibe was warmer at the house of Julie Jackson (Lesley Manville), one of Neel’s staff. She tried on fascinators, teased her grandchildren and recited 80s TV catchphrases. Husband Gary (Alun Armstrong) was a proud National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) member and one of the few locals to keep solidarity on the picket line back in 1984. Calling strike-breakers “scabs” remained a reflex for the outspoken old warhorse.

Despite living on each other’s doorsteps, Julie was estranged from her downtrodden sister Cathy (Claire Rushbrook). The strike tore the siblings apart when Cathy’s husband Fred Rowley (Kevin Doyle), a member of the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), carried on working. Fred has respiratory problems (likely pneumoconiosis, AKA black lung, common among pitmen), which Gary would doubtless say was divine justice. A potent reminder of the way lifelong neighbours were divided by the strike – and of how those faultlines persist decades later.

Lurking upstairs in his locked bedroom was Fred’s son Scott (Adam Hugill), your textbook troubled loner. A bank of computer screens displayed conspiracy websites and serial killer articles. He had a carrier bag full of cash, a shady lock-up and a habit of disappearing to go “hunting”. Scott was due in court for sentencing – we know not what for – in a few days. When Cathy advised him to “use what time he had left”, she definitely didn’t mean it how Scott took it.

The notorious local crime clan weren’t the Sopranos but the Sparrows, led by gruff patriarch Mickey (Philip Jackson) and wily wife Daphne (Lorraine Ashbourne). Their entrepreneurial empire included a taxi firm, axe-throwing range, archery range (possibly significant) and cocaine-dealing. A varied portfolio.

Their paths crossed twice with the Jacksons. Brooding son Rory (Perry Fitzpatrick) drove his minicab threateningly past the glowering Gary. No love lost there. Meanwhile, a Romeo and Juliet-style romance blossomed between Julie’s granddaughter Cinderella (Safia Oakley-Green) and younger Sparrow son Ronan (played by local lad Bill Jones). But it wasn’t Cupid’s arrows we were worried about …

Down the Miners’ Welfare Club for a Sunday night pint, glares were exchanged between Gary, Fred and another strike-breaker, Dean Simmonds (Sean Gilder). When Gary muttered “scab”, Deano snapped and threw a pool ball at him. “It were 30 fucking year ago,” he snarled. As Gary tottered home from the “clubby”, he seemed to be stalked by a hooded figure. Cinderella was sneaking home after an assignation. Did we also glimpse scary Scott in the gloom?

Next morning, Gary was found dead in the street, a crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest. Cue a devastating scene as Julie dashed out in her dressing gown, held back by police as she screamed her husband’s name. It’s a chilling fictionalisation of the 2004 murder of Keith “Froggy” Frogson, a 62-year-old ex-striking miner who was shot with a crossbow while walking home from the pub, by a killer who went to ground in Sherwood Forest.

This deeply personal project by playwright James Graham was inspired by this and another murder in the Nottinghamshire village where he grew up. Three-quarters of miners in Annesley Woodhouse crossed the picket line in 1984, heavy-handedly protected by London bobbies bussed north for the job.

En route to the nuptials, DCS Ian St Clair (David Morrissey) received a commendation from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Not the Christmas-cancelling Alan Rickman version, but Sunetra Sarker in a feathered cap and gown.

Since he knew the region intimately, he led the manhunt. St Clair set up a telegenic incident room in a local church, complete with glowing crucifix on the wall, just to emphasise that he’s a righteous truth-seeker. He clamped down on comparisons to a “modern-day Robin Hood” for fear of the press turning the tragedy into a tacky headline (as if).

His team learned that Gary had an appointment with a lawyer the day his body was found – and that the killer might have called out to him (viewers heard a whistle) because Gary turned and walked back. But St Clair’s inquiry was about to hit a (red) wall.

Gary showed up on the police database because back in 1984, he and four others had been arrested for arson. Except the charges were dropped after an “intervention” from a Met officer and Gary’s file was heavily redacted.

Cut to troubled Met detective DI Kevin Salisbury (Robert Glenister) – nearing retirement but up on disciplinary charges for breaking a racist colleague’s arm and sofa-surfing at his son’s swish apartment after splitting from his wife. It was Salisbury who’d intervened while a PC in 1984. He’d clearly clashed with Sinclair, also a rookie at the time, so was cagey when called decades later.

Salisbury had little desire to return to Ashfield. But he had no choice when his boss, Commissioner Charles Dawes (Pip Torrens, always a pleasure), sent him up to aid the east Midlands investigation. Memories are about to be stirred up and feuds inflamed.

This was a state-of-the-nation piece disguised as a crime drama. Graham has admitted breaking the rules of a standard police procedural: “We decided to tell the audience who the murderer was at the end of the first episode, which caused quite an existential crisis at the BBC.”

Scott seems the glaringly obvious killer, but no shortage of others could come under suspicion: ball-throwing Deano; bitter brother-in-law Fred; and scowling cabby Rory, with his penchant for cruising past the crime scene at snail’s pace.

However, there’s something bigger at play here, with special branch subterfuge and dark hints dropped about betrayal at the heart of the community. Is Gary’s death linked to the undercover officer on the ’84 picket line? Is a so-called “spycop” still embedded in Ashfield? Was Gary seeing a lawyer to unmask the infiltrator and killed for his silence? Was his upcoming visit to old comrades in South Yorkshire connected?

We left on Scott practising his archery in the woods, hood up, every inch the lone wolf.

A little on-the-nose, but it had to be wedding guest Gary telling Andy he should call his new daughter-in-law Maggie “because tonight she’ll be screwing a working man”.

This show is airing in double doses (Mondays and Tuesdays, 9pm on BBC One), so rejoin us tomorrow for more Sherwood shenanigans. In the meantime, my ducks, leave your thoughts and theories below …

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