Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition – Review
By Karl Hornsey
In the regular rundowns of the greatest British comedies of all time, Blackadder is usually there or thereabouts. This despite it now being 30 years since the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth was aired and most of its leading stars going on to even bigger and better things with other projects.
It’s also a difficult collective to pigeonhole, given the diverse nature of the four series (the various other offshoots such as Blackadder’s Christmas Carol and Blackadder Back and Forth are also available on this DVD), with all four series set in such different historical periods. But it remains to this day an example of wonderful writing (Ben Elton and Richard Curtis on the whole), outstanding character acting (step forward Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Miranda Richardson), and the sublime all-round comic talents of Rowan Atkinson.
It’s remarkable, and slightly scary, to be reminded that the first series, The Black Adder, was aired in 1983 and also slightly scary to know that this series was almost the death knell of the Blackadder story altogether. Running at a hefty budget and not exactly wowing the critics, it’s widely regarded as the weakest of the four series, though still it has its moments, and a remarkable cast of guest actors that includes Brian Blessed and Peter Cook.
Fortunately common sense prevailed and clearly Curtis and Elton, who replaced Atkinson on writing duties, came up with a script that convinced the BBC enough to commission Blackadder II in 1986, set at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The rest is history. Or a somewhat dubious version of history. Although I must admit to learning almost as much about the history of Britain from the Blackadder tome as I ever did at school.
“Still holds up today”
The second series also succeeded in large part thanks to the addition of Fry, Laurie and Richardson, all of whom would stay for the rest of its duration, taking the focus from Atkinson and his two idiotic yet well-meaning sidekicks, Tony Robinson as Baldrick and Tim McInnerny as Lord Percy. Another major change is that Blackadder turns into a devious and scheming character, setting the template for further series, not that his Machiavellian attempts ever seem to get him anywhere. The toadying Lord Melchett (Fry) also has to go down as one of the greatest comic characters ever created.
Buoyed by the success of Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third followed just the next year, with Laurie’s dimwit Prince George taking centre stage as the unwitting thwarter of Blackadder’s schemes in the Regency period. A supporting cast including Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Connor and Nigel Planer helped to mark the series out as another winner, but begged the question of how that was to be followed with any of the subsequent periods of history remaining. The answer? A comedy set in the trenches of the First World War.
While that sounds like a dubious premise on paper, Blackadder Goes Forth ensured that the series went out on a high. Or rather with one of the most incredible scenes ever written and performed in the name of comedy. While the rest of the series is of a suitably high standard and constantly derides the ineptitude of the top brasses in sending countless men to their deaths, nothing can prepare the viewer for the final scene, as Blackadder, Darling, Baldrick and George finally go ‘over the top’ to their inevitable deaths, in slow motion and gradually replaced many years later by a poignant field of poppies. Even just thinking about it brings a lump to my throat, and it will always be remembered as an incredible moment in British TV, let along British comedy.
Watching the whole canon so many years on I did worry that it would have dated badly, but, possibly due to its very nature as a historical comedy, it still holds up today. OK, some of the best-known lines have been done to death and parodied elsewhere, but it’s well worth a binge watch, especially this collection, which includes audio commentaries and extended interviews with the leading cast members.
‘Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition’ from the BBC is out now from Amazon and major supermarkets