BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

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shiftyeyes
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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#101 Post by shiftyeyes » Sun May 17, 2015 2:43 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:There was an earlier (mid-1960s) TV version of Comedy of Errors (starring Diana Rigg -- which is why I probably watched it -- probably my first exposure to Shakespeare in performance), which I liked a lot more than the version in the complete BBC series. I don't think this earlier version ever made it to home video.
The version you're referring to (which also stars Judi Dench) is in fact available on DVD in the UK.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#102 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun May 17, 2015 2:11 pm

shiftyeyes wrote:
Michael Kerpan wrote:There was an earlier (mid-1960s) TV version of Comedy of Errors (starring Diana Rigg -- which is why I probably watched it -- probably my first exposure to Shakespeare in performance), which I liked a lot more than the version in the complete BBC series. I don't think this earlier version ever made it to home video.
The version you're referring to (which also stars Judi Dench) is in fact available on DVD in the UK.
Last time I looked (a year or so ago), I didn't see it. Is it part of a set?

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#103 Post by EddieLarkin » Sun May 17, 2015 2:27 pm

Whilst there is a version starring Judi Dench up on Amazon.co.uk, it's from 1978 and does not star Diana Rigg. More information here.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#104 Post by shiftyeyes » Sun May 17, 2015 2:44 pm

You're correct. I'm confusing the two productions.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#105 Post by Sloper » Sun May 17, 2015 2:49 pm

The Judi Dench version is very good - it's a musical adaptation of the play, so not for purists, but very funny if you're in the mood. Much better than the dismal BBC film, anyway.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#106 Post by MichaelB » Sun May 17, 2015 4:10 pm

Very much seconded.

ITV was the populist TV channel in the 1960s, 70s and 80s by some distance, and as a consequence they rarely broadcast Shakespeare - but when I surveyed their output a few years ago for BFI Screenonline, I found that while they'd only shown a dozen productions in half a century, the quality threshold was sky-high, and things like the 1964 A Midsummer Night's Dream, the 1970 Twelfth Night and the 1979 Macbeth rank amongst the finest small-screen Shakespeares ever broadcast.

I imagine this was because they tended to be prestigious one-offs produced on decent budgets with star casts and directors, whereas the BBC tended to go more for ambitious but often cash-strapped cycles.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#107 Post by shiftyeyes » Mon May 18, 2015 10:16 am

It seems like BBC is sitting on a goldmine of Shakespeare material from the '60s and '70s they could release on video (if they still exist). The Shakespeare Uncovered documentary series from a few years ago showed clips of Vanessa Redgrave in As You Like It. Ian McKellen starred in productions of Richard II and Hamlet that were televised in 1970 and 1972. They produced a follow up to An Age of Kings called The Spread of the Eagle which adapted Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. And there's also the 1965 television version of of The RSC's The Wars of the Roses. Would love to see any of those.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#108 Post by MichaelB » Mon May 18, 2015 12:56 pm

A lot does still survive, because Shakespeare productions were generally considered prestigious enough to survive the BBC's notorious tape culls (compared with light entertainment, which usually bit the dust). The BFI only had the last three episodes of Spread of the Eagle (basically, Antony and Cleopatra), but there's no reason to assume that the BBC doesn't have the rest.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#109 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jun 14, 2015 10:10 am

The Tragedy of Coriolanus
I banish you, and here remain with your uncertainty. Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts. Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes, fan you into despair. Have the power still to banish your defenders till at length your ignorance, which finds not till it feels, deliver you as most abated captives to some nation that won you without blows.

Despising for you, the city, thus I turn my back. There is a world...elsewhere.
What a devastatingly complex and harrowing piece of work. It is a play sure to resonate for anyone bullied and tormented by superiors, or who feels used and manipulated by forces outside their control. Where Cymbeline feels as it ends with the world being set to rights, here the saving of the world is much harder to achieve, and is all the more emotionally powerful for being so (the moment of reaching a hand out to another, unable to remain remain aloof, was heart-wrenching).

This is about a man Marcius Caius Coriolanus (given the last name after the city he single-handedly captured) who is fundamentally good but has an abrasive personality that isn't suited to hiding his true feelings just to make others happy (ironically in light of the major subplot, but we'll get to that a little later). This makes him a fearless warrior on the battlefield but becomes his downfall when he gets pushed into politics and running for the senate. His self-righteousness and arrogance in his sincerely held belief in his right to power, and his obvious lack of skills and discomfort in having to humbly ask the general populace to 'vote' for him to take up a senate role, ends up being easily manipulated by other members of the senate into organising an uprising against this war hero and eventual banishment from the city he helped save. Ironically Marcius's arrogant belief in the need for the common people to be governed for their own good rather than appealed to and swayed with platitudes actually seems correct, as the general public here prove themselves to be easily manipulated and turned.

Marcius is always on the attack (an attitude that the play suggests was bred into him by his mother, who only values Marcius's valour in battle and war-wounds, more than her son himself perhaps) and cannot understand people who are duplicitous and tell the people what they want to hear, or rather guide the people in the desired direction through manipulations, until they think it was their own idea all along (shades of Richard III here). It is the difference between wielding 'hard' and 'soft' power - Marcius only wields hard power, violent acts, violent words, unbreaking will. But that leaves him without friends or supporters to back him up when he is badly wronged. The senators plotting against him are petty and manipulative, wanting to get rid of Marcius seeming for a mix of his personality and their own ambition. But they are able to whip the city into a frenzy, building on legitimate grievances and Marcius's arrogance and blowing it out of proportion.

There is an idea of insolent commoners here (similar to those being led by Jack Cade in Henry VI Part Two). The play opens with them in active rebellion over food not being fairly distributed. We then get a rather smug metaphorical tale told to them about the limbs of the body rebelling against the belly which receives all the food first, as a way of saying that the body politic, like the body itself, needs to have a central point from where everything is apportioned and distributed for the good of the whole. The commoners should be the thoughtless masses who are guided by people with more information and resources into doing their bidding, led by their senate. But what happens when confidence in the senate's superiority falls apart, either through bad leaders, infighting, corruption or simple incompetence? When a closeted ruling class passes unjust laws or acts selfishly in their own interests rather than for the good of society as a whole? Suddenly the commoners who have been let down start feeling it necessary to have to take control over the system themselves. But that is a dangerous situation as these uprisings can be manipulated for other reasons, to depose governments on behalf of others with purely selfish goals rather than for the people.

This adaptation during these scenes of the commoners throws up some great, almost Soviet cinema images of big closeups of faces, or pans over a watchful anonymous crowd, suggesting "the will of the people" that is being manipulated, or pandered to.

Marcius might be a flawed person but this early section of the play is really illustrating more the way that his friends and family are pushing him into a role that he is fundamentally unsuited for, thinking it is nothing to be able to orate to a crowd. Marcius knows that he doesn't have that skill of manipulation but is still forced into a demeaning parody of humbly talking to a crowd in rags and showing off his war wounds to win their favour and election. It is just an empty gesture that every senator does (which rather condemns the other senators for their knowledge that it is just a crowd pleasing gesture) but Marcius understand its significance more deeply than that, but cannot get out of it. It then becomes demeaning not just for Marcius but for the crowd too, as his lack of skill and continual use of "your voices" throughout his speech comes to be seen as almost a parody of a heartfelt speech (which in a way it is, as it is forced rather than coming from an honest place) and therefore an absolute insult. The word "voices" gets used as a running joke from this point.

Marcius isn't blameless - he obviously wants the power and position but cannot shoulder the public relations burden that come with that desire with good grace (or even empty platitudes). He's like an abrasive Timon of Athens, unsure of why his fortunes are so changeable. His reputation at least is eventually killed by words, not war. He has fought his way up in politics and cannot stop fighting (like Richard III!) even when it is only damaging himself or handing ammunition to others.

Marcius doesn't help himself with his abrasive, confronting words and actions, but he seems like a nobler character than the two plotting senators in particular. This is where a comparison with Timon of Athens is important I think, as the Poet and Painter there are like the two plotters in this play. Both Timon and Marcius have a responsibility for their fate, but they also stay true to themselves and cannot betray their own natures for the sake of a quiet life. I'm fully in support of this and feel as if the play recognises the deep human flaws of these title characters, whilst also celebrating their steadfastness too, even if it is destructive to themselves in the end. Coriolanus is actually on a wider set scale to Timon: where Timon is utterly forgotten once his fortune is gone and he is only going to destroy himself, Marcius's anger and rage is allowed to come back and threaten to destroy Rome. He is given the chance of righteous retribution against those who wronged him, which makes his final act of mercy (against the mother's seeming best attempts at preventing it with her pleas alternating with threats) stunningly powerful. Where Timon dies lamenting his woes and how he has been wronged, his death his ultimate condemnation; and Tamora in Titus Andronicus glories in righteous vengeance with no mercy (becoming the monster she was always told that she and her sons were), Marcius is in the middle. But that is perhaps because he has found a 'third way', a different exit for himself. He perhaps makes an interesting comparison to Titus Andronicus himself, who also returns from war to be betrayed at home, has his pride wounded and then makes plans both for his revenge and death simultaneously.
___
Volumina, Marciuis's mother: "The breasts of Hecuba, when she did suckle Hector, look'd not lovelier than Hector's forehead when it spit forth blood at Grecian sword contemning"
Aufidius: "Were't thou the Hector that was the whip of thy bragged progeny, thou shouldst not scapse me here"
I find it interesting that the play throws in allusions to Hector here, as the relationship between Marcius and his enemy Aufidius did feel very reminiscent of the relationship between Achilles and Hector in the Troilus & Cressida play! Volumina's attitude towards her son and view of men, while tempered a little by Marcius's wife Virgilia (she is really the tragic Ophelia figure of this play) contains the perhaps difficult for audiences even now suggestion that women push their men into war and are complicit with the warlike nature that they foster, perhaps cruelly hypocritical when they go on to condemn their men when they return and are useless for life off the battlefield (did American Sniper deal with similar issues?). The men are better off heroically dead (after leaving some children as their legacy) than back home getting in the way and simmering with potential violence that has no place in peaceful society.

Anyway the above part of the play that deals with Marcius and his lack of political skill is interesting enough, but where I think the play gets truly magnificent is the way that it handles the relationship between Marcius and his enemy Aufidius. All is swept away by the central relationship and I think that this is really another "&" play that could easily have been called Coriolanus & Aufidius!

I remember talking a while back about the homoerotic element in Hamlet that I wasn't sure whether existed in the play or was just being brought out in that particular BBC production, but here there is no question about the sexual component to Marcius and Aufiduis here. There is almost a masochistic angle to their first meeting in the battle of Coriloli. Marcius calls out just for Aufidius and eventually they meet, in what is apparently just the latest in a series of clashes, half naked, slick with sweat and covered in almost lubricating bloody wounds. Aufiduius (like Antony in Antony & Cleopatra!) proves himself to be pretty bad in combat and the scene ends with Marcius and Aufidius locked together, Marcius's hand around Aufidius's throat, whilst almost close enough to kiss.

It is pretty obvious that at least Marcius has an interest in Aufidius, as he has been fighting supposedly to the death and then letting Aufidius escape many times over (very like Hector!), all of which makes for a very funny double entendre when the mother gets a letter about the battle and (rather grumpily!) relates that: "They fought together, but Aufidius got off!"

This gets composed into something like a mutual respect for a fellow opponent and indeed Aufidius stands for a classical warrior to be fought against in battle as compared to all of the weak and manipulative senators who Marcius doesn't respect at all. Once Marcius is banished from Rome he seeks Aufidius out either to immediately be killed by him or to join him to attack Rome together. His banishment is suddenly the opportunity to explore an alternative lifestyle. The scene in which Marcius and Aufidius meet is absolutely stunning, crackling with a dangerous homoerotic tension as Marcius (without changing in abrasive, haughty attitude, even while as brought low as he could possibly be and preparing for death) relates his plan and bares his neck to his enemy, while Aufidius stands behind him, before wrapping his own hand around Marcius's throat in the same repeated gesture as before. Then locked in that close, potentially deadly partnership Aufidius reveals how much he himself admires his foe and has wished to meet like this, with Marcius even being in his dreams!

So the pair team up to wage war together (like Antony & Cleopatra!) and are so successful that Rome eventually sends Marcius's wife, son and mother to plead for him to stop before he destroys all. It is a fantastic scene, all done in the presence of the watching Aufidius as Marcius stands aloof from their pleas. They really don't make a great case from stopping the war, as Volumina especially goes from complicit appeals to sudden threats, and the most obvious coercions are thrown in such as the pleas from the young son to Marcius's nature. Yet this works for Marcius, he brokers a deal which saves the city but also allows Aufidius to come out of it as the victor, so both sides win!

All is well, right? On the wider political level the story is over, with Volumina, Virgilia and their son hailed as heroes for saving the city after appealing to Marcius. But we still have the central love story between Marcius and Aufidius to deal with. Or rather it is a kind of one way love story as Aufidius has been well aware of Marcius's obsession with him and has been playing up to it until he gets a chance to betray Marcius and take everything for himself. Or is he really untouched by love himself? His reactions during the scene of Marcius and his mother, wife and son are interesting and there is perhaps the suggestion that in being moved to mercy Marcius has betrayed the love between himself and Aufidius, rather than staying true to it. Either way Marcius must die, and everyone has alterior motives, even ostensible allies.

But is this unforeseen by Marcius? After all he was preparing to die at Aufidius's hand when he first went to him and bared his neck. I get the strong impression that dying at Aufidius's hand (and not by the petty plotting of tiny senators) was the goal all along, whether it happened straight away or was deferred, and he has set up the circumstances for it. The mercy to Rome was the unplanned part and Marcius's greatest act rather than pure vengeance.

Marcius is like Timon wishing himself into death, yet not through passivity. He wants to die in a war-like manner. He always knew that Aufidius could be using him, but he was using Aufidius too. Marcius sees this turn towards betrayal finally happening in the final forum scene and immediately starts with all of the dramatic, overly outraged "How dare you, boy!" comments to sort of egg Aufidius on in perfoming his part as well, but Aufidius still needs Marcius's guiding hand for the final act (is Aufidius conflicted or just bad at betrayal. I'm erring towards the latter, as he wasn't great at war earlier in the play and, like Antony, is not particularly good at delivering the death blow when it is called for), letting Marcius die in the embrace and by the hand of his love. This suggests to me that while the play has all of the trappings of a tragedy it is not that but an impossible romance that could inevitably end in only one way, a way which works out the best for everyone involved, even the person being killed. That's not a tragedy, it is a triumph!

By the way kudos to the BBC for depicting a graphic scene of penetration in the final act of this play! I'm teasing of course, but that sex-death wrestling in the forum makes for a stunning climax!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Tue Jan 30, 2018 5:23 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#110 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jul 11, 2015 2:16 pm

The Life and Death of King John

A perfectly structured play. This feels as if it is compressing all of the issues of the Richard II through to Richard III cycle into one play. In particular this play is all about the wrangling over various forms of legitimacy and the pragmatism of power politics, not to mention the hypocrisy inherent in both.

It begins with King John of England in a dispute with King Phillip of France over his legitimacy of taking the title of England over the young boy Arthur who was before him in line to the throne (immediately suggesting a Richard III aspect to King John even before Arthur is in danger of being killed!), but this wider issue immediately gets echoed on a more minor level in the very first scene, in which a dispute between two brothers over who has the right to inherit lands is arbitrated over by King John (similar to the casual settling of a dispute in the first scene of Richard II, though events end relatively happier here!). The older brother is claiming the lands as his birthright but might not have had the same father as the younger brother, who was told by his father on his deathbed that he was the rightful inheritor instead! The brilliant aspect of this scene is that when King John and his mother recognise who might have been the father of the older brother and offer him a title and a position in their own family if he gives the younger brother all the lands and money, he immediately and casually accepts! Then the older brother Phillip has a scene on his own with his mother in which she herself is upset at him giving up his title (and incidentally being called an adulteress!) but who, once assured that Philip has a title and position, is able to tell him who his real father was, and wish him well! (This incidentally sets up another conflict as the murderer of Philip's royal father is a trusted aide on the French side, protecting the young Arthur!). This older brother is extremely well played by George Costigan, who is probably best known for his role as Bob in Alan Clarke's Rita, Sue and Bob Too a number of years after this.

Then we get into a magnificent scene where the British and French sides meet at the gates of a city Angiers. Both sides appeal to the city to let them in, but nobody in the city knows which ruler is the legitimate one! (This is a little like those sections of Henry VI Part III that dealt with the idea that you cannot have two generations of ruling royalty coexisting at the same point in time, if just because it confuses everyone!) Almost everyone gets a double on the opposing side: there are the two Kings John and Phillip. Lady Constance (in perhaps Claire Bloom's most powerful of her many Queenly performances throughout this BBC series) who is pushing for her son Arthur's legitimacy as ruler is doubled by John's mother (and grandmother to Arthur! Things pretty quickly get Richard III-style incestual. Though the elderly mother/grandmother is a little in the vein of the domineering mother in Coriolanus also) on the English side. The newly knighted Philip from the previous scene against his father's murderer Austria. The staging of this production has a lot of fun with this, with the two sides colour coded in English red and French blue. And late in the scene we get a fun shot-countershot (presumably from the walls of the city that is under siege!) in which all the 'reds' are gathered on the left side of a shot and then we get a cut to all of the 'blues' themselves on the right side of their own image!

And while it is very amusing, poor Angiers! The members of the city on the battlements seem bemused by the two Kings variously threatening and attempting to bargain with them into opening their gates (I was reminded a little of the French on the battlements in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!), with eventually both the French and English sides getting persuaded by the newly knighted Philip to combine forces for the moment and simply invade this impudent city before they go back to squabbling! This city being made to suffer for the failures of Kings seems as if it will prepare the way for the more personalised attack on King John's aide Hubert later in the play.

Luckily the people on the battlements have a solution: why doesn't the Lady Blanch of Spain on the English side marry Lewis the Dauphin on the French side and then all disputes will be settled, the gates can open and nobody will have to be invaded? This young couple are yet another set of characters complimenting each other on either side, and after a bit of back and forth they agree to be married and everything is set to be absolutely fine for everyone, with all issues settled. But...

But of course its not that simple. The newly knighted Philip is a little miffed that the battle that he seemed about to set into motion was stalled at the last minute. Even worse Lady Constance has now seen the young Arthur get leapfrogged in the line to the throne by this young couple, so she isn't happy at all.

And even worse, as everyone is happily leaving the church after the marriage they meet up with a Cardinal from Rome (this play, with its English and French quarrels, Spanish nieces and emissaries from Rome is almost a satire on the state of European relations!). This Cardinal isn't happy about King John not having agreed to someone favoured by the Pope into Archbishop of Canterbury, and John still isn't willing to make him one. So after events seeming on track to cool down, they immediately get brought to a head again by the Cardinal excommunicating King John and forcing the French King Phillip to either side with John or the church. This is a great scene, as King Phillip is conflicted over having just solved his quarrels and even just made a personal religious bond through marriage with John, only to have the Cardinal say that doesn't mean anything in the wider scheme of things. This play is really, really scathing of organised religion, particularly the Catholic church, as the Cardinal is shown to be hypocritically manipulative beginning with this scene and ony getting gobsmackingly worse later on!

So after much debate the English and French sides are ripped apart again into bloody war by the demands of the church. The newly married Blanch and Lewis of course bear the brunt of this sundered pact (becoming 'newly marred' instead?), as their marriage is immediately turned into a symbol of a failed political union. While Lewis takes up arms for the French, Blanch herself disappears after this scene, but she is another of the more sympathetic characters of the play. I felt she was a very similar character to Octavia in Antony & Cleopatra in the way that she is similarly bartered into a marriage to strengthen bonds and then finds that she has absolutely no power to keep either of the two sides together. While Blanch disappears entirely after this (similar to Octavia!), she gets this magnificent despairing and condemnatory speech, one of the best in a play that gives a wide variety of characters powerful speeches:
"Which is the side that I must go withal? I am with both: each army hath a hand and, in their rage I having a hold of both, they whirl asunder and dismember me.

Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayst win; Uncle I needs must pray that thou mayst lose; Father, I will not wish the fortune thine; Grandam, I may not wish thy wishes thrive. Whoever wins, on that side shall I lose. Assured loss before the match be play'd"
But Lady Constance seems relieved that now Arthur is back to being the next in line! It seems as if the Church itself has fortuitously come to her aide just when she needed it, and set the lineage back to its proper state. But the Church doesn't care too much about succession but about powerplays and once the English capture Arthur, the Cardinal even says to Lewis that Arthur is inevitably going to be murdered, but wouldn't it be better if he was anyway, as that would secure Lewis's succession to the throne as well as turn England against their own murderous King because of his actions. Why not perhaps try and move against King John in order to spur him into murdering Arthur?

This is the point at which the Cardinal moves from becoming officious into outright villainous! And we are left not entirely sure whether Lewis acts on the idea or not, as we then move to the English side and the focus on Arthur's fate in their hands (Following a final Winter's Tale-style scene of Lady Constance's grief moving into death at the loss of her child, which is matched by the doubling grandmother herself dying almost simultaneously). This kind of goes into territory of The Winter's Tale or the murder of Richard II at the end of that play, as King John hints very heavily to his aide Hubert that he wants Arthur disposed of, and then we have Hubert tying the young boy to a chair and attempting to put out his eyes with a hot poker until his conscience overwhelms him and he hides Arthur instead. The fascinating new element to this play is that when King John is informed of the 'death' and tells his nobles about it, they immediately rebel against him and go to fight with the French instead! Then John is left with Hubert, letting Leonard Rossiter do a brilliantly snivelling speech about why, oh why did Hubert have to have killed Arthur when John was just thinking aloud and didn't expect the deed to be done; and that Hubert is obviously pure evil and callous to have murdered the boy. Wonderfully Hubert turns the tables on the King and tells him that Arthur is alive, at which point John is suddenly all excitement and "well, go get him then" eagerness.

I love that scene of Hubert being treated horribly and then getting the chance to turn the tables, which is something that many of the sympathetic conflicted aides to cruel tyrants rarely get the chance to do. Here's another great speech:
"This hand of mine is yet a maiden and an innocent hand, not painted with the crimson spots of blood. Within this bosom never entered yet the dreadful motion of a murderous thought. And you have slander'd nature in my form which, howsoever rude exteriorly, is yet the cover of a fairer mind than to be butcher of an innocent child."
Yet unfortunately circumstances conspire again to destroy, as Arthur tries to run away by (stupidly) jumping from some battlements and planning to run away and pretend to be a lowly ship's boy, but only succeeds in cracking his skull open on the ground below during his attempted escape and killing himself (perhaps he had been naively reading too many Shakespeare plays in which the escape scene always worked?). That of course makes everyone think that Hubert actually was the murderer all over again, leading to a harrowing scene of protesting innocence at people who have already made up their minds on the matter.

I was actually a little disappointed at this point in the play, as I had been wondering what would happen if Arthur was presumed to be dead but was actually alive and the English nobles has risen up against King John and deposed him. If Arthur suddenly came to light just as Lewis and the Cardinal were celebrating their victory, perhaps that could have led to all sorts of complications. Unfortunately Arthur ends up simplifying things by his head-bangingly stupid action! War and total annihilation is certain now. But....

The Cardinal himself hasn't been resting on his laurels and we cut to King John having apologised profusely for his failings and being returned into the fold of the Church by the Cardinal. I had previously always thought that if someone was excommunicated that was that? But it seems easy enough to go back on that decision. Although Lewis and the English nobles themselves are incensed when the Cardinal returns to them when they were so close to victory and tells them the equivalent of "the war's off, we've had a meeting and sorted everything out", and they refuse to stop fighting just because some Cardinal from Rome tells them to.

Interestingly the Cardinal is sidelined by both sides at this point as annoying meddler (perhaps a comment for today's times on issues of international interventionism, especially if with a religious undercurrent!), which is perhaps only underlined when it seems that King John was poisoned (by "a monk") at around the exact same time that the Cardinal visited him!

As the war rumbles on abstractly in the background we come to the final scene of King John being wheeled into a courtyard of (ironically) a monastery to have his big death scene. Appropriately King John isn't killed nobly in battle or through a sacrifice but dies mid-way through someone else's speech, leaving the next child-King in line to the throne Henry for everyone to kneel in allegiance to. It somehow seems ironic that the final scene of the play that usually involves the authority figure setting the world to rights, here ends in the brain addled King's descent into barren death. But long live the next King!

One of the fascinating things about this play is the way that it seems consciously to be eliding the 'interesting' events: what happens to Blanch; the newly knighted Philip getting his revenge on Austria (we just see the aftermath with Philip soliloquising to Austria's severed head); the initial kidnapping of Arthur; the deaths of Queen Elinor and Lady Constance; the battles themselves and really the final outcome of the play really, as we end with the death of King John with the war continuing in the background. Though it seems that the Cardinal is about to negotiate a peace plan! It seems an interesting exercise in pruning a narrative down in order to emphasise certain elements within it, which is an interesting technique especially in a play which is so dense with narrative that it could almost turn into an entirely different story if it focused on four or five of the more minor characters and their experiences of the events of the play rather than the current front of stage ones.

I think that this is in the running for my top Shakespeare play slot, maybe tied with Cymbeline! (And a magnificent climax to Claire Bloom's run of roles in the series) It is complex but beautifully structured and runs like clockwork, with all the elements within it interacting in an impressive manner.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#111 Post by Revelator » Sat Jul 11, 2015 3:12 pm

colinr0380 wrote:This older brother is extremely well played by George Costigan, who is probably best known for his role as Bob in Alan Clarke's Rita, Sue and Bob Too a number of years after this.
A good performance, but the actor is miscast--not once did I believe he was the bastard son of Richard the Lionheart. The character has far more vitality on the page. Granted, lots of his lines are difficult to put across, since they often consist of hyper-intricate quibbling, one's of early Shakespeare's annoying habits.
Then John is left with Hubert, letting Leonard Rossiter do a brilliantly snivelling speech
Rossiter was an example of unconventional but perfect casting. His whining, wheedling, and sniveling are perfectly suited to a pathetic scumbag like King John. And John Thaw, with his solidity and integrity, was an excellent choice for poor Hubert. The character's scenes with Arthur are the highlight of the play for me, along with Constance's lament over her son.
One of the fascinating things about this play is the way that it seems consciously to be eliding the 'interesting' events
Probably because it elides history, even more than usual for Shakespeare. The Elizabethans tried rehabilitating John into a proto-Protestant since he defied the Catholic church, so in the first part of Shakespeare's play he's a much stronger character before reverting to bad old KIng John in the second half, which makes a dog's breakfast of the end of the reign (modern viewers inevitably ask where the hell's the Magna Carta).
As for the production, it sometimes tries for the stylization of Olivier's Henry V but with a half-hearted and occasionally ugly results.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#112 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:18 pm

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

"How courtesy would seem to cover sin, when what is done is like a hypocrite, the which is good in nothing but in sight."

A fascinating but sprawling piece of work. It feels sort of like four or five differently toned plays, each with different concerns, bolted together through the journey of the main character. It is also geographically spread out too, between a number of different kingdoms, which despite the Syrian setting made me think of this as a kind of Odyssey story. I'm not sure it works as a whole as it can often feel quite disorienting (and I feel it falls apart a little too much in the second half, where it is, barely, held together by the scene setting narrator constantly begging the audience to play along and the literal deus ex machina contrivances), but it certainly has its share of eye-opening moments!

The first and most eye opening moment of the entire play occurs at the very start as our hero Pericles visits the court of King Antiochus to try and win the King's daughter in marriage, despite dire warnings about having to solve a riddle correctly or face the consequences of immediate death, with the skulls of previous failed suitors hanging from hooks on the garden walls around them! Pericles is blind with passion however (suggesting he is not that great a judge of character, at least on first appearances. Something which will continue to dog him) and does work out the riddle correctly. Unfortunately the riddle is all about the King and his daughter being in a passionately incestuous relationship! Pericles shocks the King by guessing the truth (I guess the previous suitors had just failed totally, although the riddle wasn't that hard to figure out!: "I am no viper, yet I feed on mother's flesh which did me breed. I sought a husband in which labour I found that kindness in a father. He's father, son and husband mild. I mother, wife and yet his child. How this may be, and yet in two, as you will live, resolve it you") and gets a brief reprieve, although he correctly assumes that the King is going to have him murdered just for having uncovered the secret!

I really liked this scene for the way it felt as if it was undermining other Shakespeare contrived 'love tasks' in the most brutally blunt way possible. Something like that love task set by the dead father in Merchant of Venice, in which the suitors had to forfeit marriage to anyone if they failed to guess correctly is just as bad as the riddle here, and in some ways it is worse in Merchant of Venice as it is played as a wonderful romantic test that the 'right' suitor (with a bit of prompting) will succeed at! Here this riddle is being used by the King and his daughter as a way of keeping potential wooers far away, and it even allows them to have a bit of fun at the expense of overconfident, lovelorn suitors. It is another perverse act that the pair are complict together in - luring in a young man, then killing him - to match their incest.

King Antoichus and his daughter don't appear again after their first scenes of the play, but they act to spur the rest of the action as Pericles flees home to Tyre and then realising that he's going to be sought out there, travels even further on. Antiochus and his daughter are a little like the Duke threatening to kill Rosaline in As You Like It at the beginning of that play, which inspires her to run off into the woods where the rest of the action takes place. These characters aren't really important in themselves (similar to the offhand revelation that the bad Duke has died at the end of As You Like It, about halfway through this play there is a report that King Antoichus and his daughter whilst out riding in their carriage suddenly turned ugly as their inward nature overwhelmed their outward beauty, with both apparently getting burnt to a crisp in front of a crowd of onlookers as part of some kind of divine retribution!), but the shockingly blatant use of incest in the first scene casts a shadow across everything that follows, particularly the relationship between Pericles and his own daughter Marina at the very end of the play.

It is also interesting in the way it brings up a Winter's Tale sense of a corrupt monarch, especially in the line from the speech by Pericles to King Antioichus skirting around the subject of incest while making it obvious that he is aware: "Kings are Earth's Gods, in vice their law's their will". Pericles himself moves from being a youthful Prince to a King during the course of the play. He even loses his wife and daughter like King Leontes in The Winter's Tale, before being joyfully reunited with them in the final scenes. However Pericles isn't a horrible monarch needing to be taught a lesson, as the sexually jealous King Leontes did. He's not even the worst King in this play!

There are multiple monarchs here. Pericles travels further to Tarsus where he befriends a useless ruler Cleon and his wife, saving their city from certain starvation just in time, then goes further still, getting shipwrecked at Ephesus (the location of The Comedy of Errors!) where he meets the contrasting good King Simonides and ends up courting and marrying his daughter Thaisa. In the meantime he leaves his trusted, frank aide Helicanus to rule Tyre in his absence. This suggests that while the play has strong elements from The Winter's Tale within it, it is just as much a play about different forms of ruling different lands. Pericles is like a youthful Prince Hal travelling and seeing the world, meeting both bad and good characters as he goes.

The most damage happens in the middle ground however. On the trip back to Tyre with the pregnant Thaisa, the ship runs into a storm and Thaisa apparently dies in childbirth, with Pericles being persuaded by superstitious sailors to throw the body overboard sealed in a coffin to appease the seas. The boat then stops off at Tarsus instead and, for some reason (this is the point at which the contrived 'for some reasons' start to overwhelm the plot), Pericles decides to leave his infant daughter to be brought up by Cleon and his wife Dionyza. At the same time Thaisa's coffin has been found and a physician performs a miraculous revival on her, seemingly resurrecting her.

We then jump, Winter's Tale-style, a couple of decades to see that the teenage daughter Marina is overshadowing Cleon and Dionyza's actual daughter, to the extent that Dionyza has hired a murderer to kill Marina whilst the cowed husband weakly protests! 'Luckily' just as she is about to be stabbed (Is this the origin of the phrase "say your prayers" when someone is about to get killed?) Marina gets kidnapped by a group of pirates and sold to a brothel! The murderer tells Cleon and Dionyza that Marina is dead, they tell Pericles this by showing him the grave they have made in her honour. Which causes Pericles to go insane by tearing all his clothes off, growing his beard and refusing to talk or wash in the manner of Timon of Athens.

There are a few bumpy patches in this section. Such as why does Thaisa decide to retreat into a religious order rather than seek out Pericles once she has been brought back from the dead? And why does Pericles leave his daughter to be raised in Tarsus instead of taking her with him? Is it because he wouldn't have time for her, having just been made King of Tyre?

But the bumpiest patch comes with Marina's adventures in the brothel, as the play turns into a bawdy comedy for about half an hour revolving around the pure and virginal Marina contrasted against the rough brothel madame and her procurers. There are lots of jokes about Marina being sold on the basis of her virginity to various clients, only for Marina's ability with words constantly managing to save herself from being violated! (The scene even begins with a couple of men leaving the brothel, surprised at having found such a woman, and deciding to swear off brothels and go and visit a temple instead because of their eyes having been opened!) I particularly like the brothel madame's line that: "She is able to freeze the God Priapus and undo a whole generation!...She would make a puritan of the Devil, if he would cheapen a kiss of her!"

The madame keeps angrily upping the ante, eventually bringing in a well respected gentleman to do the deed, but one heavily implied to be riddled with sexually transmitted diseases! Marina is able to appeal to him as well, to such an extent that he eventually saves her and even, albeit unwittingly, reunites her with her father! Marina and Lysimachus then are due to be married at the end of the play, STDs apparently forgotten. But I suppose in blessing the marriage so quickly that is yet another example of Pericles jumping to conclusions about people that might have bad consequences later on!

Anyway then Pericles has a vision of the Goddess Diana teling him to visit her temple, where they find Thaisa, and the whole family is reunited. If this is not quite as powerful as the miraculous reconciliation with an apparently long dead wife in The Winter's Tale, that is perhaps because Pericles doesn't really have any abhorrent behaviour to atone for, unlike King Leontes. Pericles, Thaisa and Marina go through the worst events of the play, and none of them really deserve the bad luck and bad people that they encounter along the way. At least everything is set to rights at the end, though it is interesting that it is the more minor and supporting characters who save the day this time as opposed to the royal authority figures needing to step in and set the world to rights.

There are a lot of doubling characters in here contrasting against each other: two Kings, with two opposing temperaments marrying off two daughters; two midwives; two dead (or supposedly dead) mothers leaving daughters in the fumbling care of their fathers; two faux-mothers bullying Marina around; two trusted aides (Thaliard to King Antiochus and Helicanus to Pericles); two sets of youthful princes vying for the love of a noblewoman - the four skulls mounted on the wall versus the happy gathering in the banquet hall with feasting and dancing; two fateful sea voyages; two moments where Pericles is reduced to Timon of Athens-style despair at the world, from which he is pulled back; two Kings playing games with suitors for the hands of their daughters, though one is cruel and the other just benignly teasing; and two Royal marriages take place.

As you might get a sense of above, the play feels a little stuffed over full with characters and subplots, but I did end up really enjoying it a lot, especially the first half of the play. The second half is much more problematic though, especially the scenes in the brothel which were very amusing but really felt like an over-extended digression from matters at hand and jarring a little against the action elsewhere (Pericles disappears for a long period during all these shenanigans). They also feel too broadly done for what is otherwise quite a dark play, even if they are all jokes about a virgin potentially being raped! There isn't quite the sense of believable threat to Marina there as there is in say the opening scene of Pericles facing death if he fails the riddle, instead Marina is always going to be able to turn the tables on the silly brothel madame and her cronies.

The narrator also has to keep popping up frequently in the second half in order to explain scene transitions and inform us of events that have occurred off stage, which gets rather heavy handed as all the contrivances pile up and he has to actually try and explain the character's behaviours and thought processes as well. I did like though, which I had not realised until rewatching, that the narrator opens the tale in the location of the very final scene at the temple of Diana!

It is not an entirely successful play then, but there are more than enough impressive moments and ideas here to make it worthwhile, especially the ideas about ways of ruling, ways of loving, and the often difficult relationships between parents and children (refreshing in that it is the parents here who are more often the ones who cause the problems rather than the younger generation!)

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#113 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 9:57 am

Much Ado About Nothing

“Thou and I are too wise to woo predictably”

I loved this play, which feels as if it fixes a lot of the problems of the other ‘forced into marriage by third party’ plays such as Taming of the Shrew and All’s Well That Ends Well. The callow naïve young lovers, Claudio and Hero, quickly fall in love and agree to be married but because of some contrivance that prevents them from tying the knot there and then (the real antagonist of the play: too much free time!) they have to wait a week and decide in the meantime to also get Claudio’s friend Benedick matched up with Hero’s sister Beatrice, despite both of them saying they will never be married and throwing cutting put down quips at each other every time they meet!

Compared to Taming of the Shrew or All’s Well That Ends Well Though, the characters feel a little bit more nuanced. Beatrice and Benedick themselves are not consumed with passionate incandescent and burning personalised hatreds for each other either – they’re just a little haughty and hide their shyness behind their quick wits. Claudio (and his master Don Pedro) and Hero (with her girlfriends) manufacture the idea of the other feeling affection in the other’s mind, so they’re meddlers but not cruel ones as the characters bartering or badgering the couples in the other plays without any thought about their own feelings were. These meddling characters might not seem so terrible because their actions are more inspiring Beatrice and Benedick to recognise their feelings of love for themselves rather than having it bluntly imposed (though I wonder if they might have tried more strong arm tactics if Benedick and Beatrice had not been so quick to respond the way that they wanted!) and they’re doing it with, albeit teasing, affection towards both of them.

So the somewhat smug Don Pedro, Leonato (the father to the girls) and the young lovers of Claudio and Hero are not the irredeemable ones, but we do get to see them all go through a kind of comeuppance for their casual meddling as they get a taste of their own medicine when another third party just decides for fun to interfere in their own romances and attempt to destroy all four of them. I like that the bad guy of the piece Don John, Don Pedro’s brother, really has no particular reason for his meddling in Claudio and Hero’s relationship. He has no specific grievance against them, Leonato or his brother, but appears to be more just a grump who likes making others as miserable as he is, and can maybe see the advantage of potentially destroying all of these happy people before they form too much of a cabal against him! Don John is kind of an Iago figure, enjoying fooling around with a love affair and seeing where that leads him. Though he’s also like those ‘inciting incident’ bad guys from Pericles or As You Like It, who set events in motion but are irrelevant other than that, with a brief offhand mention of his fate at the end of the play that gets waved aside for more important matters, like dancing!. Don John is perhaps the most blatant, jaded deus ex machina figure of them all, almost self-aware of his function to this play as he even describes himself as a villain at one point!

All of the other, previously rather complacent (Merry Wives of Windsor-level smug), characters get easily taken in by Don John’s machinations, which involve getting Don Pedro and Claudio to see someone they assume to be Hero meeting someone else at her bedroom window in the middle of the night. Of course then instead of maybe confronting Hero privately and with tact, Claudio waits until the “if anyone has anything to say, do so now or forever hold your peace” section of their marriage to confront Hero with his suspicions, suggest very forcefully that she has been unfaithful and leaves her in tears, in what is a really harrowing scene. Especially when Hero’s father Leonato starts disappointedly jumping on the bandwagon too! I immediately lost all sympathy for Claudio at this point for not trusting his potential wife enough to even consider her side of the story (he’s yet another example of a stupid, impetuous young lover, and very similar to Posthumus in Cymbeline having a misogynist rant at Imogen on just the slightest presumption of infidelity, something that ends up exposing his own failings more than hers).

The only exceptions are Benedick and Beatrice (and the Friar, representing the forces of order. I like that Benedick in particular has an inbuilt respect for the ‘wisdom of age’, or rather just white hair, which is how he got manipulated by Leonato earlier on, as anyone that revered and elderly obviously couldn't have an alterior motive!), who all appear to immediately see through the silly accusations for being ridiculous. As with the final section of Taming of the Shrew, there is the interesting sense that suddenly the callow young lovers get something of their comeuppance for being too flippant about love, it having come so easily to them, whilst Beatrice and Benedick have taken love much more seriously, so while being slow to come together they end up having a much stronger bond together than Claudio and Hero did. While everyone else is too quick to turn on a dime, Beatrice and Benedick have been slower and more considered about their actions, so appear have more faith in their feelings than those driven by fits of passion.

Anyway the Friar comes up with a Winter’s Tale-styled plan to steal Hero away and tell Claudio and Don Pedro that she has died from grief. Meanwhile the aides to Don John have been captured talking about their plot, and eventually everyone realises the wrongs that have been done to Hero (luckily for Benedick, as Beatrice was coldly wanting him to prove his love for her by fighting Claudio to the death!). Claudio accepts marrying an ‘identical twin niece’ to Leonato to make up for his wrongdoings and then we get yet another, though beautiful, sequence of a dark mourning ritual apologising for an irreversible death of a loved one that is followed by a miraculous resurrection in the wedding scene that follows, as Hero reveals herself to Claudio (not until after he has married her though! Get that man hooked for sure this time!) and Benedick and Beatrice get married as well, though not until they both teasingly reveal to all of the meddling parties from earlier that they knew they were getting manipulated by them!

I loved this play (and while the whole thing is obviously stagebound, I loved the orange grove setting for many of the scenes, especially the contrast of lighting between the bright mid-day and beautiful reddish dusk scenes) and the final marriage scene here, especially that between Beatrice and Benedick, feels fully earnt and not as if the couple tricked into marriage are going to end up murdering each other during their honeymoon! The infectiously joyous mood trickles out into the production itself, as for the first time in this series the end credits get regularly interrupted by fading back into the joyous celebratory dancing scene until the programme ends in time with the happy laughter from the dancers at the end of the song!

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#114 Post by domino harvey » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:20 am

I haven't seen this production, but while I think the play is pretty minor Shakespeare, Dogberry is one of Shakespeare's most memorable comic creations

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#115 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:27 am

I find it hard to choose a favorite Shakespeare comedy -- given how much I love both Twelfth Night and Much Ado (I just wish that the 1960s version, with Maggie Smith as Beatrice, would show up on DVD).

I obviously don't think this is "minor Shakespeare" at all. But then again , I tend to favor (on average) comedies over other genres....

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#116 Post by domino harvey » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:43 am

I think Twelfth Night is rather easily Shakespeare's greatest Comedy, with the Merchant of Venice pretty high up there behind it (though not a comedy in the modern sense)

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#117 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:07 am

I would probably give the edge to 12th Night, partly because it was the first Shakespeare play I saw performed live. ;-) Merchant of Venice may be "greater" that Much Ado, but I like Much Ado more.(probably because Beatrice and Benedick are two of my favorite Shakespearean characters -- while I really don't really _like_ any of the major characters in Merchant.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#118 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:18 am

domino harvey wrote:I haven't seen this production, but while I think the play is pretty minor Shakespeare, Dogberry is one of Shakespeare's most memorable comic creations
He's certainly a very Bottom-like character! "And Master, sir, do not forget to specify, when time and place shall assert, that I am an ass."

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#119 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:51 am

I aways loved this Dogberry sequence...

DON PEDRO
Officers, what offence have these men done?

DOGBERRY
Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

DON PEDRO
First, I ask thee what they have done; thirdly, I
ask thee what's their offence; sixth and lastly, why
they are committed; and, to conclude, what you lay
to their charge.

CLAUDIO
Rightly reasoned, and in his own division: and, by
my troth, there's one meaning well suited.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#120 Post by domino harvey » Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:33 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:DOGBERRY
Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
I know his hilarious malaprops often (justly) get the spotlight, but I've often felt there's a bit of this side of Dogberry in most academic papers, where authors seem to be urgently discovering new ways of saying the same thing over and over. True for some internet posters as well!

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#121 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:07 pm

You mean you have gotten wise to my shilling for Naruse (and BAE Doona)? ;-)

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#122 Post by ando » Sun Jan 10, 2016 9:31 am

onedimension wrote: I've seen next to no Shakespeare actually performed... are the subtitles accurate?
Funny.

Been meaning to catch up with Colin's last pick for a while. This production of Much Ado , from the little I've initially watched so far, looks stiff and will require some black coffee to sit through this morning. I did find a nifty little streamer of the BBC production for anyone curious.

The trouble is that one of greatest 2 and a half hours I've ever spent with Shakespeare was at an 80s stage performance of Much Ado at The Mason Gross School of Arts at Rutgers. It had that infectious joy that Colin speaks of in spades. I did subsequently learn that the two leads were lovers in real life. Only served to kick the magic up a notch higher! I'll try to forget that (really unforgettable) experience while I retread this version. Nothing like it live, though.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#123 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jan 10, 2016 8:14 pm

There have only been one or two of these BBC adaptations that I've found to be a real slog. Othello was really difficult to get through all three plus hours of, but in some ways I guess that captured some of the sense of long drawn out descent into mental breakdown that no other shorter adaptation I've seen has managed to capture (and it does have the compensation of a fantastic Bob Hoskins performance, which pulled me through the thing, each of his appearances like stepping stones getting me closer to the end!). The version of Macbeth in this series wasn't particularly engaging either unfortunately (I think I understand better now what MichaelB might have meant when he talked way back on the first page of this thread about the more famous plays getting the least satisfying productions in the BBC cycle. Though Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing work well in this series) and I had issues with Taming of the Shrew, Antony and Cleopatra (more inherent with those two plays themselves however) and am borderline on Merry Wives of Windsor (which I found irritating until the last act almost single-handedly saved it).

But that is more than outweighed by the great experiences of getting introduced to a number of the plays that I had not previously encountered at all. Timon of Athens, Cymbeline and Coriolanus in particular stand out. But also the Richard II through Richard III cycle too. And, despite recognising some inherent flaws in them, I think Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Two Gentleman of Verona are also really interesting pieces. Troilus and Cressida too.

On Much Ado About Nothing I think that I prefer Robert Lindsay and Cherie Lunghi's performances in the main roles in this version to Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson's slightly more mannered and bickering ones from the 1993 film (though I do wonder what a Branagh-Thompson era version of Taming of the Shrew would have been like, as their on screen chemistry always seemed more suited to fighting each other than falling in love! At least they made Dead Again before the big break up I suppose, which I guess with its giallo-style operatic murder scenes could have been cathartic!). Robert Lindsay is great here and in his role in Cymbeline, which was especially surprising after having been so used to his more celebrated roles in BBC sitcoms, either the agitprop title character of the Citizen Smith series from just before his roles here, or his eventual archetypal sitcom dad figure from the long running My Family show decades later.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#124 Post by ando » Mon Jan 11, 2016 7:37 pm

Yes, Cymbeline, Troilus & Cressida and Merchant are fine productions, fun to watch. My favorite of all the series (since we're on the subject) are the Henry VI plays. The production values are wonderfully laughable and take absolutely nothing away from the spirited play from nearly all the featured players and Measure For Measure, a film that moves like a fine chamber piece - a smaller cast in perfectly modulated scenes with really fine performances.

This Much Ado needed a lift. Perhaps the admittedly beautiful sets made the actors too comfortable, too relaxed in their approach to the text and each other. Set in different enviorns (particularly a real outdoor scene or two) would not only have relieved the surprisingly somber tone and lumpy pace of the piece but infused the actors with something real to play against! Courtly romance need not be this much of a confecton. Lindsay's performance is indeed superlative but lost in a cast of tepid playing. I see that the late Stuart Judge, who directed the Olivier's Blackface Othello back in '65, was behind this. And I also see, judging by the imdb rating, that I'm in the minority on the merits of the film. But I've read no better commentary on the play and its performance than Bernard Shaw's review/essay of it near the turn of the 20th century. He reasons quite eloquently what you instinctively feel about a production such as this one, which is far too languorous and heavy. Shaw's main argument, of course, is that the players mustn't miss the music of the language, which is the most glorious aspect of any Shakespeare play. In this BBC production almost none of the actors seemed to enjoy the language - to relish it. And one of the things I remember most about the aforementioned production at Rutgers was that the two leads (at least) delivered the lines with such delight it made you want to pick up a copy of the play and join in! They really had a good time with it - and, of course, it was infectious. Who's really having a good time here?

I, too, found the Branagh/Thompson film lacking that indispensable spark between the two leads. The supporting cast simply managed to get through their roles. The film, overall, is as uncompelling as the BBC production.

Just an afterthought - is there a Claudio in any of Shakespeare's plays who isn't generally wide-eyed, good looking and stupid? Is that what the name Claudio conveys in Italian - or, more properly, is Claudio a traditional Italian theater character, continually duped by the more crafty souls around him? Claudio in Othello, Claudio in Measure For Measure, Claudio in Much Ado... all seem closer to plot devices than full-fledged characters by Shakespeare. For all these Claudios superficiality and appearance seem to be their way of moving in the world, making it fairly easy for more subtle characters to take advantage of them. They say Hamlet was, in many ways, a composite or portrait-of-sorts of Shakespeare's son (Hamnet, who died very young) - a character who Shakespeare would have liked his son to be. I think it's a safe bet to say that Claudio was not in the running when considering a name for any of his successive children!

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#125 Post by ando » Mon Feb 15, 2016 4:41 pm

Colin, I'm venturing into the Jonathan Miller version of King Lear in this series today. Have you reviewed this (couldn't find a write up in this thread)? A couple of events inspired this; 2016 as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death (strange as such an observance is); the recently published and well reviewed James Shapiro Shakespeare book, Year of Lear and a wonderful consideration of this film version of Lear on another site. It's now regarded as one of the jewels of the whole series. Before I contributed my impression I was curious to see what you thought of it.

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