THE WHOLE DAMN DYNASTY
By Richard Curtis, et al.
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The first series of Blackadder aired in 1982. Written by Richard Curtis, who created the show, and Rowan Atkinson, who starred in it, Blackadder was a clever look at English history at the end of the Middle Ages. Its success spurred three additional series, set in the Elizabethan period, the Regency period, and World War I, as well as a variety of shorts. In 1998, transcripts of the shows were collected into the volume Blackadder: The Whole Damn Dynasty: 1485-1917, along with supplemental material.
The main focus of the book are the 24 episodes of the show spread over the four series. Each series opens with a listing of the dramatis personae, which not only spotlights the number of actors who appeared in multiple series as part of the show's ensemble, but also, interestingly, demonstrates that each successive series employed fewer and fewer actors. In addition to these lists prefacing each series, there is a brief history of England providing an introduction written with the tongue-in-cheek style of the classic parody of English history, 1066 and All That. These brief segments provide a nice coherence to the book, not only connecting the four series, but providing a witty look at some of the issues which arose in England over the years.
Although the transcriptions lack the timing and inflection provided by the actors, it does allow the reader to more fully appreciate the writing, puns, and wit that infuse the series. It becomes even clearer that one of the reasons all of the series worked as well as they did is because the writers had a firm grasp of English history, not just the major events, but the details of living during the various periods, which allow each of the series to take on its own feel and identity. The depth of some of the jokes only really becomes apparent when it is laid out in black and white and can be separated from the overall dramatization.
The added parts vary in cleverness. They include a lengthy family tree for Baldrick, which perhaps shows more variety than expected, an excerpt from Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, which ties in quite neatly to the episode "Ink and Incapability," sections on Medieval torture and medicines, which almost seem as if they could be interchangeable, and Captain Darling's request for a transfer, which captures the character's personality.
Despite the subtitle claim to be "the whole damn dynasty," the book failed to include the transcriptions of Blackadder: The Cavalier Years and Blackadder's Christmas Carol, both of which were released a decade before the book was published. The omission of "The Cavalier Years" is particularly strange as it was a short sketch created to support Comic Relief and the book was published to support Comic Relief.
Blackadder: The Whole Damn Dynasty: 1485-1917 forms a wonderful companion to watching the various series. While the individual episodes speak for themselves, the supplementary material adds both insight into British history as well as humor to the existing work. Although the book can be read on its own, reading it in conjunction with a (re-)watch of the series would increase its value.
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