BBC Drama Films and Documentaries

Plays

video Arthur Miller: an exclusive interview (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

At his Connecticut home, Arthur Miller talks to Alan Yentob about his life and career, some of the many influences behind his work, and his marriage to Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe.

One of America’s greatest playwrights, Arthur Miller was 72 when this film was recorded in 1987. This was the year that he had published his autobiography Timebends: A Life and he had granted Omnibus an exclusive interview partly to mark both this occasion and partly as his latest play A View From The Bridge was about to transfer to the London stage. He begins by reminiscing about his New York Jewish upbringing, and the effects upon him and his family of the Great Depression, which was the theme for his Pulitzer Prize-winning tragedy, Death of a Salesman. Miller recalls the opening night and the reaction it received. The McCarthy witch-hunts of the early 1950s inspired another of his great plays, The Crucible. Miller discusses the genesis of the play and the effects of McCarthyism upon him and his career, commenting on the “immemorial tendency of the human race to panic.” Interspersed with film extracts from Death Of A Salesman, After The Fall and A View From The Bridge are Miller’s observations on the political and poetic nature of his plays and of the writer’s art.

Miller gives his insight into his most famous marriage, speaking publicly about it for the first time “She was in rebellion when she acted, and she expected punishment as a result of it,” he says. “The great thing about her to me was that the struggle was valiant; she didn’t give up until the end.” He also talks about the shooting of Monroe’s last completed film, The Misfits, for which he wrote the screenplay. This was the time when her health was deteriorating due to an increasing dependency on drugs, though she still managed to give an exceptional performance. It was also on the set of The Misfits that Miller met his next wife, Magnum photographer, Inge Morath.

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video Blue/Orange (BBC Film Adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Blue/Orange is based on Joe Penhall's award winning play of the same name. In a London psychiatric hospital, an enigmatic young man claims, among other things, to be the son of an exiled African dictator - a story that becomes unnervingly plausible. In a fiery and suspenseful debate, his doctor and consultant clash over the patient's diagnosis and treatment. What ensues is an incendiary tale of race, madness and a Darwinian power struggle at the heart of a dying National Health Service. Filmed on location in London, and shot in high definition, this dynamic and often very funny adaptation of Joe Penhall's award-winning play retains the music, lighting and sound team from the original stage production, which premiered in April 2000.

‘Beautifully written - intelligent, complex, uncompromising and compassionate’ The Times

‘Riveting and intense … often-funny, always smart … Parkes delivers those lines with a manic energy illustrative of the lines Chris straddles. And both Simm and Cox match his intensity, to the point where one forgets there are only three speaking characters.’ Multichannel News, USA

‘All three acting performances are strong. Brian Cox is excellent as the ambitious Robert, gradually and artfully revealing the baser impulses that reside beneath the doctor’s polished professional demeanor. Shaun Parkes’s searing portrayal of Chris is the heart of the show and he is particularly good at giving life to the menagerie of concocted and also legitimate-fears that haunt the patient.” CultureVulture, USA

Awards for the original theatre production:

Best New Play Olivier Awards for 2001; Best Play of the Year, Evening Standard Awards 2000; Best New Play, Critics' Circle Theatre Awards 2000

Credits:

Director: Howard Davies; Written and adapted by: Joe Penhall based on his award winning play of the same name; Producer: Richard Fell; Executive Producer: Bill Boyes; Starring: Brian Cox, John Simm, Shaun Parkes.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Copenhagen (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

A BBC/KCET Hollywood co-production, Copenhagen is a stylish screen adaptation of Michael Frayn’s award winning stage-play about science, friendship and the uncertainty of things. In 1941, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr. The pair had once been great friends and close colleagues who had revolutionised atomic physics in the 1920s with their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle. But now the world had changed and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. Their meeting was fraught with danger and embarrassment and ended in disaster. Ever since, historians have wondered why Heisenberg went to Copenhagen and what he wanted to discuss with Bohr. In Michael Frayn’s play, Heisenberg meets Bohr and his wife Margrethe once again to look for the answers and to work out, just as they had once worked out the internal functioning of the atom, how we can ever know why we do what we do.

The stage play premièred in May 1995 at the Royal National Theatre, London and won the 1998 Evening Standard and the Critics’ Circle Awards for Best New Play. Its New York debut was at the Royale Theatre in April 2000. This adaptation features a slightly abbreviated script and is shot on location.

‘Be prepared to go through some serious mental gymnastics to keep up with the action, but it's worth the effort.’ The Guardian

‘I found myself thinking that it worked even better than it had in the theatre. Largely shot in a sparsely furnished country house bathed in chilly Scandinavian light, it was flawlessly constructed, constantly unsettling and deeply moving, with wonderfully judged performances … one of the dramatic highlights of the year.’ Sunday Telegraph

Credits:

Director: Howard Davies; Cinematographer: Ian Wilson (Emma, The Crying Game); Producer: Richard Fell; Executive Producer: Simon Curtis (Man, Boy); Starring: Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), Daniel Craig (Our Friends in the North, Lara Croft Tomb Raider), Francesca Annis (Deceit, Wives, Daughters)

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video The Critic (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Hywel Bennett, Alan Badel, Nigel Hawthorne and John Gielgud star in Sheridan's clever farce on the pretensions of the theatrical world. The Critic: or, a Tragedy Rehearsed is a political and literary satire, following in the vein of George Villiers’ The Rehearsal (1671), which takes jovial aim at the vanities of authors and politicians and at the foibles of the theatre itself.

Credits:

Lord Burleigh: John Gielgud; Mr. King/Mr. Puff: Hywel Bennett; Mr. Sneer: Nigel Hawthorne; Mrs. Dangle: Rosemary Leach; Mr. Dangle: Norman Rodway; Sir Fretful Plagiary: Alan Badel; Tiburina: Anna Massey; Constable: Rodney Bewes; Interpreter: Christopher Biggins; Director: Don Taylor; Writer: Richard B. Sheridan; Producer: Louis Marks; Costume Design: Betty Aldiss.

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video The Devil’s Disciple (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

The Revolutionary War serves as the backdrop for this brilliant satire penned by Bernard Shaw. Self-professed ‘devil's disciple’ Dick Dudgeon (Mike Gwilym) -- who long ago scorned the piety and traditional values of his mother (Elizabeth Spriggs) -- returns home when his father dies. But after the British army arrives on the scene to lynch the village minister (Patrick Stewart), Dick finds that he can't escape his moral underpinnings.

Credits:

Director: David Jones; Producer: Shaun Sutton; Lighting: Howard King; Playwright: Bernard Shaw; Composer: Stephen Oliver; Designer: Tony Burrough; Costume Designer: Odette Barrow; Script Editor: Stuart Griffiths; Cast: John Cater: Uncle Titus Dudgeon; June Ellis: Mrs Titus Dudgeon; Patrick Godfrey: Lawyer Hawkins; Mike Gwilym: Richard Dudgeon; Timothy Kightley: Chaplain; Larry Lamb: Sergeant; Cheryl Maiker: Essie; Patrick Newell: Uncle William Dudgeon; Ian Richardson: General Burgoyne; Freda Rodgers: Mrs William Dudgeon; Elizabeth Spriggs: Mrs Dudgeon; Patrick Stewart: Anthony Anderson; Graham Turner: Christy Dudgeon; Benjamin Whitrow: Major Swindon; Susan Wooldridge: Judith Anderson.

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video A Doll’s House (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Henrik Ibsen struck an early blow for feminism in 1879 with this liberated tale of a wife who rebels. Juliet Stevenson plays Nora who finally revolts against her husband's perception of her as a doll-wife whose opinions count for nothing.

‘A new, pointedly ideological translation by Joan Tinsdale is both sharp and felicitous…Ibsen is served brilliantly’ New York Times.

‘Exceptionally acted’ L. A Times

Credits:

Director: David Thacker; Producer: Simon Curtis; Starring: Juliet Stevenson, Trevor Eve, Geraldine James, Patrick Malahide and David Calder.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video An Englishman Abroad (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Alan Bennett's award-winning film drama based on a meeting between Australian actress, Coral Browne and British spy, Guy Burgess. Alan Bates stars in a story based on a true incident which took place in Moscow in 1958. British spy, Guy Burgess encounters actress Coral Browne (who plays herself) on tour from the 'old country'. Invited to lunch at Burgess's shabby apartment, he presents her with a strange request. Both Browne and Bates were winners of BAFTA awards for acting for their roles in this production.

Credits:

Guy Burgess: Alan Bates; Herself: Coral Browne; Claudius: Charles Gray; Rosencrantz: Harold Innocent; Guildenstern: Vernon Dobtcheff; General: Czeslaw Grocholski; Boy: Matthew Sim; Hamlet: Mark Wing-Davey; Hotel Receptionist: Faina Zinova; Toby: Douglas Reith; Giles: Peter Chelsom; Tessa: Judy Gridley; Scarf Man: Bibs Ekkel; Tolya: Alexei Jawdokimov; Mrs Burgess: Molly Veness; Tailor: Denys Hawthorne; Shoe Shop Assistant: Roger Hammond; George: Charles Lamb; Pyjama Shop Manager: Trevor Baxter; Writer: Alan Bennett; Director: John Schlesinger; Producer: Innes Lloyd.

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video Hamlet (RSC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In 2008, the UK's eminent Royal Shakespeare Company brought Hamlet - Shakespeare's most famous and perhaps most influential play - back to the stage, spoken in verse but with contemporary dress and David Tennant in the eponymous role. No recent stage production in Britain had attracted either the level of interest of the near-unanimously positive reviews. Tennant's interpretation was recognised as defining the role for a generation, and Patrick Stewart - playing Claudius - gave a performance of great depth and complexity for which the actor won a highly-coveted 2009 Olivier award. Director Gregory Doran’s modern-dress production was seen as a brilliant ensemble presentation that was thrilling, fast-moving, immediately accessible, supremely intelligent and, in parts at least, very funny. In this specially-shot screen version of the stage play (filmed on location rather than in the theatre), Tennant and Stewart reprise their roles. Wholly faithful to the stage production and its performances; dynamic, exciting and contemporary, it brought Shakespeare's greatest play to a far wider audience than ever before.

‘A superb reworking ... David Tennant is a revelation’ The Guardian

‘Part the caustic wit of John Lennon, part the looks of a snake-hipped Brett Anderson, part the louche allure of Bryan Ferry...Tennant's is the funniest Hamlet I've ever seen, and the sexiest’ The Times

Awards nominations: Best Photography & Lighting, Fiction, British Academy Television Craft Awards 2010; Olivier Awards 2009: Best Performance in a Supporting Role (Patrick Stewart)

Credits:

An Illuminations/Royal Shakespeare Company production for BBC Wales in association with Thirteen for WNET.ORG and NHK. Director: Gregory Doran; Director of Photography: Chris Seager; Written by: William Shakespeare; Producer: John Wyver; Executive Producers: David Horn, Bethan Jones, Taro Teraoka, Denise Wood. Starring: David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Mariah Gale.

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video Hedda Gabler (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Ibsen's classic story of a woman who sets out to destroy her husband and his smug, middle-class attitudes, but instead finds herself having to make a grave decision. This television production is related to the 1991 Abbey Theatre, Dublin production which transferred to the West End. Fiona Shaw had played the lead role in that production which was also directed by Deborah Warner.

Credits:

A BBC production in association with WGBH Boston. Director: Deborah Warner; Writer: Henrik Ibsen; Producer: Simon Curtis. Starring: Fiona Shaw (Mind Games), Brid Brennan, Donal McCann (The Serpent's Kiss), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), Nicholas Woodeson (The Avengers).

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Henry IV Part 1 (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In 1978, the BBC set itself the task of filming all of William Shakespeare's plays for television. The resulting productions, renowned for their loyalty to the text, utilised the best theatrical and television directors and brought highly praised performances from leading contemporary actors.

Henry IV Part One: these are troubled times for King Henry. His son, Prince Harry acts more like a rogue than royalty, keeping the company of drunken highway robber Falstaff and other shady characters. Meanwhile, from the north come rumours of a rebellion led by the son of the Percy family, the valiant Hotspur. One of Shakespeare's most celebrated dramatic achievements, this play mixes history and comedy effortlessly, moving from scenes of royalty to rough drinking dens with ease. This production matches its superb characters with great actors, particularly in Anthony Quayle's magnificent Falstaff.

Credits:

Starring: Anthony Quayle, Jon Finch, David Gwillim, Tim Piggott-Smith, Brenda Bruce

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Henry IV Part 2 (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In 1978, the BBC set itself the task of filming all of William Shakespeare's plays for television. The resulting productions, renowned for their loyalty to the text, utilised the best theatrical and television directors and brought highly praised performances from leading contemporary actors.

Henry IV Part Two (1979): Prince Harry's father figures are ageing. While the King frets about the Prince's lifestyle, Falstaff continues to make merry. But there are serious matters afoot. Prince John has to lead the King's army against an uprising, and Hal is forced to reassess his attitude to responsibility as his father grows increasingly sick. Retaining the same cast and director as Part One, this production assuredly charts the transformation of the Prince. It reflects the play's darker and more intimate focus, but contrasts it with colourful scenes from Falstaff's Eastcheap as well as the bucolic Gloucestershire of Shallow and Silence.

Credits:

Starring: David Gwillim, Michele Dotrice, Jon Finch, Bruce Purchase and Brenda Bruce.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video An Inspector Calls (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Emotionally powerful and sharply relevant, this is a stylish new adaptation of JB Priestley’s timeless masterpiece. An Inspector Calls is both an enthralling mystery and a scathing critique of a hypocritical, class-obsessed society. Set in 1912, it vividly evokes a thriving industrial age built on crippling social inequality. Taking place over the course of a single night, this taut, affecting and ultimately tragic story centres on the prosperous Birling family. They receive a surprise visit from Inspector Goole who investigating the suicide of a young girl, a former factory worker of Mr Birling’s. Interrogating each family member in turn, Goole’s incisive questioning reveals that each one not only had a connection to the girl but also may have played a significant part in her demise. As the family’s callous actions are brought to light, so are dark and shameful secrets that threaten to tear the Birling household apart and destroy its reputation.

Credits:

A Drama Republic production for BBC. Director: Aisling Walsh (Wallander, Room at the Top); Adapted by: Helen Edmundson (The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Coram Boy) from the play by JB Priestley; Producer: Howard Ella (The Interceptor, Good Cop); Executive Producers: Greg Brenman (The Honourable Woman, Peaky Blinders) Roanna Benn (My Mad Fat Diary, Prisoners’ Wives). Starring: David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, War Horse, Harry Potter); Ken Stott (The Hobbit, The Missing, Rebus, Messiah); Miranda Richardson (Mapp & Lucia, Testament of Youth, Parade’s End).

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video King Lear (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Ian Holm stars in the title role of this award-winning film version of Richard Eyre’s National Theatre production of William Shakespeare's King Lear. The cast also includes Timothy West as The Earl of Gloucester, Finbar Lynch as his bastard son, Edmund and Paul Rhys as his legitimate son, Edgar; Barbara Flynn, Amanda Redman and Victoria Hamilton as Lear's daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia; and Michael Bryant as the Fool.

Credits:

Director: Richard Eyre; Writer: William Shakespeare; Writer (Screen): Richard Eyre; Producer: Susan Birtwistle; Music: Dominic Muldowney; Production Design : Bob Crowley; Art Direction: Andrew Sanders; Cast: King Lear: Ian Holm, Edgar: Paul Rhys, Edmund: Finbar Lynch, Gloucester: Timothy West, Kent: David Burke, Goneril: Barbara Flynn, Regan: Amanda Redman, Cordelia: Victoria Hamilton Fool: Michael Bryant, Oswald: William Osborne.

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video Lady Windermere’s Fan (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

With its author's trademark wit, social satire and outrageous paradox, Wilde’s play shows us the destructiveness of gossip and superficial judgement, and examines the ambiguous sexual morality and gender politics at the heart of the British ruling class. Lady Windermere has a happy marriage – or, at least, that’s what she believes – until one of London’s society gossips, the Duchess of Berwick, arrives with her daughter to voice her suspicions about an affair. Wilde’s exploration of adultery results in a sparkling, satirical critique of society, and of the hypocrisy that lurks behind the etiquette and perfect epigrams.

Credits:

Director: Tony Smith; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Oscar Wilde; Designer: Don Taylor (1936-2003); Costume Designer: Phoebe de Gaye; Introduced by: Stephanie Turner; Script Editor: David Snodin. Cast: Ian Burford: Parker, John Clive: Mr Dumby, Gloria Connell: Mrs Cowper-Cowper, Kenneth Cranham: Lord Darlington, Diana Fairfax: Lady Jedburgh, Sara Kestelman: Duchess of Berwick Mary Kurowski: Rosalie, Robert Lang: Lord Augustus Lorton, Veronica Lang: Lady Plymdale, Helena Little: Lady Windermere Vivien Lloyd: Lady Stutfield, Geoff Morrell: Mr Hopper, Amanda Royle: Lady Agatha Carlisle, James Saxon: Cecil Graham, Stephanie Turner: Mrs Erlynne, Tim Woodward: Lord Windermere

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video Measure For Measure (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

A modern dress version directed by David Thacker with Corin Redgrave as Angelo and Juliet Aubrey as Isabella. Modern themes are explored in an age-old play as William Shakespeare explores the darker side of society. Sexually transmitted disease is reaching epidemic proportions. Prostitution, licentiousness and petty crime are on the increase and a new government reintroduces capital punishment for sexual offences.

Credits:

Director: David Thacker; Adapted by: David Thacker; Producer: Peter Cregeen; Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Juliet Aubrey, Corin Redgrave, Sue Johnstone.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Miss Julie (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

A BBC production of the play by August Strindberg, translated by Michael Meyer. Described by a critic as ‘a love-hate relationship played on a tightrope of tension’, this is Strindberg's drama about sex and class warfare. Janet McTeer plays the aristocratic daughter who breaks off her engagement.

Credits:

Director: Michael Simpson; Producer: Shaun Sutton; Starring: Janet McTeer, Patrick Malahide, Sarah Porter.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Samuel Beckett As The Story Was Told (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Filmed with the cooperation of his nearest relatives, close friends and distinguished artistic collaborators this production is a rare testament to one of the century's most famous and original writers.

Shot on location in Dublin, London, New York, the Vaucluse in the South of France and Kassel in Germany, the film traces Beckett's life and work from his childhood in Dublin to his final days in Paris. With access to Beckett's private houses and apartments and to manuscripts of his most famous works and to a series of previously unpublished and revealing letters. Many unknown and remarkable photographs of Beckett are seen in public for the first time. Participants in this major film documentary include Beckett's nearest relatives. His cousins Edward, a musician who trained in Paris with Beckett's guidance and support; Sheila, who remained close to him throughout his life, with whom he stayed in Sussex as a refuge from Theatre and Media glare; Deidre, whose sister was the first great love of Beckett's life and is immortalised in Krapp's Last Tape.

Artistes who encapsulated the spirit of Beckett's work also feature: Billie Whitelaw, celebrated interpreter of his work on both Broadway and in The Royal Court Theatre, London; Joselyn Herbert, world-famous designer who for years worked with the great man at the Royal Court; Jean Martin, who played the part of Lucky in the first production of En Attendant Godot in Paris. Other contributors include Avigdor Arika, the renowned Israeli artist who was, for more than two decades a close friend of Beckett; John Calder and Barney Rosset, publishers in London and New York who championed Beckett throughout their careers (Rosset was producer of Beckett's film which starred Buster Keaton); and Patrick Magee, with extracts from his classic television performance of Krapp's Last Tape. Extracts from Beckett's works are read by Stephen Rea with a series of impromptus played by John O'Conor, the distinguished Irish concert pianist and a music score from Schubert, Beckett's favourite composer.

Credits:

Producer/director: Sean O'Mordha, winner of an International Emmy for his film on James Joyce, Is There One Who Understands Me?; Executive Producers: Roger Thompson, Nigel Williams.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Shakespeare in Italy Episode 1 - Land of Love (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Shakespeare was in love with Italy. A third of his plays are set in the country. For the Elizabethan playwright, it was the stage on which to explore his greatest themes - love and war, fidelity and betrayal, and above all, politics - and a treasure house of legend and stories that fuelled his imagination. Combining Italian travelogue with revelations about the bard's most famous works, Francesco da Mosto visits the spectacular locations, traces the Italian myths and reveals how a long dead, foreign playwright's imagination continues to influence and shape real Italian cities, even now.

Credits:

Executive Producer: Basil Comely (The Art of America, Seven Ages of Britain); Presenter: Francesco da Mosto.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Shakespeare in Italy Episode 2 - Land of Fortune (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Shakespeare was in love with Italy. A third of his plays are set in the country. For the Elizabethan playwright, it was the stage on which to explore his greatest themes - love and war, fidelity and betrayal, and above all, politics - and a treasure house of legend and stories that fuelled his imagination. Combining Italian travelogue with revelations about the bard's most famous works, Francesco da Mosto visits the spectacular locations, traces the Italian myths and reveals how a long dead, foreign playwright's imagination continues to influence and shape real Italian cities, even now.

Credits:

Executive Producer: Basil Comely (The Art of America, Seven Ages of Britain); Presenter: Francesco da Mosto.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 1, Episode 1 - Joely Richardson on Shakespeare's Women (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In Twelfth Night and As You Like It, actress Joely Richardson investigates (with a major contribution from her mother, Vanessa Redgrave) the legacy of the two great comedies and the great comic heroines created by Shakespeare in those hugely popular plays. Shakespeare's comic heroines are well known to be some of his greatest creations and in this film Joely looks at Viola in Twelfth Night, washed up on a foreign shore, having (for her own safety) to disguise herself as a man and then falling in love with the man she is working for. Then there is the legendary Rosalind in As You Like It, who also spends much of the play disguised as a man but in the process torments and teases the man she loves in an effort to uncover how sincere he is. Joely investigates the reason why these heroines spend much of their time dressed as men - it was because they were originally created for young men to play. But at the same time we find that Shakespeare revealed an acute understanding and sympathy for women when he wrote these characters. A variety of film versions are studied alongside productions at Shakespeare's Globe, and with contributions from the world's greatest Shakespearean scholars such as Jonathan Bate and Germaine Greer and from actors like Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren, this film reveals the legacy of strong, sassy, witty women that we inherit from William Shakespeare's great comedies.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 1, Episode 2 - Ethan Hawke on Macbeth (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Ethan Hawke sets out to prepare himself for the possibility of playing the role of Macbeth by uncovering the true story behind the play, seeing some of the greatest productions and discovering the extraordinary insights into the criminal mind that Shakespeare reveals. Ethan has played a modern-dress Hamlet, but he is fascinated by the challenge of the truly ancient story of Macbeth. Assisted by historian Justin Champion - who visits the actual Scottish sites of the story on his behalf - Ethan is introduced to Dunsinane where Macbeth supposedly lived and to the history books that distorted the true story and led Shakespeare himself to distort the truth.

Ethan is helped by actors and performers in his home town of New York as he investigates the 'bloody heart' of this extraordinary character. He also wants to know how important Macbeth's wife is to the whole story, and we observe Shakespeare's Globe actors rehearsing and performing scenes from the play. He talks at length to Anthony Sher and his director Greg Doran (appointed to take over as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) about their legendary stage and film production of the play.

Finally, Ethan goes to look at a copy of the First Folio - The Complete Works of Shakespeare, as published in 1623. This priceless book contains the first ever printed version of the play - if Shakespeare's friends had not clubbed together after the writer's death to create this book, then Macbeth and 16 other Shakespeare plays would have been lost forever.

At the end of the film Ethan believes that this extraordinarily brutal and bloody play does have a message of comfort and explains why the mayor of New York chose to quote from it on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the atrocity of 9/11.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 1, Episode 3 - Derek Jacobi on Richard II (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Derek Jacobi looks at Richard II and returns to a role he played 30 years ago. He helps actors at the Globe with aspects of the play, reveals why it might have cost Shakespeare his life, and shares some of the extraordinary political parallels within the play that still resonate today.

Derek first played Richard II for the BBC in 1978 - now 34 years later Ben Whishaw is starring in a new BBC film of the play. Derek spans those dates and uncovers what is so special about this play. Although written entirely 'in verse', it is nonetheless one of the most resonant and relevant of all of Shakespeare's plays. Its understanding of power and its inevitable tendency to corrupt and distort the truth are continually repeated in current affairs. With contributions from both the director and leading actor - Rupert Goold and Ben Whishaw - and clips from the film, Derek uncovers the continuing resonance of this extraordinary play.

Derek visits Shakespeare's Globe and shares his thoughts with actors rehearsing the play - but he also looks at his own performance and those of other actors who have over the last 30 years tried this taxing role. Richard is both a king and a man who knows he is acting the role of a king. It makes him an extraordinary character for any actor to play. But was this play written by the actor William Shakespeare? Derek is one of those who doubt that, and he visits the ancestral home of the man he thinks might very well be the true author of 'Shakespeare's' plays.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 1, Episode 4 - Trevor Nunn on The Tempest (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Director Trevor Nunn looks at the magical and mysterious world created in Shakespeare's last complete play, The Tempest. Trevor finds out where Shakespeare got his material from and the strange personal insights hidden within it. It is a truly experimental work but sadly perhaps also Shakespeare's farewell to the theatre.

The Tempest is peculiarly suitable to film - ambitious, experimental and full of magic. Not surprisingly, one of the very first silent film adaptations of a Shakespeare play was The Tempest in 1911. As Trevor reveals, it was actually written for an experimental theatre - Shakespeare's first indoor space, the Blackfriars. There is a replica of the theatre in Staunton, Virginia and Trevor sees a rehearsal of the opening scenes of the play using the full panoply of early 17th-century special effects. Shakespeare was probably prompted to write it by a true story of shipwreck and survival which Trevor uncovers, but it is a deeply autobiographical piece, filled with concerns about the upcoming marriage of his own daughter and informed by Shakespeare's need to address many issues in what would be, in effect, the last full play he would ever write. Thus it becomes a play that defies genre - not a tragedy, not a comedy, not a history and not a revenge play - but with elements of all of those.

Trevor takes us through the story of the magus Prospero, abandoned on an island with his daughter Miranda. He tells about his spirit companion Ariel and his slave Caliban, and shows how the opportunity for Prospero to wreak revenge upon those who abandoned him ultimately leads to one of the sweetest stories of love and forgiveness. It's a story in which Shakespeare himself seems to be reflected in the character of Prospero, who ends the play by giving up his magic just as Shakespeare is giving up his own to return to Stratford where, only two years later, he dies. Trevor completes his investigation from the church in which Shakespeare is buried.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 1, Episode 5 - Jeremy Irons on the Henrys (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In Henry IV and Henry V, Jeremy Irons (who plays Henry IV in The Hollow Crown) uncovers the extraordinary appeal of Shakespeare's History Plays. He unravels the differences between the real history and the drama that Shakespeare creates. He discovers what William's sources were - and how he distorts them! And he invites us behind the scenes at the filming of some of the most important scenes.

The History plays were the big hits of the 1590s because they allowed the ordinary men and women of Elizabethan England the chance to talk and think about power and politics without being controlled by the church or the state. In these plays Shakespeare appears to be writing heroic and patriotic propaganda - but as soon as you look at them in more detail, you discover that he was also undermining all those values at the same time.

With detailed coverage of the filming of these plays by Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock for the BBC and with clips from the films as well as other iconic versions from Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh, Jeremy uncovers the truth behind the version of history that Shakespeare was telling and even uncovers the very sources that inspired him to write some of the most famous speeches he ever composed. He travels to the true locations described in the plays but also to Shakespeare's Globe to see how these extraordinarily ambitious plays were performed in Shakespeare's time. As Jeremy himself visits the battlefield at Agincourt in Northern France, which is the climax of these history plays, the truth emerges that Shakespeare's view of history was rather more subversive and less patriotic than some of his most ardent admirers often think.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 1, Episode 6 - David Tennant on Hamlet (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

In Hamlet, David Tennant, whose own RSC performance was a huge hit, meets other actors who have played the role - from the legendary David Warner in the 1960s to the recent Jude Law. He also tries, alongside Simon Russell Beale and Ben Whishaw, to unravel the meaning of the play and the reason why it is considered by many to be the greatest play Shakespeare ever wrote.

David Tennant surprised when he took on the role of Hamlet - most did not know that he had trained in and worked for many years at the Royal Shakespeare Company. But that didn't mean he wasn't scared stiff at the prospect of taking on the legendary role. Now he takes up the challenge of unravelling the story and trying to uncover what it is about it that has made Hamlet the most famous of all of Shakespeare's plays.

He revisits his own performance, alongside his director Greg Doran, and he meets up with other actors who have tackled the role. With the historian Justin Champion he tries to enter the mindset of the 16th century audiences who would have watched this story and he discovers how different generations of actors, directors and scholars have interpreted the play. What he discovers is that Hamlet is a play full of questions rather than answers - but they are the questions we all continue to ask ourselves to this day. Questions about who to believe, who to trust, how to live and how to love, how to understand life and how to face death. What all the actors who have played it seem to share is that the process of acting the role is deeply and profoundly personal - and perhaps that is why audiences also feel that the play touches them more than any other play before or since.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2, Episode 1 - The Taming of the Shrew with Morgan Freeman (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Morgan Freeman first discovered Shakespeare in school in Mississippi. He went on to play the hero of this play – Petruchio – in The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production in New York, set in the Wild West. Freeman notes this play has set the template for all of the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that have followed, many a romantic comedy has The Taming of the Shrew running through its veins. It’s a love story between two unlikely characters. The Shrew is Katherine, a woman who is bitter, viperish, wild – or simply not prepared to accept the conventions of her time – and thus “unmarriageable.” Petruchio is after a wife, and the wealthier the better.

We see some Petruchios who took on the “taming” – including Richard Burton, John Cleese and Raul Julia – and such famous Kates as Elizabeth Taylor, Fiona Shaw, Sinead Cusack and Meryl Streep. Freeman reunites with his own Kate, Tracey Ullman. Julia Stiles, star of the 1999 teen comedy adaptation, 10 Things I Hate About You, reflects on this contemporary version. And the Royal Shakespeare Company takes a version of the play to a school near where Shakespeare grew up, where viewers observe what children make of this very adult piece.

For many, this play is uncomfortable to watch. It was one of Shakespeare’s very first plays and may seem too brutal for modern audiences. It ends with a speech about how women should obey their men. But is this the sexist propaganda that it first appears – or is there something more complicated (and interesting) going on? Freeman concludes that beneath the apparent cruelty is a message about equality in relationships. And we hear observations from many women who also admire the play, including pioneering feminist Germaine Greer (who appears as an expert commentator in several episodes).

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2, Episode 2 - Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Kim Cattrall has played Cleopatra twice. Now she explores the real character of the great Queen of Egypt, and travels to Rome, ironically Marc Antony’s city, in her quest to find out more about the historical Cleopatra. She also meets with her director, Dame Janet Suzman, who herself made an iconic Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1973. Together they begin to uncover the truth behind this astonishing middle-aged love story.

Antony and Cleopatra are no lovesick juveniles; they are mature, heroic – real – political figures. As such, they were quite dangerous roles to write, let alone to play. Cattrall watches different Cleopatras, meets Harriet Walter and Vanessa Redgrave (who have also played the role) and joins actors rehearsing the play at the Globe.

Cleopatra is one of the greatest and largest of all Shakespeare’s female roles, and must have required a boy actor of extraordinary skill. We look at the source Shakespeare used and how closely he copied the language of a Roman historian to describe Cleopatra’s beauty; today he might be at risk for plagiarism. But comparing one of the most famous speeches in the play with its source, line by line, reveals the power of Shakespeare’s poetry.

The episode tracks Marc Antony’s first appearance in Shakespeare, as a young and powerful figure in Julius Caesar. Richard Johnson and Patrick Stewart discuss playing Cleopatra’s now-aging lover in the later play. The conflict between the public and private lives of these two historic figures was bound to end in tragedy. They fail to defeat or escape their enemies. As in Romeo and Juliet, both die by their own hands. In the Globe’s candlelit indoor theatre – a version of the playhouse where this play was once performed – Cattrall watches the actors play out Cleopatra’s last moments.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2, Episode 3 - Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Joseph Fiennes has a unique perspective on Romeo and Juliet. He played Shakespeare – both writing and performing as Romeo – in the film Shakespeare in Love. Now he wants to examine why it remains the most-performed of all Shakespeare plays.

Fiennes takes us back to the source – an Italian story translated into English when Shakespeare was a boy. Shakespeare adapted and dramatized the Italian poem, and other writers have been adapting him for centuries ever since. At London’s Royal Ballet, viewers see the play in a famous dance interpretation, and later, Stephen Sondheim discusses adapting for the Broadway musical theatre as West Side Story.

Fiennes visits adult night classes at a South London school where the participants can see their own lives reflected in the play. Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, who recently played the immortal lovers on Broadway in 2013, discuss the continuing power of the play and its poetry. And Fiennes looks at noted film adaptations, ranging from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Italian masterpiece to Baz Luhrman’s contemporary re-imagining. We attend the premiere of a new film adaptation, this time rewritten by Julian Fellowes. Back at the Globe, we watch as the company rehearses a scene with a young man very effectively playing Juliet – just as would have been done in Shakespeare’s time.

The ending of this play is so tragic that for years rewritten versions dominated the stage. Yet Fiennes sees a more hopeful message coming from the tragic ending, one about the eternal power of love.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2, Episode 4 - A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Hugh Bonneville (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Hugh Bonneville started his career at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, understudying Ralph Fiennes as Lysander, one of the four lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He and Fiennes meet up again to try to untangle the extraordinary plot of one of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular plays, a great comedy of love and enchantment.

Bonneville goes to see the play – on Midsummer’s Night – at the Globe Theatre and talks to the Globe’s Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole about its delicate balance between comedy and tragedy, the natural and the supernatural. It is thought the play might have been performed as part of a wedding celebration, and the Globe actors try some of the scenes in the stately ruins of Copped Hall right next to the site of the original structure which may have been the play’s original performance venue.

At one point of the Dream, Shakespeare has fun with his own great romantic tragedy. The play’s final scene, in which Bottom and his fellow mechanicals perform a dreadfully bad version of a Romeo & Juliet-like story, is one of the best-loved scenes in all of Shakespeare. Hugh meets up with actor David Walliams, who is about to play Bottom, and looks back on James Cagney’s performance in the 1935 film. We see clips from the landmark Peter Brook production and the BBC’s 1980 production with Helen Mirren as Titania, and hear from director Julie Taymor, who recently staged a vivid production at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn (starring David Harewood). In the deserted Globe Theatre, Bonneville muses on the play’s enduring appeal.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2, Episode 5 - Othello with David Harewood (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Astonishingly, David Harewood was the first black actor to play the great Moorish Venetian general Othello at London’s National Theatre, triumphantly taking on the role—but not until 1997. Now he returns to the play to discover how the centuries have changed our views of it.

Harewood learns about the Moorish ambassador who visited the court of Queen Elizabeth I and may have inspired Shakespeare. He meets the National Theatre’s latest Othello, Adrian Lester, who has also starred in a play about Ira Aldridge, the 19th-century American actor who was the first black man ever to play the role in England; the reviews were shockingly racist. And he watches different Othellos on film, including Laurence Olivier’s acclaimed if controversial “blacked-up” version from the 1960s.

Othello is actually a play dominated not by race, but by love and a great villain – Iago. A forensic psychiatrist helps to analyse this extraordinary psychopath and how he manipulates Othello by persuading him that his young wife is having an affair. Harewood meets Simon Russell Beale, who played Iago to his Othello, and they re-examine the lethal relationship. Imogen Stubbs and Sir Ian McKellen, who starred in Trevor Nunn’s production; Julia Stiles, whose movie O was a modern take on the play; and Sir Patrick Stewart, who played Othello in a “colour-reversed” production, also reflect on their characters.

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video Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2, Episode 6 - King Lear with Christopher Plummer (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

King Lear is universally acknowledged as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic roles. Plummer has played the role under the direction of Sir Jonathan Miller (who, we discover, has directed it six times).

Lear was, in fact, a real English king, who lived 800 years before Christ. Shakespeare’s premise of Lear dividing his kingdom among his daughters and, in the process, disinheriting his favourite is, for the most part, supposedly true. It is included in the Chronicles of English History, which Shakespeare often used as source material. The historic story has a happy ending, but Shakespeare gave his theatrical interpretation a dreadful dénouement that has been shocking audiences for 400 years.

Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale share their insights into this often-difficult character. And Plummer examines what inspired Shakespeare to write a play about a kingdom divided – at a delicate moment when a new King (James) from Scotland was trying to create what has become the “united kingdom.” We learn how the storm scenes might have been produced at Shakespeare’s own theatre, and how they represent the storm going on in Lear’s mind. The pain he endures is so intense that Shakespeare’s version of the story was soon rewritten with a happy ending; at the Globe, we see this alternate ending acted out.

Then we return to the real play and its heart-breaking tragedy of old age. One of Shakespeare’s later plays, its ending may reflect something of his own mature cynicism. The powers of good fail and the gods do not prevent the deaths of Lear and Cordelia. But Plummer finds that beneath the cosmic emptiness, the possibility of love survives.

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video Simon Schama’s Shakespeare and Us Episode 1 – This England (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Columbia University Professor Simon Schama argues that it is impossible to understand how Shakespeare came to belong ‘to all time’ without understanding just how much he was of his time. Schama explores how, in his history plays, Shakespeare created a vision of England that still rings true today. Against the backdrop of the Reformation, Shakespeare began to dramatize English history and the English character in a new and unprecedented way. From his first blockbuster, Henry VI, he made sure that his England was not just a place where Kings and Queens strutted and preened, but where ordinary Englishmen and women took centre stage. It was inclusive vision that Shakespeare expanded upon in his masterpiece – Henry IV – a play which presents England in glorious technicolour: kings and pickpockets, country squires and common prostitutes, corrupt knights and ragged soldiers.

At the centre of it all is the outsized figure of Sir John Falstaff – a character that transfixed Elizabethan audiences and still moves us today. Falstaff is Shakespeare’s most stupendous creation; an outsized dream of Englishness who embodies more purely the essence of English irreverence, generosity and wit that any of the characters with whom he shares the stage. As well as this, an extraordinary cast of actors deliver some of Shakespeare’s most moving and profound soliloquies.

Credits:

Executive Producer: Nicolas Kent; Presenter: Simon Schama (A History of Britain, The Power of Art, Obama’s America).

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video Simon Schama’s Shakespeare and Us Episode 2 – Hollow Crowns (BBC documentary)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Columbia University Professor, Simon Schama argues that it is impossible to understand how Shakespeare came to belong 'to all time' without understanding just how much he was of his time. Schama explores Shakespeare's attitude to the other great subject of his day - kingship. He will look at the ways in which Shakespeare's most profound tragedies - Richard II, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear - may have been inspired by his own experiences writing for the courts of Elizabeth and James I.

Elizabeth - the consummate royal actress in decline - was to prove a powerful muse, while James's own obsessions and inviolable sense of his own grandeur, inspired Shakespeare to probe deeper into the royal mind than anyone before or since. It was as if seeing their frailty, vanity and folly first-hand fired his imagination - inspiring him to explore the great themes of power and ambition, in plays which show kings murdering their way to the throne and going mad. Shakespeare dared to strip away the mask of royalty to reveal the flawed men underneath. Somehow, he got away with it - and revealed profound truths not just about kings but about the rest of us too. As well as this an extraordinary cast of actors deliver some of Shakespeare's most moving and profound soliloquies.

Credits:

Executive Producer: Nicolas Kent; Presenter: Simon Schama (A History of Britain, The Power of Art, Obama’s America).

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video Theban Plays: Antigone (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

The story of one sister’s loyalty to both her brothers, regardless of their acts or opposing political beliefs, Antigone is one of the most consistently popular plays in the history of drama. This translation, by Don Taylor, was commissioned by the BBC, and was first broadcast in autumn, 1986.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Sophocles; Translator: Don Taylor; Composer: Derek Bourgeois; Conductor: Derek Bourgeois; Advisor: Geoffrey Lewis (on classical matters).

Cast: Patrick Barr: Theban Elder (Chorus), Rosalie: Crutchley Euridice: Paul Daneman: Theban Elder (Chorus), Donald Eccles: Theban Elder (Chorus), Robert Eddison: Theban Elder (Chorus) John Gielgud: Teiresias, Patrick Godfrey: Theban Elder (Chorus) Mike Gwilym: Haemon, Bernard Hill: Messenger, Ewan Hooper: Theban Elder (Chorus), Peter Jeffrey: Theban Elder (Chorus) Noel Johnson: Theban Elder (Chorus). Robert Lang: Theban Elder (Chorus), John Ringham: Theban Elder (Chorus), Paul Russell: Boy, Tony Selby: Soldier, John Shrapnel: Creon, Juliet Stevenson: Antigone, Gwen Taylor: Ismene, Frederick Treves: Theban Elder (Chorus).

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video Theban Plays: Oedipus At Colonus (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Sophocles' Theban plays – Oedipus Tyrannos, Oedipus at Colonos and Antigone – stand at the fountainhead of world drama; they tell the story of Oedipus, Jocasta and Antigone, and the ancient Greek theme of power, both mortal and godlike is brought to the fore with stunning vitality. Oedipus at Colonos is the middle play in the trilogy. In the aftermath of the events in Thebes, the blinded Oedipus is led to Colonos by his daughter Antigone and his tragic fate is completed.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks. Starring: Michael Pennington, John Gielgud, Cyril Cusack, Claire Bloom, Anthony Quayle.

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video Theban Plays: Oedipus The King (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

This Greek tragedy tells the story of Oedipus, King of Thebes and husband of Jocasta. When the discovery is made that he is the son of the same Jocasta and of the previous king Laius (whom he has unwittingly murdered), Oedipus blinds himself and Jocasta commits suicide.

Credits:

Director: Don Taylor; Producer: Louis Marks; Playwright: Sophocles; Translator: Don Taylor, Composer: Derek Bourgeois; Conductor: Derek Bourgeois; Advisor: Geoffrey Lewis.

Cast: Claire Bloom: Jocasta, Michael Byrne: Theban Senator, Ernest Clark: Theban Senator, David Collings, Theban Senator, Cyril Cusack: Priest, Donald Eccles: Theban Senator, Robert Eddison: Theban Senator, John Gielgud: Teiresias, Edward Hardwicke: Theban Senator, Denys Hawthorne: Theban Senator, Kelly Huntley: Ismene, Noel Johnson: Theban Senator, Gerard Murphy: Messenger, Michael Pennington: Oedipus, Norman Rodway: Corinthian Messenger, Clifford Rose: Theban Senator, Alan Rowe: Theban Senator, Lincoln Saunders: Teiresias’ Boy, Cassie Shilling: Antigone, John Shrapnel: Creon, Nigel Stock: Theban Senator, David Waller: Shepherd, John Woodnutt: Theban Senator

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This collection features stunning film adaptations of classic and contemporary plays from Sophocles and Shakespeare, to Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Bernard Shaw and contemporary writers, Michael Frayn and Joe Penhall.