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Scrooge U : Part XVIII -- Rowan Atkinson dicks around with Dickens

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Scrooge U : Part XVIII -- Rowan Atkinson dicks around with Dickens

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During this special time of year, when we're reminded (over & over & over again) about how we must be kind to our fellow man ... How nice it is to have Rowan Atkinson on hand to give us a bit of mean-spirited fun. To cut through all of the saccharine of this season.

I guess (to be fair) I should mention at the start of today's story that "Blackadder's Christmas Carol" isn't really an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" in the strictest sense. It's more of a darkly funny inversion of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale. Where -- as this TV special gets underway -- kindhearted Ebenezer Blackadder (Atkinson) is repeatedly being taken advantage of by his greedy friends & neighbors.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

Take -- for example -- conniving old Mrs. Scratchit (Pauline Melville). Who comes to Blackadder's shop moaning about how "How can I be merry when we are so poor we shall have nothing to eat on Christmas Day? ... No goose for Tiny Tom this year!" To which Ebenezer Blackadder replies:

Mrs Scratchit, Tiny Tom is fifteen stone and he's built like a brick privy. If he eats any more heartily, he will turn into a pie shop.

Even so, Mrs. Scratchit manages to swindle Blackadder out of his remaining cash. Just as Ebenezer's niece, Millicent (Nicola Bryant), is then able to make off with all of her uncle's Christmas presents. And the Beadle (Denis Lill) is able to swipe most of Blackadder's holiday feast under the pretense that he has to have something to feed the allegedly starving orphans that are in his care.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

When Blackadder's assistant, Baldrick (Tony Robinson) points out that these allegedly starving orphans are rather on the fat side, Ebenezer replies:

Well, perhaps there's some truth to that. Certainly, when I go and visit them, I do tend to remove all sharp objects for fear of bursting one of them and getting showered in two dozen semi-digested pies.

Once all of his holiday treats have been stolen away, good hearted Ebenezer Blackadder retires for the night. Only to be awaken when the Ghost of Christmas Present (Robbie Coltrane) comes crashing through his bedroom door.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

A brief side note to all you "Harry Potter" fans out there: Given the Ghost of Christmas Past and Hagrid are so similar in appearance (More importantly, given that Coltrane makes the exact same sort of entrance in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone") one has to wonder if Chris Columbus is a Blackadder fan.

Anyway ... The Ghost of Christmas Present isn't actually there to frighten Blackadder. As this holiday spirit explains it:

I just popped in to say "Hello." (He grabs Ebenezer's hand and shakes it) Spirit of Christmas. How do you do? Just doing my usual rounds, you know. A wee bit of haunting, getting misers to change their evil ways. But since you're obviously such a good chap (Ghost of Christmas Present pats Blackadder on the knee), there'll be no need for any of that nonsense. So I'll just say "Cheery-bye." Cheery-bye!

But Blackadder ... He's fascinated by this whole "getting evil people to change their ways" thing that the Ghost of Christmas Present does. Particularly when this holiday spirit mentions off-handedly what miserable bastards Ebenezer's ancestors were. And quicker than you can say "flashback" ...

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

... We're back in Elizabethan England. Where Lord Edmund Blackadder from the "Blackadder II" series is now trying to win the favor of Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson). For a time, it seems that Blackadder's rival, Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry) has the upper hand. But then -- thanks to the timely use of a novelty death warrant that Baldrick had given Lord Edmund as a Christmas gift -- this earlier version of Blackadder is able to vanquish his rival and then become the Queen's consort.

After viewing this vision from the past, Ebenezer Blackadder wonders: Could being bad actually be beneficial to one's career? The Ghost of Present tries to dissuade Ebenezer of this notion by showing the virtuous merchant another one of his miserable relatives: Edmund Blackadder, Esq. from the "Blackadder III" series.

This earlier incarnation of Blackadder works as the butler for Prince-Regent George IV (Hugh Laurie). And -- by working in concert with Sod-off Baldrick -- this manservant plans to make off with most of this dim monarch's Christmas presents.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

As this second flashback fades away, Ebenezer Blackadder becomes even more convinced that being bad could be beneficial. This concept becomes even more clear when the Ghost of Christmas Present (Who's now desperately trying to make an exit by saying "Ah, well, I really must put my foot down here. I've got four hauntings and a scare-the-bugger-to-death to do before morning") is now forced to conjure up two visions of the future.

In one version of the future (Which shows what would happen if the Blackadder clan resumed its evil ways), one of Ebenezer's descendents will eventually become the Admiral of the Dark Segment & Lord of the High-Slung Bottoms of Zob. More importantly, the husband of Queen Asphyxia (Miranda Richardson again), Supreme Mistress of the Universe.

If -- on the other hand -- the Blackadders follow Ebenezer's example of always turning the other cheek ... One of those Blackadder descendents will eventually become Baldrick's slave and be forced to wear a studded collar & leather undies.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

This visitation by the Ghost of Christmas Present has really shown Ebenezer Blackadder the error of his ways. The very next morning, he arises and -- after soundly thrashing Baldrick -- Ebenezer immediately takes back all of the cash that he gave to Mrs. Scratchit the evening before. When she then wails about what's to become of her Tiny Tom, Blackadder replies:

If I were you, I'd scoop him out and use him as a houseboat.

Unfortunately for Ebenezer, this sudden change of heart comes at the exact wrong moment. For Queen Victoria (Miriam Margolyes) has just turned up on Blackadder's doorstep with Prince Albert (Jim Broadbent) in tow. You see, since Ebenezer is known far & wide for his kindness to the people of London, the Royals are now here to confer upon him the title of baron as well as a £50,000 pound reward.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

Unfortunately, Blackadder doesn't recognize Queen Victoria & Prince Albert. When asked who he thinks they are, Ebenezer replies:

Unless I'm very much mistaken, you're the winner of the Round Britain Shortest, Fattest, Dumpiest Woman Competition. And for her to be accompanied by the winner of this year's Stupidest Accent Award is really quite overwhelming.

Gravely insulted, the royals quickly exit without giving Blackadder his title or reward. And as Ebenezer settles down to feast upon a turkey so large that -- as he puts it -- " ... you'd think its mother had been rogered by an omnibus," Baldrick tries to explain to Blackadder who his last visitors really were.

Copyright 2002 BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment

Ebenezer quickly dismisses his servant's claim. For -- if it had actually been Queen Victoria who had visited his home on Christmas morning -- the monarch would have shown Blackadder the royal seal as proof of her identity.

"You mean this?," Baldrick says, as he then pulls the royal seal out of his pocket.

Okay. So -- as I mentioned earlier -- this technically isn't a really-for-real adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." No matter. Thanks to Richard Curtis & Ben Elton's blisteringly funny script, this send-up of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge is still well worth viewing this time of year. If only to clear your holiday palate after all of the sugary sweetness that results from having to once again watch Rudolph help Santa, the Grinch steal Christmas and/or Charlie Brown have existential angst over the true meaning of the holidays.

So -- if you find yourself battling the holiday blues this year -- be sure and check out "Blackadder's Christmas Carol." Mean spirited though it may be, this BBC Worldwide Home Entertainment release is still very long on laughs.

Tomorrow ... We get back to the more legitimate adaptations of Dickens' holiday tale as Michael Caine & Kermit the Frog team up for "The Muppet Christmas Carol."

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  • "Given the Ghost of Christmas Past and Hagrid are so similar in appearance..."

    I think there's more of a Dickensian influence in the original Harry Potter books, from Hagrid to the Xmas Future-esque Dementors. Robbie Coltrane's just got a nice niche in English character roles, particularly the giant ones.

  • The Blackadder series looms large in the history of British comedy and this episode shows how we were deprived of a Victorian series that would have been made-to-measure for the writers.

  • "God rest Mr. B. at Christmastime, and baby Jesus, too/If we were little pigs, we'd sing, 'Piggy wiggy wiggy wiggy woo'..."

    (That, and the "Mr. Bean" Christmas episode, where Atkinson plays dollhouse with a nativity set at Harrod's, may be the only two Christmas-special moments where our house has ever had to hit the pause button halfway just to stop laughing--And, as Baldrick's unusual spelling reminds us in the credits, A Merry Messy Kweznuz...er, Kwelfnuth.)  :)

    To be correct, however, Edmund Blackadder III, Esq., worked for Prince-Regent George IV, whom history notes not to be mad, but rather dim.

  • Jim Hill continues his look at the many movie & television adaptations of Charles Dickens' holiday tale. This time around, Jim talks about a 1993 episode of the "Alvin & the Chipmunks" TV series. Which borrows just enough ideas from this classic story

  • Ah, yes, as a Brit, I enjoy Rowan Atkinson and his comic antics, and he really sports his chops here, as does Hagrid.

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