View Full Version : Best and Worst Version in The BBC's Complete Shakespeare

04-29-2012, 04:17 PM
The BBC's mammoth project was a mixed bag. On one hand, it was a chance to see versions of neglected Shakespeare plays; on the other, poor production values and a lack of experimental interpretations have led some to conclude that they were stuffy.

So, which do you think are the best and worst versions in the collection?

04-29-2012, 05:47 PM
I've seen a few of these, and while it's hard for me to judge good and bad Shakespeare, I can mention a few likes and dislikes from what I saw. Big plus: These are all performances of the complete and unabridged versions.

Hamlet: Derek Jacobi is great as always.

Macbeth: I like Nicol Williamson (Merlin in John Boorman's Excalibur), but his bug-eyed overacting in this one kept taking me out.

Romeo and Juliet: I didn't care much for the guy who played Romeo--he looked about ten years older than his Juliet and had no chemistry with her at all, or gravitas in general. The Juliet, however, was both young enough to look the part and very good. Special bonus: A young Alan Rickman (with a Beatle haircut) as Tybalt.

Titus Andronicus: Good grief was this insane. Not in a bad way, though.

Julius Caesar: I do like Charles Gray. Don't remember anything especially good or bad about this otherwise, but the "honorable men" speech is always worth waiting for.

The Tempest: Wow, this was a boring play. Give me Forbidden Planet anyday. The only bright spot I can think of was seeing Andrew Sachs (Manuel from Fawlty Towers) as Trinculo. The sight of a prancing Ariel and his spirit crew, oiled up and wearing only thongish briefs and glitter, was certainly an eye-popper, though whether it's a high or low point would depend on one's individual taste for such, or for extreme camp in an otherwise dignified Shakespeare performance. Not normally my thing, but it certainly stopped me nodding off for a bit.

The only one I have that I haven't watched yet is Othello, with Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins. Can't imagine it being bad with those two in front.

04-29-2012, 06:02 PM
I thought the Romeo and Juliet production as a whole was excellent. Romeo normally annoys me but Patrick Ryecart didn't really bother me. He wasn't outstanding but he wasn't bad, either.

04-30-2012, 03:05 AM
I began reviewing the entire series here (https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3A%3Afpscinema.wordpress.com+bbc&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=0K6&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&sclient=psy-ab&q=site:fpscinema.wordpress.com+bbc&oq=site:fpscinema.wordpress.com+bbc&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_nf=1&gs_l=serp.3...3676.3676.0.4623. .1.0.Mtia2-uJOGg&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=8c7646f229469991&biw=1470&bih=870) but never completed the project, even though I went on to watch the rest of the productions. Overall, my general feelings is that the series is well worthwhile because it puts the emphasis on the language and the acting, paring away the need for cinematic visuals that put pressure on so many film adaptations of the Bard's work. That said, for the plays that already have superb film adaptations I tended to prefer those film adaptations to those in the BBC series. The BBC series' real strength lies in its staging of plays that simply don't have any other representation on home video and DVD, especially for some of the great, underrated plays like Measure for Measure, Troilus & Cressida, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and most of the early comedies. Of the major plays, I think King Lear is the only real dud. Jacobi's Hamlet is justifiably revered, Macbeth may be the most intense adaptation out there, and Othello has the undiluted pleasure of watching two of the finest actors of their generation in the lead roles. I was less impressed with Antony & Cleopatra, which I still think lacks a proper adaptation. The Coriolanus was decent, but is underwhelming next to Fiennes recent film. Both A Midsummer Nigth's Dream and The Tempest are rather unmagical, which is the death knell for both of those works. The Histories are consistently good, though I'll still take Olivier and Branagh overall.

04-30-2012, 06:31 AM
I thought their version of The Winter's Tale was a little flat. I thought Measure for Measure was brilliant. The problem with A Midsummer Night's Dream is they kept trying to make it funny when it's funny anyway. The Mechanicals were particularly weak and Helena was too unattractive. It's good that they made her notably less pretty than Hermia but if you make her completely unappealing, you can't buy Demetrius having fallen in love with her.

The animated version is pretty good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKGUCXf-Cu0

04-30-2012, 11:56 AM
I didn't say their WT was great, but there just aren't any other versions of it out there... which is strange given how accessible that play is. Thanks for the link; I've been meaning to check out that series. I think Amazon UK has the whole thing for a very reasonable price.

04-30-2012, 06:44 PM
I didn't say their WT was great, but there just aren't any other versions of it out there... which is strange given how accessible that play is. Thanks for the link; I've been meaning to check out that series. I think Amazon UK has the whole thing for a very reasonable price.

The nice thing about the animated series (they're very short- about 30 minutes, I think) is the different styles of animation they used, depending on the story. They also did a good mixture of adaptations- as well as the obvious Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, we get As You Like It and The Winter's Tale.

There is also another version of The Winter's Tale, a filmed stage play:http://www.amazon.co.uk/William-Shakespeare-Winters-Complete-Edition/dp/B00079ZB9E/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1335825447&sr=1-1

07-15-2012, 11:22 AM
Just watched the BBC Winter's Tale again. It isn't too bad- still a little flat in places- but they deal well with the comic section, and it's a hard one to pull off.

The bear is hilarious.

10-13-2012, 09:59 AM
Watched a few more now. I think the BBC Complete Shakespeare Series' strength is that it doesn't judge. The obscure/less successful plays are treated as if they were up there with the best of Shakespeare and the approach reveals a lot of strengths in the plays that one might not get whilst reading. I thought Cymbeline was brilliant and Pericles was entrancing. I never felt the work of two hands whilst watching it. Despite the very episodic nature of the play, there is some perfect dramatic unity. These later plays, particularly Pericles, may not be as tight as some of the classics but they show off a mature Shakespeare, just as powerful as he was in his youth, albeit more mellow.