David Morrissey, Lesley Manville and Robert Glenister in Sherwood

Sherwood, on Britbox, is a British series that takes place in modern day Nottinghamshire, a former coal mining area and sight of violent confrontations during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. Miners separated into those who stood with the National Union of Miners and held a strike, and those who crossed picket lines and continued to work the pits during the strike, derisively known as “scabs”. In the show, set 38 years after the strike, Gary Jackson (Alun Armstrong), a former union loyalist, is murdered, and old wounds are opened as the police search for the killer. With an interesting backstory and an all-star cast, Sherwood is a better-than-usual small-town murder mystery.

Note: I am an American and have no stake in the story of the miners. Any political positions you may sense are from the show.

History Never Dies

Sherwood briefly gives us some history, with the opening segment featuring actual footage of the strikes and news clips from 1984. As we meet the still bitterly divided residents of the present-day town, we are shown through various interactions who was a loyalist and who was a “scab”. Gary was a loyalist, and he was not shy about muttering “scab” under his breath in mixed company. He is happily married to his spirited wife Julie (Lesley Manville), who has a sister Cathy (Claire Rushbrook) that lives across the alley, to whom she never speaks because of the mining issue.  You can’t overestimate the degree to which this hatred affected mining towns like Sherwood, dividing families and ending friendships. According to the show, with the 30-year moratorium on government papers lifted, some cynical and dubious practices by the Thatcher government have been exposed, reigniting issues, especially around arrests of protestors in 1984. This is the backdrop against which the murder of Gary Jackson plays out.

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The characters

DCS Ian St. Clair (David Morrissey), is local to Sherwood, and is leading the investigation of Gary Jackson’s death, even though it’s way below his rank. (If you are unsure what rank a DCS is, read our article here to sort it out). Ian remembers the night of a violent confrontation between local protestors and the Met police sent up from London to bust heads. He has always been ambivalent about the issue, and has remained on neutral terms with loyalists and picket-crossers alike. Julie’s sister Cathy (the one she doesn’t talk to) is married to Fred (Kevin Doyle), a miner who broke picket lines to continue working, and who now has some health problems. Fred has an adult son Scott (Adam Hugill), who is a loner, a bow hunter, and an ersatz hacker. He is scheduled to attend a sentencing hearing for fraud, but disappears the night before the hearing, which also happens to be the night Gary was killed by an arrow. The local drug dealing family in town is the Sparrows, who may or may not have had anything to do with Gary’s murder, but are the first on Ian’s list. In what seems to be an unrelated plot, but of course it circles around, a Tory (conservative) politician Sarah Vincent (Joanne Froggat) is marrying Neel Fisher (Bally Gill), whose needy widowed father Andy (Adeel Akhtar) lives next door. If that seems like a lot to keep track of, it is. But what helps is that you will probably recognize the faces of the entire cast, as they are all TV stars.

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Our Take on Sherwood

In the first episode of Sherwood, I thought I knew where it was going. I expected there to be a million red herrings as each character in town let slip a motive to kill Gary. But, nope! We find out who the killer is pretty quickly. Instead, the secrets that come out are about the ’84 strike, and how the government interfered with the miners. Several times in the series I thought, “I didn’t see that coming!” Frankly, Sherwood is less of a crime drama than a small-town drama about relationships and overcoming history. It is a procedural to a degree, as there is a manhunt, and another murder which I won’t spoil here. With its stellar cast, unexpected plot twists and historical background, Sherwood is an excellent series.

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