This is the second of a five-part series in which I discuss and review the beloved BBC classic, Blackadder. Part two: Blackadder II. (Cue theme song)
With a considerably slashed budget, Rowan Atkinson having been removed from the writing process, and Ben Elton having been brought on board, Blackadder II returned to television screens in 1985, to take another stab at success. The smaller budget allowed for filming only to be done in the studio. And this time, rather than enjoying the option of shooting with a wide variety of extras, as had been the case in the previous series, Blackadder II relied only on a core cast of characters, who worked tirelessly every episode to make viewers laugh. And laugh we did. It was with this series that the comedy legend of Blackadder really came into existence.
In Blackadder II, set this time in the Elizabethan era, Lord Blackadder, the bastard great-great grandson of the Blackadder from series I, lives with his servant, Baldrick, and hanger-on, Lord Percy Percy, in Billingsgate, London. He is at the beck and call of Queen Elizabeth I, played by Miranda Richardson (you may know her as Harry Potter’s Rita Skeeter), whom he tries to keep on the good side of, for fear of her knocking his block off. We follow Blackadder on various adventures, which include: his fear of the possibility that he may, in fact, be homosexual; his chopping off the wrong man’s head in an attempt to complete his work early for the day; his effort to impress the queen by sailing around the Cape of No Hope; his outwitting the baby-eating bishop of Bath and Wells; his avoiding drinking in order to get a whopping inheritance; and his escape of Prince Ludwig, The Indestructible. (And somewhere in all that we sing along with him to, “See the little goblin; see his little feet. See his little nosy-wose. Isn't the goblin sweet? Yes!")
The format in this series, of Blackadder being the cunning and clever one, while Baldrick was the dim one, really hit the nail on the head among viewers and critics alike. (I don't imagine Atkinson's absence of Caesar fringe and addition of facial hair hurt either.) This format meant that Atkinson could leave the facial expressions and more physical comedy of the first series behind, and focus on portraying the nastiness of the Blackadder in this series. His ability to deliver hilarious put-down after hilarious put-down, combined with a constantly great script and supporting actors such as Stephen Fry, Rick Mayall, and Hugh Laurie, are what made this series so much more successful than the first. Richard Curtis and Ben Elton had finally figured out a formula that worked and this series set the tone for those to come.