25 August 2002 | Sonatine97
A True History Lesson
This forth and final series is perhaps the best of all the Black Adder episodes; it is also more of a tragi-comedy than just plain old slapstick perhaps because at the time (1989) the events of WW1 were very much in the minds of a lot of people, whether it be surviving soldiers or relatives.
As such there was some controversy when it was first broadcast by the BBC for its apparent lack of respect to those who fought and lost their lives for the sake of freedom & democracy.
However, in retrospect, this isn't strictly true because even with Episode One there is a tangible shift in tone from previous Black Adder series. Yes some of the slapstick tomfoolery is still there, mainly at the expense of poor gormless Private Baldrick. But in addition a lot of the supposedly funny lines do have quite serious undertones, and bely the real truth of the sheer lunacy & farce that went on during the real war.
For those that know their 20th Century history, WW1 was seen as a complete disaster for all and sundry, especially for the British soldiers in the trenches, primarily because they were being commanded & told how to fight a war by the most repulsive upper-class morons that call themselves Generals that ever wore a uniform.
This was plainly represented by the bumbling fool, General Melchett (a wonderfully bemusing performance from Stephen Fry). Melchett simply has no idea of what life really is like for the troops on the front-line while he prattles on 35 miles behind the front-line in some safe palatial mansion where the most dangerous hazard to his life is whether he can unscrew a cork out of a champagne bottle without it hitting him in the face.
Melchett is a complete buffoon but only Captain Blackadder realises this; everyone else thinks the General knows what he is doing purely because of his rank & social standing. So it is no wonder that Blackadder wants to mutiny because it's a hard choice deciding who the real enemy is - the Germans or his own Generals.
General Melchett: Are you looking forward to the big push?
Private Baldrick: No sir, I'm absolutely terrified.
General Melchett: The healthy humour of the honest, Tommy. Don't worry my boy, if you should falter, remember that Captain Darling and I are behind you.
Edmund Blackadder: About thirty-five miles behind you.
This dark humour is wonderfully interwoven with the usual witty lines thanks largely to the writers, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. It is typically anti-war but with good reason, as Blackadder declares in one episode:-
"with 50,000 men being killed every week who is going to miss one dead pigeon!"
The madness of this war also draws our attention to those very same front-line troops such as Blackadder, Baldrick & Lieutenant George. Their living conditions are disgusting & the fear of being shot or bombed out of their trench a very real possibility.
The humour is just an adjunct to the real horrors that are going on in their lives, and this is beautifully concluded in the very sad finale. No longer did the critics argue this series lacked any respect because come the final few minutes of Episode Six we were treated to the sad demise of all those soldiers fading into time and replaced by the infamous poppy fields that strewn Northern France.
Blackadder Goes Forth is far more intelligent than a lot of sitcoms; the writing and acting is exceptionally good, and also underpins the true human sacrifice the millions of soldiers gave to their King & country while the smug & arrogant Generals went home to more medals, honours and riches than ever before.
School children of today find reading about history boring & not very relevant. But thanks to this series I am sure young & old alike will find this far more interesting, absorbing, damming & shocking than any written word on the subject could ever say.
War Is Hell!