Knights of Classic Drama at the BBC (TV Mini-Series 2015)

TV Mini-Series   |    |  Documentary

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Knights of Classic Drama at the BBC (2015) Poster

A two-part collection of clips from the BBC archives and elsewhere showing the early careers and subsequent rise to fame of Britain's leading actors, who have all been knighted.


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15 November 2015 | l_rawjalaurence
| Insightful Collection of Clips Ruined by Poor Editing
Here is a narrative. Television drama in the Sixties was popular but theatrical. The visual style was stilted; the narratives slow- moving; the acting often over-emphasized. The same continued in the subsequent decade until the arrival of cheap-to-use videotape. Then television drama started to become more cinematic, although there was still an over-emphasis on character at the expense of situation. It was not until the late Seventies, when drama began to be 100% filmed that directors had both the courage and resources to introduce the kind of cinematic styles that make television drama so riveting today.

This is pure hogwash. Black-and-white and early color dramas were certainly stylistically different from what they are today, but they emphasized character rather than incident. Viewers were required to concentrate on dialogue and facial expressions, something that demanded close attention. If that is a "theatrical" style, then the program is absolutely correct in its assumptions, but it was certainly more demanding than several television dramas today.

Television companies also produced far more dramas on lower budgets, giving many of today's best-known actors the chance to expand their technique. Ian McKellen starred in a Sunday teatime adaptation of David COPPERFIELD, and later brought his double bill of Edward II and Richard II to television. Michael Caine played Horatio in a version of HAMLET from Elsinore Castle, and vanished into movies forever. In the next decade John Hurt gave a celebrated characterization of Caligula in I CLAUDIUS, and followed that with Raskolnikov in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Derek Jacobi shot to stardom in I CLAUDIUS, while Anthony Hopkins played the major role in a three-month adaptation of WAR AND PEACE.

It was gratifying to see clips of all these adaptations, but there were also some glaring omissions. The combination of popular songs and drama was something that made Dennis Potter's THE SINGING DETECTIVE particularly memorable, but it was not the first time he had used the technique. In PENNIES FROM HEAVEN with Bob Hoskins, he had contrasted the idealized world conjured up by Thirties sheet music with the grimy reality of daily life.

While the program concentrated exclusively on work from the BBC archives, I could not help remembering how ITV offered an equally important outlet for many of the featured actors to develop their range. Hurt was a memorable Quentin Crisp in Thames's THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT, while Jacobi co-starred in Granada's PHILBY, BURGESS, AND MACLEAN. It was a shame that no reference was made to this, giving the misleading impression that the BBC was the only source for classic adaptations and/or original dramas in the mid-twentieth century.

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Release Date:

1 November 2015



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