During the Wars of the Roses Sir Daniel is a powerful, unscrupulous knight, surrounded by equally treacherous retainers, Oates, Sykes, Appleyard, and Scar. Since the white rose of the House of York is in the ascendant, Sir Daniel and his household are loyal to York and the white rose. The film takes place just before the revolt of Richard, Earl of Warwick's rebellion against Edward IV (1469–1471).
Some two years prior to this Daniel, Oates, Sykes, and Appleyard perjured themselves to attaint a nobleman, who later would go by the name of "Black Arrow." He went to France in exile while his fifteen-year-old daughter Joanna was warded to Sir Daniel—Black Arrow had not seen his daughter for eight years since she had been kept in a convent during the wars. Sir Daniel was also the guardian of his nephew Richard, who is trained to fight by Scar.
Scar and Richard are unaccountably enemies. On the eve of Richard's twenty-first birthday he is finally able to defeat Scar, although Scar is handicapped by his left hand tied behind his back. Daniel's court then hails him as Sir Richard after he takes the oath to be loyal to the white rose of the house of York.
Sir Daniel arranges for Black Arrow's now seventeen-year-old daughter Joanna to be taken from the convent to his castle to keep her from being rescued by her father. He also plans to marry her to take full possession of her inheritance.
Appleyard is sent by Sir Daniel to one of his tenants to confiscate livestock for the Earl of Warwick's upcoming visit. Richard is also sent to assist Appleyard. Appleyard surmises that Black Arrow will confront him, which he does. Black Arrow accompanied by Lawless and armed with a long bow succeeds in killing Appleyard, armed with a cross bow. Richard challenges the outlaws to a duel with staves, but he is beaten and sent back to Sir Daniel.
Joanna at Sir Daniel's castle is being prepared for marriage. She is a defiant adherent to the red rose of Lancaster, and she outrages Richard Shelton by daring to wear a red rose in Sir Daniel's household. Richard angrily strikes the red rose off Joanna's dress.
The Earl of Warwick comes to Sir Daniel's castle for a visit during which time Sir Daniel persuades him to outlaw Black Arrow. Warwick is eager to help Sir Daniel because he wants to enlist his help in his future revolt against King Edward.
Joanna overhears Sir Daniel and Warwick planning for her marriage, so she steals Sir Richard's clothing while he is bathing and escapes from the castle. Sir Richard is sent by Sir Daniel to recapture her and take her to York where Sir Daniel and Warwick have gone. Secretly Sir Daniel sends Scar and men-at-arms to kill Sir Richard to frame Black Arrow with his murder and take over his inheritance.
Joanna succeeds in ambushing Sir Richard, who in turn overpowers her. While this is going on Scar shoots Sir Richard in the shoulder, but Joanna comes to his rescue. Seeing Scar and his companions Joanna rides off to draw them away from where Sir Richard lies gravely wounded. She is then captured by Scar and his men and taken to York. Sir Richard is rescued by Black Arrow and his men, who also capture Scar. Scar is subsequently killed, and Sir Richard recovers.
In York Oates reminds Sir Daniel that he will be a bigger land owner than Warwick and, then, double-crosses him by going to Warwick with the information that it was Sir Daniel that had Sir Richard killed. Oates is also fortunate in capturing Black Arrow and his companion when the two arrive in York incognito to stop Joanna's marriage to Sir Daniel. Sir Richard manages to get to Warwick in York. Warwick, who is wary of Sir Daniel, grants Sir Richard's request to release Black Arrow and his companion. During Sir Daniel's wedding it is Richard, Black Arrow and his companion who stand up to show just cause why Sir Daniel and Joanna should not be joined in marriage. Oates also stands up denouncing Sir Daniel as a traitor. Sir Daniel dispatches Oates with a tossed dagger. Sir Richard and Black Arrow succeed in killing Sir Daniel, and Sir Richard and Joanna marry and ride off into the sunset.
Differences from the novel
The telefilm is based loosely on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel and simplifies the story. This film follows the 1948 Louis Hayward film more closely. The following are some of the major deviations from the novel:
- The time of the story is changed from May and January 1460–1461 to just before 1469 when Warwick's rebellion against Edward IV began.
- In the novel, one of Sir Daniel's retainers, Bennet Hatch, is blamed for the burning of Grimstone manor, the home of a Simon Malmesbury. Dick Shelton identifies Sir Daniel as Malmesbury's bane. Such an outrage is threatened on one of Sir Daniel's tenant farmers by Sykes, who is prevented from carrying it out by being assassinated by "Black Arrow."
- Bennet Hatch, an important character in the novel, is left out, but two other retainers are added in the telefilm, Sykes and Scar.
- In the telefilm Sir Daniel, who did vacillate freely between Lancaster and York, is presented as a Yorkist, while in the novel he is presented as a Lancastrian.
- In the telefilm Richard Shelton becomes a knight in the household of Sir Daniel on the eve of his twenty-first birthday when he defeats Scar in a wrestling match. In the novel Richard is knighted by Richard Crookback on the field of battle in the fictional city of Shoreby.
- Like Richard Shelton Joanna Sedley is an orphan in the novel. Joanna is under the guardianship of Lord Foxham in the novel, but in the telefilm, Joanna has a valiant father that leads the black arrow outlaws. This is also the plot of the 1948 film. At the start of the telefilm plot she has been housed in a convent for ten years under Sir Daniel's guardianship.
- In the novel Richard Shelton escapes from Sir Daniel's castle when he realises that Sir Daniel murdered his father. Joanna is too frail to go with him. In the telefilm Joanna's stamina and manliness are emphasised as she escapes from Sir Daniel's castle by jumping over the moat from the battlement of the gateway.
- In the novel Sir Daniel attempts to marry Joanna Sedley off to another magnate, Lord Shoreby, but in the telefilm and the 1948 film he plans to marry her himself.
- In the novel Oliver Oates is a priest, and remains alive at the end of the story, but in the telefilm Oates is a layman associate or henchman of Sir Daniel like Sykes and Appleyard. He is killed by Sir Daniel when he denounces him. This is similar to the 1948 film in which the marriage of Sir Daniel to Joanna is interrupted when Oates is killed by a black arrow shot by a drunken Will Lawless trying to shoot Sir Daniel.
- Instead of Jon Amend-All's fellowship, started by Ellis Duckworth, using black arrows as calling cards in the novel, the telefilm has Joanna Sedley's father, who goes by the name of "Black Arrow" lead outlaws against Sir Daniel. This is also the plot of the 1948 film in which Joanna's father, a John Sedley, led the black arrow outlaws.
- In the novel the character Will Lawless is a loner while in the telefilm he is the best friend of the black arrow outlaw leader, "Black Arrow."
- Richard Crookback, Duke of Gloucester, does not appear in the telefilm but is replaced by a different famous historic personage, Richard, Earl of Warwick. This authoritative character is an opponent of Sir Daniel in the novel while an ally of his in the telefilm.
- In the novel Richard Shelton, when he confronts Sir Daniel for the last time, lets him go free on the outskirts of Holywood only to be killed by Ellis Duckworth with a black arrow. In the telefilm like the 1948 film Richard fights a duel to the death with Sir Daniel, but in the end Sir Daniel is killed by "Black Arrow" with a black arrow.
- Benedict Taylor as Sir Richard
- Georgia Slowe as Joanna
- Oliver Reed as Sir Daniel
- Fernando Rey as the Earl of Warwick
- Stephen Chase as Black Arrow
- Donald Pleasence as Oates
- Roy Boyd as Will Lawless
- Adolf Sambrell as Scar
- Carol Gotell as Hannah
- Robert Russell as Appleyard
- Frank Braña as Sykes
- Ralph Brown as Yardley
- ↑ Robert Louis Stevenson, The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses, edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Sutherland, (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 49, 54.