Wednesday, December 25, 2013

#1,227. Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Richard Boden

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson

Trivia: This special was first broadcast in the UK on BBC One, on December 23rd, 1988

I’m a big fan of Blackadder, a half-hour television comedy that aired on the BBC from 1983 to ‘89 (a total of 24 episodes, plus a few specials, were produced over that 6-year span). Broken into four separate series, each set in a different historical period (ranging from 1485 to World War I), Blackadder followed the exploits of its title character, Edmund Blackadder (played by Rowan Atkinson), who, regardless of whether he was a nobleman in the Court of Queen Elizabeth I (the 2nd series) or a lowly 18th century butler, serving the dim-witted Prince Regent (the 3rd series), was an absolute cad; a liar and a thief who would stop at nothing to get ahead in life. Joining him on his journey throughout history was his servant, Baldrick (Tony Robinson), who Blackadder degraded and abused every chance he got. 

Featuring an all-star cast that included Brian Blessed, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, and Tim McInnerney, Blackadder was a laugh-riot.

First broadcast in 1988, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol was produced between the show’s 3rd and 4th seasons, and added a funny twist to the classic Dickens tale (not to mention the entire Blackadder universe) by telling the story of Ebenezer Blackadder (Atkinson yet again), the “kindest man in all England”. 

Yes... unlike every other Blackadder in history, Ebenezer, who owns and operates a mustache shop in Victorian London, is a nice guy, a warm, generous individual who donates money to the poor. So much money, in fact, that by the time Christmas rolls around, he’s flat broke! 

Something of a pushover, Ebenezer goes to bed on Christmas Eve with no cash, no presents... not even a Christmas tree!

But fortune will shine upon him this particular night in the form of the Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane), who visits Ebenezer to congratulate him on being such a kind-hearted person. 

During their conversation, Ebenezer learns his ancestors were much different; they were, as the Spirit puts it, “Bastards to a man”. The Spirit even shows Ebenezer a few flashbacks from the past, where his illustrious ancestors, despite being totally obnoxious and mean, usually won out in the end. 

All at once, Ebenezer comes to an important realization: “Bad guys have all the fun”. Needless to say, by the time Christmas morning rolls around, he’s a changed man.

Crisp, clever dialogue has always been a staple of the Blackadder series, and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is no exception. The give-and-take between Blackadder and Baldrick at the beginning of the special is positively hilarious; when Baldrick laments the fact that the baby chosen to play Jesus in the local Christmas pageant “up and died”, Blackadder responds, quite matter-of-factly, “Oh, dear. This high infant mortality rate is a real devil when it comes to staging quality children’s theater”. It is one of many uproarious lines that Blackadder - flawlessly portrayed by Rowan Atkinson - delivers throughout the special. 

Other highlights include the “flashback” sequences, where Ebenezer catches a glimpse of his ancestors in action, and the later scenes involving Queen Victoria (Miriam Margoyles) and her husband, Prince Albert (Jim Broadbent), who, disguised as common citizens, set off into the streets of London to reward the virtuous and the pure (their Christmas morning run-in with Ebenezer results in one of the show’s biggest laughs).

If you’ve not seen it, definitely check out Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. And while you’re at it, go back and watch the 24 episodes that make up the entire Blackadder series. It is, in my humble opinion, the funniest half-hour show in television’s long and storied history.

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