Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hilarious And Clever, Blackadder II Makes For A Worthwhile DVD!

The Good: Funny, Well-acted, Interesting characters, Rewatchable, Decent DVD bonus features
The Bad: Only six episodes
The Basics: Clever and funny, Blackadder II is liable to satisfy anyone who loves a good historical comedy!

There are few comedies that attempt a concept - in my experience - that actually work. Blackadder is one of them and one has to give credit to the BBC for trying the concept out and for giving writers Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis free reign to be creative, esoteric and brilliant with the idea. Blackadder (entire series reviewed here!) is a historical comedy where each season is set in a different era of British history with characters who are essentially the same, but facing obstacles indicative of their time. As a result, Blackadder II bears little resemblance to Blackadder Series 1 (reviewed here!) outside the use of several of the primary actors from the first in the second.

Where Blackadder was the story of Prince Edmund, the Blackadder, in the Dark Ages, Blackadder II tells the tale of Edmund Blackadder, minor lord in the court of Queen Elizabeth. Like his ancestor, Edmund is a deeply sarcastic man who is accompanied by his servant Baldrick and the dimwitted Lord Percy. Unlike the Dark Ages incarnation of Blackadder, this Edmund actually sees some action with the women (probably a result of the very fetching beard he sports) and he tends to be more the brains of the operation than relying on Baldrick for the cunning plans (which seldom were as cunning as the servant thought).

Lord Edmund Blackadder is a snobby lord who is favored by Queen Elizabeth, who is more than a little crazy. In his time, Edmund tries to get ahead, usually by lying to all involved about his wealth and status, while working to achieve the latter by getting some of the former! Often forced to entertain Queen Elizabeth, he finds himself verbally sparring with the educated Lord Melchard, advisor to the Queen.

In this time, Edmund finds himself falling for his manservant, who is actually a woman disguised as a boy to try to earn money for her crazed father. As well, he deals with his inability to hold his liquor, attempts to connive his Puritan relatives out of a hefty inheritance, and the ramifications of becoming the Lord High Executioner. To one-up Sir Walter Raleigh, Blackadder and his companions become explorers to sail around the Cape Of Good Hope (praying to reach land before they enter the urine-drinking phase of exploring) . As well, Edmund finds himself in debt to a sadistic bishop who prefers tormenting his debtors rather than getting paid back, which might work out well for the bishop because Edmund finds himself broke when the debt is called in!

Three of the principle characters will be familiar to fans of Blackadder as Edmund Blackadder, Baldrick and Percy are each played by the same people in roughly the same capacity as they appeared in the first series of Blackadder. As well, Queen Elizabeth, Melchard, and Nursie all appear in this new incarnation to add some new blood to the series. This has the effect of keeping the series fresh and it works. Instead of simply being Edmund criticizing Percy's stupidity and insulting Baldrick's hygiene, he is forced to be deferential to Elizabeth and actually use more highbrow wit in opposition to Melchard.

The principle characters of Blackadder II are:

Lord Edmund Blackadder - Educated but fairly poor, Edmund is favored by the Queen and is blessed with a wicked and fast wit. He uses this to scheme to try to get money and to impress Baldrick to do his dirty work, which includes roughing up people he doesn't like or shaking them down for money. Despised by the local children for his stodginess, he is happiest when in control,

Lord Percy - Utterly idiotic, Percy is the companion Edmund cannot seem to shake. In love with a new woman each week (usually a woman so cheap both Edmund and Baldrick have known her at some point in the past) he is strangely loyal to the abusive Edmund,

Baldrick - The completely worthless servant of Edmund, he is replaced almost immediately by Bob (Kate in drag) and when her engagement to Edmund falls apart he is able to return. His best idea is to use his mouth as a mousetrap by dangling a piece of cheese over it and laying on the floor,

Queen Elizabeth - The virgin queen appears to have gone quite mad, possibly from not getting any. She delights in having her enemies executed and treats those below her as playthings. She has crushes on many of the great men of the time and puts up with Melchard and Nursie . . . barely,

Melchard - Witty but boring, the learned advisor to Queen Elizabeth often delights in keeping Edmund below him socially,

and Nursie - The deranged nursemaid of Queen Elizabeth, she is completely crazy, recalls the most inappropriate stories at the worst possible times and has a fixation on cow's udders.

Blackadder II works, in part, because the primary actors have great comedic chemistry. As a result Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder plays beautifully with his dry sarcasm off Miranda Richardson's over-the-top crazy Elizabeth. Similarly, Tony Robinson and Tim McInnerny play off one another in a way most comic do not get the opportunity to. In most standard comedies, there is only one buffoon, but in Blackadder II, Baldrick and Percy both fill that niche and it provides a wealth of comic give and take between Robinson and McInnerny that works out extraordinarily for the series!

On DVD, Blackadder II includes trailers to other BBC productions, biographies of the main cast members and significant guest stars and the (standard for Blackadder) historical references guide. The latter is a handy portion narrated by Tony Robinson (who plays Baldrick) providing historical data behind some of the more obscure historical reference jokes. This is a real boon as even educated people might not catch some of the allusions and it's handy to get them! But the best DVD bonus feature on this set is the skit "Blackadder - The Cavalier Years." This fifteen minute program fills in the gap between Blackadder II and Blackadder The Third, putting a Blackadder and Baldrick in 1682 as loyalists to King Charles I in opposition to Oliver Cromwell and his impending Puritanical takeover of England. Blackadder is hiding the dimwitted Charles I in his manor when Cromwell comes a-callin' and Baldrick accidentally lets slip that Charles is in the house. Moments of humor ensue, then, as Blackadder and Baldrick attempt to alternately save and execute Charles I. It's a cute little skit and it's nice it is included as a special feature!

This is a wonderful DVD collection and one that fans of British humor will want to pick up!

For a more complete idea of exactly what is in this DVD set, please check out my reviews of the individual episodes:
"Bells," "Head," "Potato"
"Money," "Beer," "Chains"

For other works featuring Miranda Richardson, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Southland Tales
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
The Phantom Of The Opera


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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