Reviews of The Black Adder (1982) and related work
- Sequel: Black-Adder II (1986)
- Sequel: Blackadder the Third (1987)
- Spin-off: “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” (1988)
- Sequel: Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
- Spin-off: “Blackadder Back & Forth” (1999)
- Document: Blackadder Exclusive: The Whole Rotten Saga (2008)
The Black Adder (1982)
Britain in the late 15th century. A ward of Richard III is his second in command. The man has two sons, one of whom bears the name of Edmund. Around the battle where Henry Tudor killed Richard III according to generally accepted history, Edmund makes two magnificent errors. These make his father King of England, which arouses a dark ambition in the young Edmund. He styles himself “The Black Adder”, and with the help of two henchmen—old friend Lord Percy and servant Baldrick—he plots mostly to stay alive, but also to take the throne. Thirteen years later, he succeeds!
Historical comedy. Unlike the sequels, this one features a fair amount of literal film. Great Aristotelian craftsmanship, featuring Howard Goodall music, expensive sets and a Rowan Atkinson who—despite overacting—beats anything he did as Mr. Bean. Lots of glorious Britishness, including allusions to five of Shakespeare’s plays in the first episode, linguistic quirks and humorous anachronisms. The unaired pilot, the plot of which was mostly recycled into the series it justified, is not quite worth watching. The main point of interest in the pilot is Edmund’s personality, which is close to that seen in the sequels.
‣ Black-Adder II (1986)
Britain under Queen Elizabeth I. Edmund Blackadder (implicitly a relative of the original, the title having been contracted for use as a surname) is not a prince, but nonetheless a major noble figure at court. He tries to preserve his status, again aided by a Percy and a Baldrick. Unfortunately the Queen is immature and mad with power, and Edmund has lied about his wealth.
Several steps closer to farce and sitcom, live in front of a studio audience, unfortunately. The protagonist is changed from the dumb and slimy original to a far more balanced and reasonable character. Natural selection at work?
Lower budget. Once more, the end involves a nemesis and a discreet wipeout on the scale of Hamlet (1603). The franchise’s humorous feel for the era being portrayed is neatly demonstrated in this series’ version of the opening theme, which sneaks in an electric guitar.
‣ Blackadder the Third (1987)
Britain during the Regency period, with France in the embers of revolution and industry on everyone’s lips. Edmund Blackadder serves as butler under the spoiled bachelor George, Prince of Wales and Prince Regent. Baldric still serves under Edmund, but Percy is gone.
The same as the preceding sequel, with only slightly more psychology in the protagonist, who panics half realistically. It’s also got marginally more competent figure of authority to suck up to. In fact, the end implies enormous success for this Edmund, who is widely respected for his cleverness.
‣ “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” (1988)
The Victorian Ebeneezer Blackadder is extremely kind and unaware that his ancestors were assholes to a man. A series of nasty beggars and an imbecilic daughter nearly ruin Christmas for Ebeneezer and his servant Baldrick, until a ghost drops by.
The first Christmas visions are appendable to Blackadder II and Blackadder the Third, and there are two versions of a far-future space opera as well. Nice inversion of A Christmas Carol (1843).
‣ Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
Somewhere in the trenches of 1917, far from Britain. Edmund Blackadder is a front-line officer, a professional soldier who signed up for the colonial wars and struggles to avoid the inevitable great push when he will have to lead his men, including a private named Baldrick, over the edge and into range of actual guns.
Again the same as the preceding sequel, except for exponential seriousness towards the end. There’s a lieutenant named George, with the same actor as Prince George, under Blackadder’s command. There’s also a regular character whose actor once played Percy and who is transferred to Blackadder’s command for the very serious ending, which is bleakly pacifist and anti-colonial. Unfortunately, almost everything up to that point is as farcical as ever.
‣ “Blackadder Back & Forth” (1999)
Blackadder dines in luxury with a few friends on the last day of 1999. Baldrick has screwed up the preparations for the night’s party trick, accidentally creating a time machine. Master and servant make several trips until they find their way back to the present, where the fate of Britain and the Blackadder line is decided.
A logical monument to the franchise, produced for the silly Millennium Dome theme park. The setting and characters of Blackadder II are visited. The other locations are new. Very good opening and ending, but the rest of it is somewhat forced and poorly directed.
‣ Blackadder Exclusive: The Whole Rotten Saga (2008)
Seen in 2016.
Focused on the reminiscences of the actors about moments of characterization, but these are quite good. No real thought is given to the possibility of a return to the filmic style of the original: It’s dismissed as a youthful indiscretion.