Blackadder: Back & Forth
|Blackadder: Back & Forth|
|Directed by||Paul Weiland|
|Produced by||Peter Bennett-Jones
|Written by||Richard Curtis
|Music by||Howard Goodall|
|Edited by||Guy Bensley|
(VCI Home Video)
Blackadder: Back & Forth is a 1999 sci-fi comedy film based on the BBC period sitcom Blackadder that marks the end of the Blackadder saga. It was commissioned for showing in the specially built 'SkyScape' cinema, erected southeast of the Millennium Dome on the Greenwich peninsula in South London. The film follows Lord Edmund Blackadder and his idiotic servant, Baldrick, on a time travel adventure that brings the characters into contact with several figures significant to British history.
In a 1999 interview, Richard Curtis described it as "an irreverent trek through British history – a time travel adventure story consisting entirely of people who are either rude or stupid." Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson reprised their roles as the series' core characters Blackadder and Baldrick, respectively. In an interview, Atkinson stated that making a Blackadder film had always been an ambition. Joining Atkinson and Robinson are other main cast members from the last three series, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tim McInnerny and Miranda Richardson.
Blackadder: Back & Forth was produced almost 10 years after the final episode of the Blackadder television series, but reunited almost the entire cast and writers of series 2–4 of the television programme, with the exception of the original series producer, John Lloyd. Due to the increased budget, it is the only Blackadder story to be shot entirely on film and with no laugh track, although one was added for the BBC One broadcast in 2002. It is also the only Blackadder to be filmed in widescreen; 2.20:1 aspect ratio for cinema showings, and 16:9 (1.77:1) for the DVD and television screenings.
The opening sequence features various depictions and photographs of historical scenes, edited to contain a Blackadder, accompanied by a full orchestral version of the Howard Goodall's Blackadder theme. The closing theme is a reprisal of the heroic version of the first series, with new lyrics sung by Giles Underwood; the lyrics appear onscreen with Blackadder's head as a bouncing ball.
The film opens at Blackadder Hall where the present day Lord Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) is entertaining guests on New Year's Eve, 1999. As a scam, Blackadder informs them he has invented a working time machine and wagers £10,000 each that he can bring back anything they ask for. His guests – Archbishop Melchett (Stephen Fry), Archdeacon Kevin Darling (Tim McInnerny), Viscount George (Hugh Laurie) and Lady Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson) – announce that, if Blackadder is to win, he must bring back a genuine Roman centurion's helmet, the actual wellingtons worn by the Duke of Wellington on the day he won the Battle of Waterloo, and a really smelly pair of 200-year-old underpants. Blackadder intends to scam his guests by dredging the items from his personal store. However, he is stunned to discover that the time machine, built by Baldrick (Tony Robinson) after plans by Leonardo da Vinci, actually works.
The pair first land in the Cretaceous Period, where they are attacked by a massive Tyrannosaurus. Baldrick uses his underpants to beat back the dinosaur, who takes one sniff and falls over dead. Lord Blackadder muses, "Fascinating. One of history's great mysteries solved. The dinosaurs were, in fact, wiped out by your pants." When attempting to reset the dials to return to the present, Baldrick reveals that this is impossible, as he never got round to writing the dates on them (meaning their first destination is 2 watermelons and a bunch of cherries).
After configuring the dials on instinct, Blackadder and Baldrick land back at Blackadder Hall at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, with Nursie (Patsy Byrne) and Lord Melchett at her side (in homage to Blackadder II). The Queen, mistaking him for his ancestor, Lord Blackadder, decides that "Edmund" is not grovelling enough and orders his beheading, unless he has a present for her. Blackadder first offers a supermarket loyalty card, upon which the Queen screams, "Kill him!" He then offers her a Polo mint, which the Queen proclaims to be "the tastiest thing in the history of the world". She rewards him with her crown, then orders him away to bring back more mints on pain of having his head crushed "like an egg".
On his way back to the machine, Blackadder literally runs into William Shakespeare (Colin Firth). After giving the Bard a ballpoint pen and receiving his autograph, Blackadder punches him in the face, remarking, "That is for every schoolboy and schoolgirl for the next four hundred years!" Blackadder tells Shakespeare that his plays are nothing but people "in stupid tights... talking total crap," then kicks him in vengeance for Kenneth Branagh's "endless, uncut, four-hour version of Hamlet". Stunned, Shakespeare asks, "Who's Ken Branagh?" Blackadder smugly retorts, "I'll tell him you said that, and I think he'll be very hurt!"
Then, Blackadder returns to the machine and tries very hard to remember how the dials were set. He then sets the dials and is happy until the time machine materializes into a space battle. Blackadder quickly realizes that they may have gone too far and resets the dials again. After that, Blackadder and Baldrick land in Sherwood Forest and are captured by Robin Hood (Rik Mayall, in similar character to Lord Flashheart). However, Robin is horrified when Blackadder begins rattling off the flaws of his lifestyle. Blackadder smugly reminds the Merry Men that they face certain death if they're caught, live in total squalor in the forest with no toilet facilities, yet give all they steal to the poor, who do nothing but "sit on their backsides," waiting for the next cash installment. Enraged, the Merry Men promptly shoot Robin full of arrows. Then Maid Marian (Kate Moss), smitten by the "gorgeous" Blackadder, proceeds to have sex with him. Baldrick later comments that "poof in tights" Will Scarlet was equally friendly. Before leaving, Blackadder takes Robin's hat as a trophy.
A further attempt to reconfigure the dials results in the time machine landing at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. After the machine squashes the Duke of Wellington (Fry) just before he reveals his plan for defeating a flamboyant Napoleon Bonaparte (Simon Russell Beale), Blackadder steps out just long enough to steal the Duke's boots to win his bet.
One last attempt to set the dials right lands them at Hadrian's Wall in Roman Britain. The wall is being guarded by Blackadder's centurion ancestor, with a Roman-era Baldrick as his shield-carrier (reminiscent of Blackadder Goes Forth). After stealing the helmet of a Roman-era George, Blackadder and Baldrick escape just ahead of a charging wall of Braveheart-style Scotsmen wearing woad.
Back in the time machine, Blackadder is becoming more discouraged about ever going home, but Baldrick comes up with "a cunning plan". Baldrick mentions that dying men have their lives flash before their eyes and that, if Blackadder was about to drown, he might remember how the dials were originally set. Blackadder agrees with this, but instead almost drowns Baldrick in the time machine toilet. As Baldrick's life flashes before his eyes, he remembers how to set the dials to return home.
Back in 1999, the party guests are very impressed by his trophies, but due to Blackadder's interference with history, Robin Hood is completely unheard of, William Shakespeare stopped writing plays and is instead credited as the inventor of the ballpoint pen, and Britain has been ruled by the French for two hundred years following Napoleon's victory at Waterloo. Horrified by the sight of a traditional garlic pudding and Archdeacon Darling wearing a tutu and ballet slippers, Blackadder leaps back into the time machine, screaming, "We've got to save Britain!"
This is accomplished by encouraging Shakespeare, flattering Robin Hood, and preventing the death of the Duke of Wellington (presumably, Baldrick has now labeled the dials, making the machine more controllable). They then return home to collect Blackadder's winnings from the amazed partygoers. After Melchett comments what damage an "unscrupulous" person could do with a time machine, Blackadder perks up. He tells his friends to go upstairs and watch the New Year's festivities on television, assuring them he'll soon return. He and Baldrick set off again in the machine to put his "very, very, very cunning plan" into action.
The four guests sit down to watch the broadcast of the royals and the prime minister arriving at the Millennium Dome. Blackadder – now the absolute monarch King Edmund III – steps from a limousine and is joined by Prime Minister Baldrick. The King is married to the beautiful Marian of Sherwood (Kate Moss). BBC correspondent Jennie Bond gushes about the King's 98% approval ratings, the success of Baldrick's cabinet, and the dissolution of Parliament. The film ends with the Blackadders having finally triumphed, with their descendants having become the rulers of Britain and millennia from now, the ruler of the entire universe.
The cast reunited most of the regulars of series two to four of the television series, who each played a variety of different incarnations of themselves, in a similar fashion to Blackadder's Christmas Carol. The cast also included a number of cameos from British actors and celebrities.
- Rowan Atkinson as Lord Blackadder, King Edmund III and Centurion Blaccadius
- Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Prime Minister and Legionary Baldricus
- Stephen Fry as Flavius Melchett, General Melchius, Lord Melchett and the Duke of Wellington
- Hugh Laurie as Major George and Consul Georgius
- Tim McInnerny as Archdeacon Darling, Duke of Darling and Duc de Darling
- Miranda Richardson as Lady Elizabeth and her relative Queen Elizabeth I
- Patsy Byrne as Nursie
- Rik Mayall as Robin Hood (aka Lord Flashheart)
- Kate Moss as Maid Marian
- Colin Firth as William Shakespeare
- Simon Russell Beale as Napoleon
- Sacha Bennett as Will Scarlet
- Crispin Harris as Friar Tuck
- Jennie Bond as Royal Reporter
Screening rights dispute
In 1999, before Back & Forth had premiered at the Millennium Dome, a dispute broke out between Sky and the BBC over who had the right to broadcast the one-off special after the Millennium year. Sky claimed that they had paid £4 million for exclusive rights while the BBC argued that it was absurd that the channel from which the programme originated would not be screening it and that "The stars agreed to do it on the basis that it would be on BBC One."
The film was shown at the 'SkyScape' cinema eight times a day throughout the celebratory year 2000, after which it was aired on television, first on Sky One in 2001 and then on BBC One, where it was scheduled to be shown on Easter Sunday in 2002, but was postponed until 21 April because of the death of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
Rating, awards and DVD release
Because of the film's intended audience (it is rated PG rather than 15) a number of scenes were cut from the final edit. Some of these were later shown in a corresponding "making of" documentary called Baldrick's Video Diary which was produced to accompany the DVD release, which also featured the Comic Relief special Blackadder: The Cavalier Years. All of this material, together with Blackadder's Christmas Carol, was later included on Disc 5 of the Blackadder Remastered: The Ultimate Edition DVD box set. The DVD release does not include the laugh track.
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- Blackadder back to the future, BBC News, 13 September 1999
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- P.Weiland (15 September 2003). Blackadder: Back and Forth (DVD). United Kingdom: Cinema Club.
- Blackadder's millennium duel, BBC News, Friday, 13 August 1999
- 'Black to the Future – Interview with Tony Robinson' in Skyview, January 2000 Archived 30 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
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- Awards at the Internet Movie Database, URL accessed 20 April 2008
- Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. Blackadder: Back & Forth. Penguin Books, 2000. ISBN 0-14-029135-0
- Blackadder: Back & Forth at BBC Programmes
- Blackadder: Back and Forth at Blackadderhall.com
- Blackadder: Back & Forth at the Internet Movie Database