Blackadder Goes Forth Review

The Programme
Throughout history one family have come to represent all that is great and courageous about the British people. That family certainly isn’t Blackadder, but they’ve been in the middle of many great historic moments. From the first Blackadder – back in the times of the Wars of the Roses, through Elizabethan and Regency periods, the Blackadders have always been cowards and cynics. The fourth appearance of Blackadder was Captain Edmund Blackadder who joined the British army when it involved strutting round Africa killing the locals, but now finds himself stuck in a trench on the Western Front in 1917, with thousands of heavily armed enemy soldiers waiting to kill him.

The battlefields of World War 1 would hardly seem the ideal place to locate a comedy. But obviously this is the ideal location for the cynical wit of Edmund Blackadder. Not including the snivelling weasel that was the original Blackadder, throughout history he has always been cynical and sarcastic, becoming more so throughout the series (and history). And what better place for a cynic than in the middle of one of the most pointless wars in all history?

Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and his ever-present sidekick Baldrick (Tony Robinson) are their usual selves, exchanging some of the funniest dialogue of all four series. Additionally, the other players are probably the finest characters from any series. Stephen Fry is magnificent as General Sir Anthony Hogmanay Melchett, perfectly portraying the upper class arrogant and incompetent military leader, if being 35 miles behind the front line troops is actually “leading”. Hugh Laurie’s George is the upper class twit who’s so eager to fight for his country that he doesn’t quite understand the predicament they are all in. And after missing out Blackadder The Third, Tim McInnerny returns as Captain Kevin Darling, Melchett’s lackey and always suspicious that Blackadder is up to something to try to get himself out of the war. Which he usually is.

The episodes are:

Captain Cook
Field Marshal Haig’s latest battle plan is to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin, and Blackadder sees a chance to escape the trenches by capturing it all as the Official War Artist.

Corporal Punishment
Blackadder eats a messenger pigeon who turns out to be “Speckled Jim”, General Melchett’s boyhood friend. Labelled the “Flanders Pigeon Murderer” he’s sent off to face the firing squad.

Major Star
The Russian Revolution causes two major problems for Blackadder: yet more Germans bearing down on him, and having to witness Baldrick’s Charlie Chaplin impression.

Private Plane
When Flasheart (Rik Mayall) crashes in on Blackadder – literally – he sees another way out of the trenches in the Royal Flying Corps. Pity no one actually told him why they are called the “Twenty-minuters”. Also featuring Ade Edmundson as The Red Baron.

General Hospital
There’s a spy in the ranks, and Blackadder is ordered to a field hospital to root him out. Could it be the beautiful Nurse Mary (Miranda Richardson), or the patient with the strong German accent?

It’s time for the big push and no one is really all that keen, especially Blackadder, who’d much rather be somewhere else, even if it involves two pencils and a pair of underpants.

The episodes I personally found funniest are Corporal Punishment which gives Stephen Fry’s brilliant General Melchett his best lines, and General Hospital featuring a guest role from previous Blackadder II star Miranda Richardson. Of course the final episode is famous for one of the most moving moments of television. Some people at the time of its first showing actually complained that it was too depressing a way to end a comedy series, but every other Blackadder finished in a similar way, and how else could they have ended it?

If there are any downsides it is probably only that the first episode in particular spends a little too much time on vomit jokes. At its best this is brilliantly witty comedy and was spoilt a bit by basic humour like this. But this is a minor quibble.

Though many people prefer Blackadder II, this is my personal favourite of the series. If there are no more series – and there probably won’t be – then this series should stand as the excellent swansong for Blackadder, rather than the disappointing Blackadder Back and Forth.

It really is well over ten years ago that this series was first shown, so obviously expectations for picture quality should not be set too high. A standard 4x3 image is therefore what we get though it’s slightly fuzzier than perhaps it could have been. The first episode also has a couple of scenes where the picture quality degrades severely; otherwise it’s just a bit below what would be expected.

Unsurprisingly it’s basic stereo here, but it’s loud enough and clear enough to be acceptable for the job at hand.

Yet another of those ridiculous facts: Blackadder is obviously a British show, so you would expect the British DVD release to be the better one, right? Of course that’s wrong, as the region 1 version contains interviews and other additional material, and here we have a big fat nothing. Even the booklet follows the “Entertainment in Video” style of seeming to be sizeable, only to discover that it’s just a catalogue for other titles. Poor.

Final Thoughts
Blackadder Goes Forth is one of the high points of British television comedy and is therefore highly recommended. However, considering there is a region 1 version that features extra material totally absent here, it would probably be a much more cunning plan to get that version instead of this one. Or better yet, hunt out Blackadder: The Complete Collector’s Set also on region 1.


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