BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

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ando
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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#151 Post by ando » Thu Feb 25, 2016 6:50 pm

Revelator wrote: I'm a little skeptical about the scenario in the Life of Shakespeare. First, do we really know how King James or his court reacted to the play? From what I understand, such evidence is lacking. We have stray comments from Pepys's diaries regarding audiences' receptions, but not much else. Furthermore, Lear's lines to Gloucester, though prompted by madness, are bitterly satirical, and I doubt anyone even in Shakespeare's time regarded lines like "See how yon justice rails upon yon simple thief. Hark in thine ear: change places and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?" as hilarious knee-slappers. Bitter satire isn't interested in belly laughs. And it could just as well be that a royal absolutist like James would have found the scene offensive and impertinent.
It's almost all conjecture! You couldn't have enjoyed the series much, for to my mind the whole take on Shakespeare's early career is a 6 hour flight of fancy. Who really knows what went down between King James or Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare's troupe other than the registry listing of performed plays for each season? But both monarchs were smart enough to put them in their employ, thereby safegarding any social disturbance from occuring as a result of the increasingly influential pen of Mr. Shakespeare. James I was one of the most intelligent monarchs in English history. By the time he was on the throne Shakespeare was writing almost exclusively for the king and his court (I forget who called Shakespeare an apologist for the monarchy) and it's highly doubtful that he would directly offend a patron with such powers of discernment. James had to laugh at that passage otherwise he would have found it most offensive, indeed. After the Essex/Richard II debacle why would Shakespeare risk going through that horror again? Anyway, the scene doesn't induce knee-slapping laughter, but the incredibly absurd situation of the two great men reduced to the Laurel & Hardy-like schtick is deeply comical and requires a keen eye to see it. Course, it could just be that as James was (as you say) a royal absolutist, though far more politic than his son, he could simply have found such a babbling monarch ridiculous. Again, it's I think it's one of the strengths of Hordern's performance. Scofield brings this out in other places in the Brook film.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#152 Post by ando » Sun Feb 28, 2016 7:27 pm

colinr0380 wrote: One of the best things I can say about this adaptation of the play is that instead of focusing on the dialogue I often found myself focusing more on the reactions of the other characters in the scene to fully understand the implications. That I think is the mark of a sensitively staged adaptation of Shakespeare, when the other characters are so invested in their roles that they can support the primary performer through genuine reactions, which is perhaps worth more than any particularly beautiful Shakespearian speech.
Absolutely, Colin. And not just with Miller's King Lear but any Shakespeare production. Suit the word to the action, indeed. Shakespeare was a marvelous poet but he is primarily a playwright here so - as with any playwright - how he engages characters to act is always the vital part.

Have you made an entry for Henry VIII?

I found references to the Billington film but no proper entry. Well, at any rate, I revisited the film as I do every other year or so and am always impressed with the initial sharp pace and verbal play - all distinctively Shakespearean - and let down after the initial two acts by the gossiping "Gentleman", whose voice I recognize as representing Shakespeare's equivalent of The Chorus, but who nonetheless manage to put a pin in the high flying design leaving us with a rather flabby piece of business. The device of The Gentleman and their exchanges (among other contributions) feels like the work of John Fletcher, if it was he who collaborated with Shakespeare on the play. I wonder if their exclusion from a production would actually confuse audiences or leave them stymied. The narrative is not complex - most probably because we're dealing with characters who are just the opposte. One of the strengths of this production, to my mind, are the wonderful performances from nearly all the cast. There doesn't seem to be much cutting of the text so the main actors are given the room to explore the nuances of character, their motivations, their concealments, etc.. It seems we get enough information from the players who are directly involved in the narrative without having to resort to The Gentleman for - what - relief?

But that's just a trifle compared to the larger problem of trying to make a compelling drama of an epoch as full of domestic trouble and international scandal as was the reign of Henry VIII. Shakespeare picked where he could flatter, if you ask me, so Catherine of Aaragon, Elizabeth and even, Anne Boelyn, are given flattering portraits. Cardinal Wosley is the obvious antagonist but also the most interesting character in the whole play. After Wosley falls - only halfway through the play - you can feel the writers scrambling for an equally compelling storyline. Apart from the death of Catherine, none of the other extant characters have been explored enough in depth to elicit as compelling an interest. Strangely, Henry is the least interesting of all the leading parts.The play, as a whole, falls fall short of the late, great work from Shakespeare and has clearly another one or two hands involved. Perhaps Shakespeare was ill at the time of its conception and performance.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#153 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:25 am

It has been a few years since I last watched Henry VIII, so I'm rather fuzzy on the details, but I remember finding the way that the play is sort of laser focused onto the trials of Katharine of Aragon (in the first half) and Cardinal Wolsey (in the second half) extremely interesting, especially in this era where anything to do with Henry VIII seems to have to focus on all six wives, limiting the attention paid to any one in particular!

Looking back on it now from seeing a lot of the other plays (Henry VIII was made very early in the BBC Shakespeare cycle, despite being one of Shakespeare's later plays), I see a lot of The Winter's Tale in it, with the King cruelly abusing his Queen and putting her through a humiliating trial and banishment, before turning his wrath on his advisors. I guess it also helps that Claire Bloom played both of the Queens in these adaptations too, and she gets the chance to give perhaps her fullest performance here with the attention that the play pays to Katharine's reaction to her trial and banishment.

I seem to remember that this adapatation is full of longs of great corridor shots too (this was another one of the early 'shot on location' plays, along with As You Like It, before the BBC cycle went in a more set-bound direction) involving groups of characters acting as the chorus to comment on events. And I seem to remember a quite moving parting scene between Henry and Katharine at night lit by torches as she is being escorted to be banished.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#154 Post by ando » Tue Mar 01, 2016 3:45 pm

colinr0380 wrote:I remember finding the way that the play is sort of laser focused onto the trials of Katharine of Aragon (in the first half) and Cardinal Wolsey (in the second half) extremely interesting, especially in this era where anything to do with Henry VIII seems to have to focus on all six wives, limiting the attention paid to any one in particular!
Indeed. The fascination with the succession of wives is rather repellant to me. It has colored the history of the entire Tudor dynasty to such an extent that people come to expect scandals with the Tudors like Henry VII and Mary I, whose personal lives and styles of rule were the very antithesis of someone with the (supposedly) gartantuan appetites of Henry V.

There's an adequate streamer of Henry VIII or All Is True here. Now, this, it can be argued, is a jewel of the series as a production, but it is an uneven affair, due mostly to the material. There's no strong contention or compelling question at the play's heart save that "all is true", though it is a truth clearly sanctioned by the Jacobean state. I remember Elizabeth I refuting Shakespeare's version of history in Richard II to the Bard's face in the Life of Shakespeare film. "There was no deposition!", she scolded him, and, in fact, had there not been that invention (if she was right), taken out of the play (and for a time, apparently, it was) would make Bolingbroke's claim less sympathetic. No such device was employed in Henry VIII. Instead, Shakespeare is far more subtle in his characterizations and implications though the contributions from Fletcher are not up to his level of verbal effluvium and bandying.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#155 Post by ando » Sun Mar 06, 2016 8:59 pm

bottled spider wrote:^^ There's a DVD of a live performance of Lear, starring James Earl Jones in the title role. It's good, but all but ruined by an audience who kept guffawing at (to my mind) the most outlandish moments, almost as though they had no notion what they were watching and were politely laughing at what they imagined were the funny bits. Perhaps their reactions weren't in fact so wrong-headed after all.
You promted me to add this to my queue a week or so back. I'd seen it before and luckily found a streaming copy (vimeo - King Lear, 1974). Jones' performance is mostly as I remembered it in the moments where Lear is blustering. However, the Reason not the need! speech/moment was, indeed, showstopping. Also, he played Lear's tenderer moments with a sensitivity difficult to get across in an amphitheater-like space. Douglass Watson was also a standout as Kent. And I confess a weakness for Ellen Holly as Reagan, probably the most enticing daughter of Lear I've ever encountered (though the late Dame Dorothy Tutin did have a strange magnetism as Goneril). They played it in a manner in which I often see the Greek plays; minimal set, wide open spaces, emotions front-and-center, circular movements/counter-movements. It's the most fun I've had watching this play as the cast is uniformly effective. The Fool, here, is probably the least effective, though - seems almost superfluous. Wouldn't it be cool if the fool was merely a voice-over? It would make Lear seem all the more mad. Cut a line or two that justifies his actual presence in the drama and it might actually work! Maybe not. But he's got to be the most unfunny fool in Shakespeare's universe. Or, as the Bard would have it, every-inch-a-fool.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#156 Post by bottled spider » Mon Mar 07, 2016 2:48 am

Yes, Jones was excellent. I can't remember any of the other performances, except that Oswald was played as a sort of Elizabethan surfer dude.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#157 Post by ando » Mon Mar 07, 2016 9:17 am

Is that what he (Frederick Coffin) was going for?

Speaking of which, I was reading in Tony Tanner's footnotes in his Prefaces to Shakespeare that the oldest source of the King Lear story derived from an old (Norse?) folk tale where a daughter tells her father that she loved him as much as salt. Realizing that she had offended him she explained that she viewed him as equally essential to her life. I don't think that cut it otherwise we wouldn't have the rest of the story but with all the references to storms, hurricanes and life-giving substances I don't remember Shakespeare dropping the word, salt , once during the whole play.

- Actually, there's one interesting drop: in the fourth act where Lear is met by Cordelia's (France's) men for reunion, Shakespeare has Lear use the word salt for tears.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#158 Post by ando » Tue Mar 15, 2016 3:27 am

Image
Dr. Susan Willis, dramaurg for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, has apparently written a book on this BBC collection of Shakespeare films titled, The BBC Shakespeare Plays: Making The Televised Canon. Has anyone here read it? From what I gather this "overview", like the plays, is an uneven affair. Might be worth a library borrow, though.

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#159 Post by ando » Mon May 23, 2016 11:57 pm

Sloper wrote: And the Hamlet with Jacobi is the best filmed Hamlet I've ever seen. In fact, Jacobi's is the only performance I've seen of this role that really 'makes sense' - he seems to mean what he says, rather than just giving an admiring recitation (which I think is essentially what Branagh does).
Is there a full review of this version of Hamlet somewhere in the thread/site? I'm about to embark on a viewing in a few minutes (The best midnight movie. The play even starts at the stroke of 12!). First time watching it in full...

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Re: BBC Shakespeare DVD Sets

#160 Post by ando » Thu Jul 04, 2019 4:26 pm

Just a note: many of the 70s/early 80s run of BBC Shakespeare on Ambrose video can be found on the Broadway HD add on to Amazon Prime Video. After my account with kanopy, which had nearly all of that series, became null when the NYPL ended their contract I felt this was the only viable alternative. Ambrose Video leases their streaming catalog but the prices are prohibitive for a single subscriber, imo. Anyway, the Broadway HD add on is a huge treat for theater lovers. (Just discovered the Sidney Lumet/Jason Robard (1960) film version of The Iceman Cometh streaming!!)

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