Blackadder is a historical and at times hysterical 1980s British sitcom, focusing on the exploits of different members (all played by Rowan Atkinson) of the Blackadder lineage throughout history. “The Ultimate Edition” is the third DVD release of the entire series. The episodes look very good after having been remastered, and the set contains almost every related item a Blackadder fan could want.
Created and written by Atkinson and Richard Curtis, the first series, The Black Adder, is set in an alternate 1485 where Henry Tudor didn’t win the War of the Roses. Instead, Richard IV (Brian Blessed) is named king after his son Edmund Plantagenet (Atkinson), unbeknownst to most, kills Richard III (Peter Cook) on the battlefield, mistaking him for a horse thief. Because Richard IV thinks so little of him, even forgetting his name, Edmund schemes to gain favor with but then eventually plots to overthrow his father. Edmund takes the name “Black Adder” and is assisted, though their results reveal it’s not always the correct word, by Lord Percy Percy (Tim McInnerny) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson). History is set right in the final episode of “The Black Adder” and Tudor takes the throne.
Blackadder II moves ahead to the Elizabethan era and finds Lord Blackadder, the great-grandson of Prince Edmund of the previous series, as a courtier of the Queen (Miranda Richardson). While the traits of scheming have been passed down, Lord Blackadder is smarter than his ancestor. He is also joined by his own Lord Percy Percy and Baldrick.
Atkinson gave up writing chores and Ben Elton became Curtis’ writing partner for the remainder of the program’s run. Stephen Fry joined the cast as Lord Melchett and his comedy partner Hugh Laurie played two different roles. This series ends with the main characters suffering a similar fate as the previous series.
Blackadder the Third continues the slide in status for the Blackadder line as the Regency era reveals the Edmund Blackadder of this age to be a butler to the dim-witted George, Price of Wales (Laurie). There is another Baldrick; this time serving as Blackadder’s dogsbody. McInnerny, Fry, and Richardson return in small roles.
Blackadder Goes Forth takes place in 1917 during WWI with Captain Blackadder trying to escape the trenches with his life. Private S. Baldrick and Lieutenant George (Laurie) are his sidekicks, and Fry and McInnerny return as series cast members playing General Melchett and his assistant Captain Darling, respectively. The series finale, while offering a similar fate to previous characters, is much more poignant. This is likely in part because the other series had fun sending up the time periods while Goes Forth is also a satire about war.
Fans will be happy with the quantity of special features offered. Not sure why the first series is skipped over, but II and the Third each have three episodes with commentary tracks by different cast and crew members. Goes Forth has two. “Footnotes To History” offers serious historical tidbits about the time and people the series deals with.
Disc five presents specials done over the years. In 1988 between the Third and Goes Forth series, there were two. Set during the English Civil War, “The Cavalier Years” is a 15-minute piece created for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day and finds Sir Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick trying to save King Charles I. “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol” is a Christmas special where a very nice Ebenezer Blackadder of the 19th century is taken by the Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane) back to the second and third series as well as into the future where he learns the lesson “Bad guys have all the fun.” Created for a theatre at the Millennium Dome, “Blackadder: Back & Forth” finds Lord Blackadder and Baldrick traveling on a time machine. “Baldrick’s Video Diary” presents behind-the-scenes footage.
Disc six contains Blackadder Rides Again, a 60-minute special marking the 25th anniversary of the series. It is fun to see everyone years later and very informative, especially about the potential Blackadder projects that never got off the ground. There are also “Extended Interviews” with cast and crew that didn’t make the special. “Costumes Revisited” shows a few cast members rummaging around, but it deserved a much better piece to honor the work done on the show.
Fans who don’t own any of the Blackadder series already and for those new to the series who enjoy history and humor, “The Ultimate Edition” is a worthwhile investment. I suggest you come up with a plan to obtain it. The only thing that would have completed the set was the original unaired pilot. Maybe with the next DVD release four years hence.