This is the fourth of a five-part series in which I discuss and review the beloved BBC classic, Blackadder. Part four: Blackadder Goes Forth. (Cue theme song)
We come, sadly, to the fourth and final series of the Blackadder saga: Blackadder Goes Forth. Set during The Great War (World War I), this series is arguably the most remembered, and according to the writers and cast, the most difficult to make, series of Blackadder, mainly due to its poignant final scene.
In this series, Captain Blackadder of the British army is living in the trenches of the Western Front at Flanders and is wondering how he ended up there. To make matters worse his brother officer, Lieutenant George Colthurst St. Barleigh, played by Hugh Laurie, is about as useful as a dehydrated man drinking water out of a sieve. And then there is Private S. Baldrick, played once again, by Tony Robinson; a man who not only thinks Charlie Chaplin is quite amusing, but whose coffee-making skills are oftentimes questionable to say the least.
Their commanding officer is General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, played by Stephen Fry, and like his Melchett ancestors before him, the General is often the bane of Captain Blackadder’s existence. Melchett’s assistant, Captain Kevin Darling, played by Tim McInnerny, is Blackadder’s equal as far as rank is concerned, but because of his connection to the General, he feels quite above Blackadder. The two live together in a commandeered French chateau, miles behind the front lines. The General really has no idea what is going on or how to be a General so instead, he frequently takes it upon himself to try and raise the troops’ morale, often at the most inappropriate times.
Meanwhile, Blackadder tries everything in his power to avoid having to go "over the top" of the trenches. He had small victories here and there, but in the final episode it seems that his scheme of putting underpants on his head and sticking two pencils up his nose was too obvious a plot for someone who was truly insane. And so, like the name of the final episode, the time comes when Blackadder and his chums finally have to go over the top to face certain death with the Germans. (I don’t feel that’s a spoiler. If you’ve seen the other series, which you must’ve if you’ve worked your way to this one, you know by now how they all end.)
This series is most commonly agreed to be the most hilarious of all the main series, due to the input and benefit of having five comedic writers, which included: Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. According to interviews with the team itself, they argued and laboured relentlessly over the script, with Fry, Laurie and Atkinson annoying Curtis and Elton with numerous changes to their script and adding their own jokes. Looking back on it, that’s probably the main reason they never carried on with a fifth series; too much tension between the talent and the writers.
Finally, there are many who say this series of Blackadder trivializes The Great War. To them I can only say that they obviously never saw that final scene; heartbreaking and emotional, a great end to a phenomenal series.