“Blackadder Goes Forth” (1989)

The funniest and most satirical of the entire Blackadder saga, Blackadder Goes Forth is not only great comedy, but is also a great work of television.  For those who do not know the series, Blackadder follows the adventures of Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) as he tries to scheme and advance his way in life.  He is manipulative, selfish, and prone to insulting everything in his path.  Usually his schemes fail due to outside idiots and forces, such as the ineptitude of his simpleton servant Baldrick (Tony Robinson).  Each season of Blackadder takes place in a different time period, and the writers use this device to poke fun not only at the past, but also the present day.  While earlier seasons of the show were set in the Elizabethan era or the reign of King George III, this season took the action to the trenches of the First World War.  This is a brilliant move on the part of writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton: by moving the action World War One, they are able to not only continue the farce and slapstick humor that Blackadder is known for, but also inject it with a healthy degree of satire.

From l-r back row, Tim McInnerny as Capt. Darling, Stephen Fry as General Melchett, Hugh Laurie as Lt. George, Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder, and Tony Robinson as Baldrick

Another brilliant coup this season accomplished compared to others is that all the main principal actors that had been apart of previous Blackadder casts were reunited and given main roles.  Hugh Laurie continues his role as the foppish George, Blackadder’s puppy-eyed loyal assistant who idolizes Blackadder and is eager to go into No-Man’s Land. Stephen Fry is brilliant as General Melchett, a stereotypical British upper-class officer that keeps on goading Blackadder into “The Big Push” to the German Lines, or as Blackadder states “Trying to move General Haig’s drinks cabinet 6 miles closer to Berlin.”  Robinson continues to play Baldrick like earlier seasons except he’s even more disgusting and dimwitted; examples of this include making coffee with mud and using dandruff as sugar.  Tim McInnerny is back to the series as Captain Darling, Blackadder’s nemesis who is assistant to General Melchett and keeps foiling Blackadder’s plans to get out of the war.  Even periphery characters and actors who were apart of previous Blackadder installments make a return such as Miranda Richardson as a Nurse, Rik Mayall as the over-the-top Lord Flashheart, and Gabrielle Glaister as the cross-dressing Bob.

Throughout the show’s run, Blackadder’s goal is usually to get rich or improve his status, however Blackadder Goes Forth took a different turn by making Blackadder’s goal to be getting out of the war alive.  As such, he comes off as more of a sympathetic figure than in previous installments and the people around him, such as Melchett, end up looking more buffoonish as the series progresses.  It also creates even more opportunities for satire and black comedy than in the previous series.  Take for an example the great episode, “Corporal Punishment.” In this episode, Blackadder shoots Melchett’s beloved carrier pigeon, Speckled Jim, and is brought before a court-martial.  Defended by George, who as he puts isn’t a lawyer but loves all this law stuff, Blackadder ends up receiving a dubious defense and a terrible trial, due to the fact that Melchett being the victim is also the presiding judge; he often refers to Blackadder as the “Flanders Pigeon Murderer.” (You can see the trial right below.):

Suffice it to say Blackadder is found guilty and sentenced before a firing squad.  Although he is able to get off at the last minute and the trial is meant to be funny, Curtis and Elton also have other motives in mind: many soldiers who were punished during WWI often did not have fair trials and would be unduly sentenced to death for such things as cowardice. Therefore, Melchett has become more of the villain than Blackadder due to the fact that he does not understand the magnitude of the slaughter, even though he is supposed to be in charge and seeing to the morale of his men.  This specter of death finally comes up in the famous final episode where all the main characters, sans Melchett, go over the top into no mans land.  While there are laughs in the episode, each of the characters accepts their fate, including Blackadder who does not try to get out of it.  The final shot is beautiful as the slaughter of the characters slowly fades to a sunny field of a poppies, a fitting tribute to those who died in the First World War.

While each of the Blackadder installments are amazing (minus the crap that was season 1), Blackadder Goes Forth is by far the most complete and stunning of the series due to its acting, writing, and humor.  A great show that not only showed the follies of war, but also the serious impact of what war can do to a man who just wants to go home.

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One thought on ““Blackadder Goes Forth” (1989)

  1. Nice work, Will. A few typos, but otherwise solid. I have to confess I’ve never seen a Blackadder episode though I’m familiar with the principal players. I must rectify that situation.

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