Throughout the ages, men of flair, faculty and outstanding courage have contributed to England's glorious heritage. Others, like the snivelling worm Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh (alias The Black Adder), the bitter and twisted son of a medieval king, have emerged from the dust of dodgy documents to claim their wrongful position in history.
- Blackadder: Series 1 review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 5
The various incarnations of "Blackadder" are fondly remembered, yet people tend to brush this very first series under the carpet because it doesn't quite fit in with the rest. There are several reasons for this. The writing style isn't the same because the overrated Ben Elton wasn't involved yet. It looks very different indeed, less studio-bound sitcom than "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", because a much higher budget allowed for proper crowd scenes with numerous lavishly costumed extras, many impressive sets, outdoor location shooting at real castles, and a general feeling of proper historical recreation (albeit in a very silly way) completely lacking in the sequels. And of course there's the strange fellow at the heart of it all: Prince Edmund, alias The Black Adder, a self-imposed sinister soubriquet that impresses exactly no-one.
Unlike the sardonically witty anti-hero of the sequels, the first Black Adder is basically Mister Bean trying to be a Shakespearean supervillain, and of course failing dismally. Baldrick, the only character to remain pretty much the same in every series, is actually justified in proposing his trademark cunning plans because although he may not be very bright, he's still the smartest person in the room. Our bitter and twisted hero's attempts to inherit the throne of his father Richard IV (Brian Blessed, going completely over the top even for him and obviously enjoying himself immensely) instead of his older and greatly favored brother Harry allow a loose theme of parodying Shakespeare to run through the series, including a guest spot in the first episode for Peter Cook as Richard III, but basically it's all just an excuse to go mad in the middle ages.
Which, combined with a budget the BBC accountants subsequently decided was far too high and slashed to the bone for the sequels, allows the writers to let their imaginations run riot and give us full-blown parodies of, amongst other things, "The Magnificent Seven" and Ken Russell's "The Devils", packed with supporting characters you wish you'd seen more of - Frank Finlay's loathsome, feral, yet strangely compelling Witchsmeller Pursuivant definitely deserved his own series! And a special mention must go to Elspet Gray as Edmund's long-suffering mother, who is almost the voice of reason, but not quite because she's dafter than any of them, only in a different way.
This bizarre, wildly ambitious comedy ultimately overreaches itself (and its budget), but it's better to go too far than not to try, and it certainly tries, very enthusiastically indeed. A slightly flawed gem, but still greatly underrated, and well worth revisiting.