on December 30, 2000
I'm of two minds about this tape.
On the one hand, it's devilishly clever. Writer Ben Elton has taken the standard CHRISTMAS CAROL holiday episode, turned it inside out, and flipped it back on itself again. In the process, though, he's done the same to the Black Adder character, and careful observers of that series may not like what he's done.
This hour-long episode is a very hip thing to watch during the holidays, especially with friends you suspect can handle something different. Often hilarious, BLACK ADDER'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL will certainly amuse people who embrace their inner "Bah! Humbug". It's definitely worth buying.
But I'm not sure it's much of a Christmas present for those of us who already know and like the series. The thing about Blackadder, as a character, is that he's not unpleasant just to be so. He's one of those guys stuck in the middle of life, who is better than his current position, but unable to find a way to the top. Surrounded by people less capable than himself, but cowardly, his only recourse is his wit. And so everyone suffers his tongue. The series, as a whole, derives its humor from the fact that Edmund Blackadder (or, if you will, The Black Adder) is an Everyman who has existed In every generation, and can comment wryly about them all.
Ebenezer Blackadder, by contrast, is shackled to the simplicity of Ebenezer Scrooge. As a character, there's nothing to Scrooge, really. He's mean, he sees ghosts, and then suddenly he's nice. By extension, Ebenezer Blackadder is similarly thin. He starts out a philanthropist, sees ghosts, and becomes horrible. Yes, he's still trying to find a way to the top, and yes, it's still funny watching him try. But because of the necessity to follow the basic outline of Scrooge's script, Blackadder crosses that very fine line between frustration and intention. Now he's being terrible to everyone expressly because he thinks it will benefit him. This shift in motivation is made all the more unfortunate by the fact that this is the only BLACK ADDER not based on a historical period, but a literary one. As such, it's completely gutted of all the smart historical references which are so much a part of the BLACK ADDER experience.
Some viewers will no doubt say that the ending equivocates the victory through-beastliness message a bit, making it more of a traditional BLACK ADDER. And they'll point out that this story HAD to be written because it's so obviously perfect for the very British time line of the series as a whole. But I'm not so quick to let Ben Elton off the hook. Though it's very funny, and a clever way to revisit different eras in the series, it's not quite BLACK ADDER. Britain has seen too many actual Chrismases to have hogtied Edmund Blackadder to a figment of Charles Dickens' imagination.
A very funny inversion of both 'A Christmas Carol' and the other
Blackadder shows. Here, "Ebenezer Blackadder" is as kind and generous
as a man can be, the opposite of every Scrooge (and other Black Adder)
we've seen. But then he gets a visit from the ghost of the Christmas
spirit, who shows him how awful and selfish his various ancestors were.
On the other hand, they don't seem to be taken advantage of quite the
way he is...
A spirited, funny, and black satire, with terrific work as usual from
the whole group; Rowan Atkinson. Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson,
Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Robbie Coltrane, Miriam Margolies and Jim
Broadbent. Quite a cast! It doesn't all work, and the very ending is a
bit predictable, but there lots of laughs and twisted humor along the