I am an anglophile. I will own up to that straight out of the gate. I grew up watching every BBC program offered by my local PBS station. That’s how I came to start my lifelong relationship with Monty Python. That’s where my fascination with Red Dwarf began. That’s how I came across Rowan Atkinson’s gem of a series Black Adder. Brit humor fans click to find more after the jump.
I was shocked, utterly dismayed actually, by the number of my friends who consider themselves pop culture princes and princesses and yet weren’t familiar with the masterpiece that is Black Adder. For those similarly uninitiated, Black Adder encompasses four series, each series containing six episodes a piece. Each series is set in a specific time period and follows the Blackadder that lives during that age. While the exact characters differ between series the actor and name stays consistent. With me so far?
The Black Adder finds Edmund Blackadder, in the time of the War of the Roses, beheading King Richard the Third and setting into events that lead his father, the lesser known, Richard IV to the throne. This season was written by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson.
Blackadder II finds us following Edmund, Lord Blackadder, a nobleman in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. Competition comes in the form of Lord Melchett, but mostly, Blackadder tries to keep his head by keeping Elizabeth pleased. This season and those that follow are written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton.
Blackadder the Third finds Blackadder as a servant to a pompous, ineffectual Prince Regent George. Blackadder tries to keep his pockets full and that entails keeping his boss in power.
Blackadder Goes Forth finds Captain Edmund Blackadder in World War I in a trench as he works to spoil any plans for going over the top and leading his men to the inevitable slaughter that would be.
The cast is ridiculously talented and headed by the constant performances of Black Adder Rowan Atkinson and his dim sidekick, Tony Robinson’s Baldrick. Rowan Atkinson is commonly known to American audiences as Bean and to a lesser degree the best part of the film Rat Race and the titular Johnny English. Foils to the duo are Stephen Fry’s (V for Vendetta) Melchett, Hugh Laurie’s (House) George, and Tim McInnerny’s Darling. Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sleepy Hollow) leant the female touch to the series in the form of recurring Elizabeths. Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon) gives boisterous life to Richard IV in The Black Adder. Rik Mayall (Drop Dead Fred, The Young Ones) literally steals the show in the first episode of Blackadder II as Flashpants.
The entire series comes packaged on six DVDs. Discs One through Four contain the four seasons of Black Adder. Each disc has episode and scene selection, Play All functionality, optional subtitles and “Footnotes to History” (also on Disc Five). The “Footnotes to History” help place each incarnation of Blackadder into a historical context. This is especially helpful as an ignorant American viewer.
Commercial for the collected Black Adder, Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers and Keeping Up Appearances
Commercial for BBC America
Commercial for “Little Britain” on DVD
Commentary on “Bells” by Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and John Lloyd
Commentary on “Money” by Tony Robinson and Tim McInnerny
Commentary on “Chains” by Stephen Fry
Commercial for “Clatterford” on DVD
Commentary on “Ink and Incapability” by Rowan Atkinson and John Lloyd
Commentary on “Amy and Amiability” by Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and John Lloyd
Commentary on “Duel and Duality” by Stephen Fry
Commercial for “Father Ted” on DVD
Commentary on “Major Star” by Tony Robinson and Tim McInnerny
Commentary on “Goodbyeee” by Rowan Atkinson and John Lloyd
Commercial for “The League of Gentlemen” on DVD
“Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” — the forty-five minute special follows the kindhearted Ebenezer Blackadder as well as Christmas with the Blackadders through the years out into the far future. The moral from the original is twisted to indicate that being bad will ultimately benefit the Blackadder line. Jim Broadbent and Robbie Coltrane join the regular recurring cast.
“Back and Forth” — Widescreen — thirty-three minutes — the Blackadder of 1999 shows his friends a time machine and gets them to wager against its authenticity. It is a scam, but Baldrick had built it precisely off of Da Vinci’s specifications and it proves to be a working example. Colin Firth as William Shakespeare, Rik Mayall as Robin Hood, Kate Moss as Maid Marian make guest appearances.
“The Cavalier Years” — fifteen minutes of Blackadder set in 1648 with Blackadder and Baldrick in doomed support of King Charles.
“Baldrick’s Video Diary” — Widescreen — Thirty minutes — documentary shot about the making of “Back and Forth”. Scenes from “Back and Forth” are interspliced with production footage and interviews.
Commercial for “Men Behaving Badly”
Blackadder Rides Again — a reflective documentary that touches base with the cast and creative’s. Includes a short clip from the previously never before seen Pilot. They address everything dealing with the series including how they might have been a bit off-base with the lead character of Blackadder for series one quickly recovering for series two.
Interviews with: Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Richard Curtis & Ben Elton, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson, Hilary Bevan Jones, Hugh Laurie and Rik Mayall.
“Costumes Revisited” — featurette with Miranda Richardson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny and Patsy Byrne (Nursie) go back to the BBC and examine both the costumes and the stage on which “Black Adder” was shot.
Having this, Black Adder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition, in my hands brings a smile to my face and heart. It will do the same to yours, newcomer or Adder fan alike. The series gets better as it goes on and leaves with Black Adder Goes Forth on a high note. Ample extras make the use of “Ultimate” in the title an apt description. Now, if only I could get my hands on an Ultimate Red Dwarf…
FINAL GRADE: A