Written by Sooz Kempner

Arts

Rated or Dated: Blackadder Goes Forth

The revival of chatter about a new Blackadder series has sent Standard Issue back to the first four. OK, three of them because, well, you know. Rounding it off, Sooz Kempner looks at our hero’s painful final hurrah.

ba3.JPGWhat and why: Private Baldrick: I have a plan, sir.

Captain Blackadder: Really Baldrick? A cunning and subtle one?

Private Baldrick: Yes, sir.

Captain Blackadder: As cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?

Private Baldrick: Yes, sir.

Captain Blackadder: Well, I’m afraid it’s too late. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was better than my plan to get out of here by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?

The final moments of Blackadder Goes Forth are legendary in British comedy. As powerful as the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the stark reality of war was all the more shocking because it followed the silliness and hilarity we’d come to associate with Blackadder. When the mortality of Hugh Laurie’s George, Tony Robinson’s Baldrick and Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder was handled with delicate poignancy, our hearts all broke. Even Captain Darling, an antagonist until the last scene, became a three-dimensional human as the screen dissolved to the image of a poppy field.

Rik MayallRated or dated: What was achieved in Blackadder Goes Forth’s last episode shouldn’t overshadow all the laughs that preceded it. It isn’t just the incredible ending that makes this series my favourite Blackadder series, after all. Who could forget Stephen Fry’s repugnant General Melchett and another stunning scene-stealing turn from the late Rik Mayall as Flashheart?

This is probably my favourite Hugh Laurie character from a Blackadder series. George was an upper-class idiot in Blackadder the Third, but in Goes Forth Laurie imbues him with a lot of heart. He’s one of television’s great loveable twits.

This series takes a strong anti-war stance with the antagonists, interestingly, not being the Germans (who are actually barely seen) but the bureaucrats leading the British Army. Real historical figures such as Field Marshal Haig are portrayed as cossetted public school types, as far from the front line as they can possibly get.

In one scene we see Haig (Geoffrey Palmer) half-listening to Blackadder, who is attempting to at least stall the next ‘big push’, while he moves toy soldiers around on a model battlefield, eventually sweeping a load of them into a bin. It’s fine satire, hilarious and maybe not a million miles from the truth.

It’s hard to pick a favourite episode from the series, they’re all so strong. If I had to choose it would probably be General Hospital, where the boys are given respite from the trenches to track down a spy in a hospital after George is injured. It’s farce at its finest and Miranda Richardson gives a subtly sexy performance as the quintessential British field nurse.

I can remember being 11 or 12 and literally clutching my stomach, unable to breathe as I laughed myself to tears over George asking a fellow patient with a German accent if he’d seen any spies. (The patient replies, “Nein!” and George exclaims, “Nine! Well, the Cap’s got his work cut out then!”)

pencils up the noseIn the end, though, there is no plan cunning enough to save our three unlikely heroes. The First World War was merciless and how brave of a well-loved sitcom to show us that with no tricks or gimmicks or punchlines. So…rated or dated? It’s hardly worth discussion: this is a timeless series that is as valid a piece of Great War fiction as Journey’s End and All Quiet on the Western Front. It should be part of the history syllabus at every school and will be continuing to enthral many generations to come. RATED.

@SoozUK

Hannah Dunleavy rates or dates Blackadder II here
Mickey Noonan rates or dates Blackadder the Third here

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Written by Sooz Kempner

Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.