King Lear, old and tired, divides his kingdom among his daughters, giving great importance to their protestations of love for him. When Cordelia, youngest and most honest, refuses to idly ... See full summary »
The growing ambition of Julius Caesar is a source of major concern to his close friend Brutus. Cassius persuades him to participate in his plot to assassinate Caesar, but they have both sorely underestimated Mark Antony.
Exiled Prospero lives on a desolate island with his daughter, Miranda. When Prospero's usurping brother sails by the island, Prospero conjures a storm that wrecks the ship and changes all of their lives.
A rich merchant, Antonio is depressed for no good reason, until his good friend Bassanio comes to tell him how he's in love with Portia. Portia's father has died and left a very strange ... See full summary »
Henry Bolingbroke has now been crowned King of England, but faces a rebellion headed by the embittered Earl of Northumberland and his son (nicknamed 'Hotspur'). Henry's son Hal, the Prince ... See full summary »
Director Herbert Wise felt that Julius Caesar should be set in the Elizabethan era, but as per the emphasis on realism, he instead set it in a Roman milieu. Wise argued that the play "is not really a Roman play. It's an Elizabethan play and it's a view of Rome from an Elizabethan standpoint." However, of setting the play in Shakespeare's day, Wise stated "I don't think that's right for the audience we will be getting. It's not a jaded theatre audience seeing the play for the umpteenth time: for them that would be an interesting approach and might throw new light on the play. But for an audience many of whom won't have seen the play before, I believe it would only be confusing." See more »
The sound of retracting blades can be heard as Caesar is stabbed. See more »
This production of Julius Caesar was directed by Herbert Wise. It was his first and only contribution to the BBC Shakespeare series, and he was undoubtedly offered the job because of his superlative work directing the series "I Claudius." (Be sure also to track down his "The Woman in Black," a case study of how to scare the stuffing out of the audience with zero 'yuk' factor.)
Shakespeare makes different demands than Robert Graves or Nigel Kneale, however, and the director gives us a production more tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the television medium than most in the series. Only here do we get gigantic closeups of the actors' faces, which are sometimes not sufficiently photogenic for such intense scrutiny. On one of today's large-screen televisions, the effect can be overwhelming. Also, the soliloquies are almost all voice over on the soundtrack accompanying the face of a closed-mouth actor, with actual speech only on certain key passages. Either you find it more psychologically valid, or totally disruptive.
Thanks to Herbert Wise, the general interplay of emotion is considerably more precise than in many others of the BBC Shakespeare series. People talk, listen, act, react, think in the most detailed way, and the pace is always just. Though the political aspect of the drama is given its due, the emphasis here is on the interpersonal relationships.
The director is on record as saying that Shakespeare and television make a bad fit, and that no one up to this time has "cracked it." We can argue among ourselves whether he was right or not, but this show is different from all the others, and well worth watching.
Richard Pasco, Charles Gray, Keith Michell and Virginia McKenna all turn in well-rounded performances. Elizabeth Spriggs surprises as a warm and mobile Calpurnia. given her chatty Mistress Quickly in "Merry Wives," and memorable turns in TV adaptations of "Middlemarch," "Martin Chuzzlewit" and "Sense and Sensibility." David Collings' Cassius starts out lean and hungry, but goes mushy and hysterical a little early.
The play itself usually runs out of steam after Antony's oration, and here it is less of a problem than usual. The physical production by Tony Abbott is good, providing a more spacious Rome than that of the Coriolanus broadcast, and a somewhat flowery battlefield.
However, for those in search of an alternative, find on the Internet the audiocassette of the Caedmon Shakespeare Recording Society version of a generation earlier. Anthony Quayle is the Brutus, John Mills the Cassius, Alan Bates the Mark Antony and Sir Ralph Richardson as Julius Caesar. Even without visuals, everyone is one size larger, and I for one appreciate it.
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