'Black Adder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition'
(Rowan Atkinson, Brian Blessed, Elspet Gray, Tim McInnerny, et al / 6-Disc DVD / NR / 2009 / BBC Home Video)
Overview: One of the best comedy series ever to emerge from England, Black Adder traces the deeply cynical and self-serving lineage of various Edmund Blackadders from the muck of the Middle Ages to the frontline of World War I. In his pre-Bean triumph, British comic actor Rowan Atkinson played all five versions of Edmund, beginning with the villainous and cowardly Duke of Edinburgh, whose scheming mind and awful haircut seem to stand him in good stead to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury--a deadly occupation if ever there was one.
DVD Verdict: Written originally by Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, 'Blackadder' told the story of Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh, and was set during the War of the Roses, as the houses of York and Lancaster battled for the English throne. Filmed mainly on location around Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, the series proved to be so costly due to its darkly lavish production design and costuming, and had such little impact on viewers, that new BBC chief Michael Grade sent the series to the chopping block!
However, Ben Elton replaced Atkinson as one member of the writing team, and a script for a second series was produced with a much smaller budget, tighter scripts, and more laughs. Given a new lease of life Edmund Blackadder returned in the form of the originals great great grandson and as a treacherous and scheming courtier of Queen Elizabeth 1 (Miranda Richardson).
Once again support for Blackadder came in the form of his squalid buffoon of a manservant, Baldrick, as played to seedy perfection by Tony Robinson. With the inspired restructuring of the dynamics between the two central characters, which saw a direct role reversal from the original series, with Blackadder becoming the intelligent side of the partnership and Baldrick the astonishingly stupid stooge, the series was a hit and 'Blackadder' returned for a third stint of scheming and plotting, set two centuries later, this time as butler to the idiotic George, Prince of Wales (Hugh Laurie).
By now the show was forming something of a repertory company of actors with Laurie, Robinson, Stephen Fry and Tim McInnerny returning in various guises to both frustrate and thwart Edmund's designs on making his life more comfortable at the expense of just about anyone that stood in his way.
It was with the last series, 'Blackadder Goes Forth', that viewers were finally introduced to a more sympathetic character, as Curtis and Elton tackled the futility and hopelessness of the First World War. Ensconced in a trench along the Western Front, Blackadder tried every trick in the book to work his ticket home.
However, hampered by his imbecile lieutenant, George, Private Baldrick and the unsympathetic General Melchett and his adjutant Captain Darling, the series finally reached its inevitable conclusion as Edmund Blackadder and his men went "over the top" in a futile assault of the German trenches and on to their certain death. As the slow motion action faded the viewers last image of Edmund and his men was replaced by a field of silently, gently swaying poppies.
Do note that there are only six episodes per season. Yes, I know it felt like there were more, but it was all just a mind game, I guess! As for extra features, disc five contains the specials. The Cavalier Years has Stephen Fry as King Charles and Warren Clarke as Oliver Cromwell. There is also Blackadder's Christmas Carol and Back and Forth. Christmas Carol is pretty funny, but I've never cared for Back and Forth. Disc six contains the documentary Blackadder Rides Again, a 90-minute special with the behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage from the fourth season included. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Remastered series: The Black Adder, Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, Blackadder Goes Forth
New commentary by Rowan Atkinson and John Lloyd, Stephen Fry, Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, Tony Robinson and Tim McInnery
Blackadder Rides Again: special 60-minute documentary to mark the 25th anniversary
Exclusive extended interviews with Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry
Costumes Revisited with Miranda Richardson, Patsy Byrne, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnery
Plus Blackadder's Christmas Carol, Blackadder the Cavalier Years, Blackadder Back and Forth, Baldrick's Video Diary and more!