Blackadder goes forth

Joseph O'Gorman

Blackadder Goes Forth was the fourth and final series of the BBC comedy, which aired in 1989. This series follows Captain Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), his dim-witted lackey Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson), and the wildly enthusiastic Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), and Blackadder’s schemes to avoid going “over the top”, out of the safety of the trenches.

This series was more satirical than the previous, as it simply was dealing with a bigger issue; The Great War, as it was known. The characters frequently reference their distaste at the methods of their generals; for example at one stage Blackadder quips “This war would’ve been a damn sight simpler if we had just stayed at home and shot 50,000 of our own men a week”. This is a consistent theme of the series, dealing with the futility of trench warfare in a light hearted manner, and the “lions led by donkeys” view of World War One.

The standout episode of the series is the finale, Goodbyeee, with the ending of which forever seared in the mind of many viewers. While the whole sitcom had a kind of snark edge to its commentary on class issues, it never got quite this dark. But in reality, how else could a show about soldiers in World War One end? Thousands of British and German soldiers ran at lines of machine guns for no good reason, other than being told to do it?

The real genius of it is that the comedic aspect of the episode is so subtly removed, as inevitable conclusion draws near, characters begin realising that they finally have no way out. There is no escape, not even for the scheming Blackadder, or Baldrick and his “cunning plans”. This is cemented by the scene where Lieutenant George is happily talking about the day he enlisted, a mixture of nostalgia and funny anecdotes which gradually fades away to the realisation that all his buddies from home are already dead. That’s the genius of Goodbyeee; from laughing to stunned silence within a very short space of time. The real gut punch is shortly before the end; the wildly enthusiastic George trails off mid sentence while talking about how noble it was the die for your country, before telling Blackadder “Sir? I’m scared”. The episode plays on hope very well, which serves to accentuate the devastating finale. The scene where the grovelling Captain Darling is dismissed by General Melchett (Stephen Fry) for example, after begging him to reconsider, hoping to escape the battle thanks to his position.

Most telling of all however, is Blackadder’s final talk with Baldrick. The running joke through the entire show of Baldrick and his “cunning plans” ends with Baldrick being told to save his plan for later by his Captain. Hope is the last thing to leave you when you’re standing before certain death, and Blackadder not taking that from Baldrick was a great kindness. This is made all the more poignant when you remember the abuse Baldrick had received for his previous “cunning plans”.

The final scene is simple, yet so effective. Blackadder’s final line to his men is “Good luck everyone”, as luck will be the only thing to get them out alive. The charge cuts to slow motion before fading to a poppy field. An incredibly poignant ending to an all-time classic tv show.


Joseph O’Gorman

Image Credit: BBC