If our rave for writer/director Richard Curtis' latest movie, About Time, inspired you to revisit the British king of the romcom's work, make a pit stop at Blackadder, the hilarious, generation-hopping comedy starring Rowan Atkinson. It's on Netflix in full.
Though Curtis is probably best known—at least in America—for the timeless (and inimitably watchable) movies he wrote and sometimes directed like Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, his genius is also fully on display in Blackadder. Curtis co-created the show with its star Atkinson—who Curtis, of course, has also used to great effect in his films. Premiering in 1983, the show features four, six-episode seasons, each taking place during a different historical era. The first is in the Middle Ages, the second in the Elizabethan Court, the third in the Regency period, and the fourth in the trenches of World War I. In each season, Atkinson's Edmund Blackadder (or The Black Adder, or Lord Blackadder, as such) inhabits a different social status. Each also features other wonderful British actors you know or maybe just recognize—from Hugh Laurie to Stephen Fry to Miranda Richardson to Tim McInnerny.
The series can be watched really in any order, and I'd ultimately recommend skipping the first season—which really feels like a different show entirely. (It sort of was, the character and show were completely overhauled in between the first and second seasons.) If you had to ask me which series was my favorite, I'd have trouble choosing between Blackadder the Third—in which Blackadder is a butler to the idiotic Prince George, played by Laurie, unrecognizable if you only know him from House—and Blackadder Goes Forth, which was remarkable for how it humorously takes on trench warfare without actually diminishing the seriousness of the Great War in any way. The Blackadder in the latter three seasons is shrewd with a biting edge, quite unlike Atkinson's Mr. Bean or, say, the mumble-mouthed priest he played in Curtis' Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Curtis co-wrote every single episode of the series, teaming with Ben Elton instead of Atkinson for the latter three seasons, and his fluid, intelligent, reference-filled, easily quotable style is always evident. Blackadder's barbs are famous, especially those directed at his turnip-obsessed nincompoop underling Baldrick, who often has a "cunning plan." Take for instance this one from Blackadder Goes Forth: "If Baldrick served a meal at HQ he would be arrested for the biggest mass poisoning since Lucretia Borgia invited 500 friends for a Wine and Anthrax Party." Or Blackadder's take on Charlie Chaplin: "I find his films about as funny as getting an arrow through the neck and discovering there's a gas bill tied to it."
And while Blackadder is certainly not romantic, as is much of what Curtis is known for, his trademark mix of humor and poignancy is especially on display in the remarkable finale of Blackadder Goes Forth. It's no spoiler to say that Blackadder and his men ultimately can no longer avoid the mass horror of World War I, and the last moments are bound to make you weep. It's pure Curtisian joy.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.