Blackadder Goes Forth was more powerful than Birdsong

It’s caring about the characters going to their doom that makes the difference, says Alison

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Alison Graham's TV Watch
Alison Graham
Alison Graham
Blackadder Goes Forth was more powerful than Birdsong
Three long, languid hours of Birdsong, an adaptation of a novel that made me sob through long stretches, left me unmoved, probably because I felt no connection with anyone involved.

Even the BBC version’s First World War battle scenes I found pallid for the simple reason — and this probably sounds trite but isn’t — that they had none of the power of the few final moments of Blackadder Goes Forth.

Nothing, to my mind, evokes the terror of those unspeakable battlefields or leaves such an overwhelming sense of loss as Edmund, Baldrick, Captain Darling and George (Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny and Hugh Laurie), characters we had loved (unlike those in Birdsong), going over the top to certain death.

It’s so overwhelming, I have to choose my moments to watch it. Edmund et al leaping from their trench to the sound of gunfire as the action slows right down to a plaintive piano version of the theme tune, before the screen fades to a field of poppies... Just thinking of it makes me sad.

These final scenes frequently and rightly crop up in those “greatest ever” clip shows. But I can’t look. It seems disrespectful. To view it in isolation feels like an injustice.

As part of a whole, a comedy series set in the most unfunny of circumstances, it just cannot be bettered. Even by a big expensive drama.

This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 7 February 2012.

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