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Friday, 20 November 2009

Blackadder the first

Anyone who only knows that later, more successful seasons of the BBC's sitcom, would be puzzled viewing the first season for the first time. At this point the characters had not really been established and the biggest difference to the later seasons is that the roles of Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick are reversed - Edmund is the simpleton while Baldrick is the devious schemer.

"I have a cunning plan, my lord."

The
first series is set during the Dark Ages and like all the other series it follows the misadventures of Edmund Blackadder. It is implied in each series that the Blackadder character is a distant descendant of the previous one and this time Edmund is the despised son of King Richard the fourth, yep you read that correctly,and each episode represent sublime and intelligent comedy set in a different historical period.

T
he first episode, The Foretelling, opens with preparations for the battle of Bosworth fields - Edmund sleeps late for the battle and accidentally kills Richard III (Peter Cook) , who proceeds to haunt him for the rest of the episode. The second episode, Born to be King finds Edmund, believing his father to be dead, sees a chance to seize power by revealing that his brother is actually illegitimate and that he, in fact, should be the heir to the throne. The third episode, The Archbishop sees Edmund becoming the new Archbishop and realising his life is in danger.The Fourth episode, The Queen of Spain's Beard sees Edmund having to marry a Spanish Princess in order to cement a treaty between England and Spain. However he is horrified to find his bride resembles, in his own words, a dog. This is arguably the strongest episode in the first series with some great lines. The fifth episode find the infamous Witchsmeller accusing Edmund of being a Witch and the first season concludes with Edmund gathering together the seven most evil men in the country to help overthrow his father.



The series dealt comically with a number of medieval issues in Britain and it was originally written by Rowen Atkinson and Richard Curtis but it was not until the second season when Ben Elton joined the writing team that the series really took off. Initially a second season was not commissioned; Blackadder being shot on film was expensive by sitcom standard and the BBC had tucked it away on BBC2 where it attracted a minority audience. Over time though it has become to be regarded as a comic masterpiece, which it truly is. It plays around with historical fact and features top knotch performances from everyone concerned.

I re -watched all six episodes of this first season in order to write this review and it is as good as ever - if anything the first season is improved with familiarity of the entire canon. It's interesting to see how the characters developed over time and to witness the seeds from which the comedy masterpiece, arguably the best British sitcom ever, sprung. The comic seeds were sown on incredibly fertile ground which would gain numerous awards and a fan base that remains loyal to this day.

If you've never seen this series then you really need to remedy this.

DVD AVAILABILITY:

The best option is The Complete Blackadder boxset which contains all four series plus the various specials made over the years. Each series is also available as a single BBC DVD.

2 comments:

I.J. Parnham said...

For watching how the comedy developed, even more fascinating is the original pilot, which they've not released on any of the umpteen dvds, although it is on youtube. Aside from a different and very poor Baldric it's amazing to see that the very original Blackadder is actually the confident Blackadder from series II, even if he's inhabiting a plot from series I. It was therefore strange that Atkinson instead went with the whiney and annoying version of the character before opting back to the original for series 2.

ARCHAVIST said...

Ian - agree, I've seen the pilot. It is indeed bizarre why they decided on the simpleton blackadder for the first series.