Blackadder: “Amy And Amiability”/“Duel And Duality”
Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry (BBC One)
Hugh Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry (BBC One)

Blackadder: “Amy And Amiability”/“Duel And Duality”

Returning favorites take the season out in style

“Amy And Amiability” (season 3, episode 5; originally aired 10/15/1987)

Blackadder finds love on the highway

(Available streaming on Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Netflix)

Just as “Nob And Nobility” featured the return to the series of Tim McInnerny, “Amy And Amiability” sees Miranda Richardson back, playing a very different character to her season two role. After the imperious, insane Queenie, the mild-mannered Amy is difficult to take. She’s painfully saccharine and while Richardson succeeds in making Amy a counterpoint to the boorish Prince Regent, Amy never rises above being a caricature. Her late episode reveal as the Shadow helps counter her earlier scenes, but this new persona is just as heightened as her original one. There are elements of the absurd to each of the prominent guest stars in season three, but Pitt the Younger, Dr. Johnson, the Pimpernels, and the actors all had tremendous presence and specificity. Amy is disappointingly bland, and that keeps “Amy And Amiability” from reaching its full potential.

The rest of the episode works well, however. Mr. Blackadder’s interactions with Baldrick and the Prince Regent are fantastic and his debt-fueled scheming, particularly on behalf of the Prince, is very relatable. From his first line, “One is born, one runs up bills, one dies,” the episode is tightly focused and Mr. Blackadder’s money woes feel more in keeping with his season two troubles than the personality-driven conflicts of season three, though his actions do result in Amy being identified as the Shadow and hung, bringing Mr. Blackadder’s body count for the season up to seven. Rowan Atkinson is great throughout, centering the episode, but the best moments are his scenes with Hugh Laurie’s Prince George.

The Prince Regent, ever a figure of ridicule, is in particularly fine form in this episode. He’s been presented as mostly idiotic to this point, but “Amy And Amiability” adds crass womanizing to his list of hobbies and Laurie goes to town with it, reveling in the Prince’s childishness. He makes a life of debauchery sound positively wistful and his gleeful love letter to Amy is great, particularly the postscript, “Woof woof!” The Prince and Mr. Blackadder’s Cyrano act, with Blackadder wooing Amy in George’s stead, is delightful thanks to the trio’s timing and Laurie’s delivery of such romantic lines as, “Sausage time!” The Prince’s later pining over the lost Amy is another nice touch, but his best moment may be his description of what awaits him at the Naughty Hellfire Club. Atkinson’s reaction as the Prince Regent explains “radishing” is hilarious and among his best of the episode. Another great moment is the rare use of camera trickery to un-drop Mr. Blackadder’s fallen tray when the Prince tells him of Amy’s accomplice. As expected, Atkinson’s demeanor remains utterly placid as the tray returns to his hands.

Unfortunately, Baldrick is sidelined for much of the episode, but he does get some fun moments. He has one of his better Cunning Plans and much like “Sense And Senility,” spends much of his time on-screen taking care of menial tasks in the kitchen, here continually preparing a chicken in the background, eventually shoving an entire apple into the cavity. Baldrick’s conversation with Mr. Blackadder about the difficulty in acquiring a horse may go on a bit long, and some of the comedic rhythms may be wearing a bit thin three seasons in (particularly the, “I’m as poor as…” line structure), but this is more than made up for by the visual of Blackadder robbing a stagecoach while using Baldrick as his horse.

The other guest stars are engaging in smaller roles, particularly Roger Avon and Barbara Horne as the Duke of Cheapside and his daughter Sally, who Mr. Blackadder and Baldrick rob. Horne is delightfully over the top and Avon’s, “Never, sir! A man’s soft lips are his own private kingdom” gets one of the biggest laughs of the episode. Mrs. Miggins also makes a brief appearance, revealing her dreams of settling down with Mr. Blackadder in a moment that could easily have been cut, but does at least allow Blackadder the zinger that he’d rather settle down with Baldrick. As Amy’s father, Warren Clarke gets a few lines, but unfortunately, it’s a rather blustery and expected role, with Atkinson getting most of the laugh lines in their exchange.

There is plenty to enjoy about “Amy And Amiability” and it’s certainly more successful than most of Blackadder season one, but placed next to the rest of the incredibly strong Blackadder The Third, the episode pales, an entertaining but somewhat forgettable installment in an otherwise fantastic season of comedy.

Historical Hairsplitting: Caroline of Brunswick, mentioned by Mr. Blackadder as a potential bride for the Prince Regent, was actually George IV’s wife. The two were married long before George became the Prince Regent, in 1795, but they separated shortly after the birth of their daughter, in 1796, and spent most of the rest of their marriage apart. George attempted to dissolve the marriage in several ways but was ultimately unsuccessful, though Caroline died only a few weeks after George’s coronation in 1821 (to which she was not allowed access).

Cunning Plans: Baldrick has one of his better plans in this episode, that Mr. Blackadder should become a dashing highwayman, and when he eventually tries it, Blackadder is utterly successful. At least, until the Shadow shows up and robs him of his ill-gotten gains.

Stray observations:

  • Baldrick has the line of the episode with his description of the Shadow, who is only half Robin Hood, “Well, he steals from the rich, but he hasn’t got ‘round to giving it to the poor yet.”
  • This episode continues the spinning jenny comedy from “Sense And Senility,” as Mr. Blackadder explains the raveling Nancy to the Prince Regent, saying in one of his more ridiculous but entertaining lines, “I am one of those people who are quite happy to wear cotton, but have no idea how it works.” Another of Atkinson’s best deliveries is his somewhat panicked, “You want to meet him?” when Amy mentions meeting the Prince.
  • Blackadder The Third is rather fond of invoking Lady Hamilton, who has been a punchline at least three times in the series. In this episode, she’s Blackadder’s response to Amy’s father’s, “No one ever made money out of good looks and charm.” It’s a bit disappointing that the writers go continually back to the same well, though each of the lines has worked individually.

“Duel And Duality” (season 3, episode 6; originally aired 10/22/1987)

Mr. Blackadder risks all for an amusing clock

(Available streaming on Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Netflix)

The Black Adder and Blackadder II have their strong points, and both are entertaining and occasionally transcendent seasons of comedy, but with “Duel And Duality,” Blackadder The Third cements its position as the series’ best season yet. The episode is remarkably consistent, with laughs throughout, and falls just short of matching “Ink And Incapability” in pacing and creativity. Like the rest of the season, “Duel And Duality” draws from literature, with Mr. Blackadder and the Prince Regent swapping places. The episode lampshades this, having the characters reference that great work The Prince And The Porpoise And The Pauper, and the resulting scenes of Blackadder as Prince and George as servant are as satisfying and hilarious as one could hope. Baldrick’s confusion at seeing the two in each other’s wigs and coats kicks the scene off well, but it’s Stephen Fry as the bullying Iron Duke Wellington that brings everything together.

Hugh Laurie and Fry were already an established comedy double act at the time and unsurprisingly, they are fantastic together. The duo would go on to star in A Bit Of Fry & Laurie as well as Jeeves And Wooster and fans of their later work will particularly enjoy their scenes here, as the Iron Duke manhandles Prince George. Laurie is wonderful as the cowed Prince, frightened and unsure for the first time this season, and just as good is Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder. The sequence of Blackadder and the Duke using the Prince to demonstrate differing levels of physical abuse is ceaselessly entertaining and Fry’s bellowing of, “Tea!” followed by Laurie’s frantic scrambling out of the room, is just one of the episode’s many gems. While Fry’s is certainly a big performance, he reserves his bellow for only a handful of moments, giving what is a far from nuanced character enough variety to keep the Duke interesting, rather than just loud.

Centering this episode, as he has the rest of the season, is Atkinson, who is surprisingly effective in two roles. Mr. Blackadder may share only one scene with his Scottish cousin, MacAdder, but their conversation works and is well executed on a technical level. Atkinson plays both roles, paying off the remarks throughout the episode about the characters’ uncannily similar appearance, but wisely, Atkinson makes MacAdder wholly distinct from any previous Blackadder, from his body posture to his facial tics. MacAdder is a largely a MacGuffin, giving Mr. Blackadder a reason to agree to take the Prince’s place in the duel, but he’s fun none the less and is far more successful than a previously unmentioned Scottish twin has any right to be. As for Blackadder, his progression through the episode is a joy to watch, as Atkinson expertly takes him from disdain to incredulity, from calm security to panic, and finally ends the episode with the butler resolute, having taken the Prince up on his offer of money, porn, and an amusing clock. Writers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s decision to end this season on a different note than its predecessors, with Mr. Blackadder alive and well and ruling England, is a good one. It’s a nice change of pace, but more importantly, it fits with the darker tone of this season and its protagonist.

While “Duel And Duality” is very much Blackadder’s episode, Tony Robinson does get a few fantastic moments as Baldrick. The opening scene between Mr. Blackadder and Baldrick is pleasantly cordial, one of the few examples in the series of the two interacting as more or less equals, and Baldrick’s relaying of his attempt to become the village idiot of Kensington is delightful. Also great are Baldrick’s hidden depths, shown in his apparent understanding of his cousin’s art criticism, saying most paintings are, “painted to a romantic ideal rather than as a true depiction of the idiosyncratic facial qualities of the person in question.” While Baldrick is still very much the same dim character he’s been all season, it’s notable that his Cunning Plans improve dramatically both in this episode and “Amy And Amiability.” They may require tweaking by Blackadder, but they’re feasible, unlike most of his season three offerings, and it’s nice to see the character get a few moments of insight. Between these moments and Baldrick’s muttered insult of Blackadder in “Sense And Senility,” this Baldrick seems to be decidedly more independent and intelligent than his immediate predecessor, though perhaps not as much as his rather thuggish counterpart from The Black Adder.

This is the final installment for director Mandie Fletcher, who did a tremendous job with the entirety of seasons two and three, giving both seasons distinct personalities. Blackadder The Third benefits from efficient storytelling and features dense, multi-faceted comedy and “Duel And Duality,” with its role reversals and high stakes, is one of the most entertaining and satisfying episodes yet, an excellent end to what has been a fantastic season of television.

Historical Hairsplitting: Arthur Wellesley, known as the Iron Duke, was the first Duke of Wellington and as portrayed in this episode, was a great military leader who prized discipline and brevity. Contrary to Fry’s performance, however, he was not a particularly excitable man and was rarely emotional in public, leading some to find him condescending. His nickname, rather than a military one, referred to his willpower and resolve, both in his personal life and as a politician.

Cunning Plans: As in “Amy And Amiability,” Mr. Blackadder ends up following Baldrick’s advice and benefiting. Baldrick’s suggestion that the Prince have Blackadder face the Duke in his stead would actually have worked out perfectly, one of the very rare instances of this in the series, had the Prince left well enough alone and not approached the Duke after Blackadder survived the duel. Over the season, Baldrick’s cunning plans vary dramatically, from idiotic (in “Nob And Nobility”) to quite canny, and as noted earlier, it’s neat to see him actually get a plan or two right.

Stray observations:

  • The scoring for the duel and seeming death scenes for Mr. Blackadder and the Prince are a blast. Composer Howard Goodall keeps the score in the background most of the time, but when the moment is right, he brings it up and is on the whole very successful.
  • Mr. Blackadder confirms in this episode that he is indeed descended from noble blood, though it’s unclear how the butler would know about Prince Edmund, considering Henry VII supposedly wrote him out of history.
  • The Iron Duke has many fantastic lines, but the snide delivery Fry gives, “Only girls fight with swords these days” makes it a personal favorite.
  • Mr. Blackadder assuming the Prince Regent’s identity connects him entertainingly to Mad Prince Ludwig from “Chains,” who slaughters everyone at the end of the season two finale before replacing Queen Elizabeth.
  • He may only have a couple lines of dialogue, but Gertan Klauber is a lot of fun as George III.
  • The Prince’s two final lines are great. Had, “Toodle-oo everyone! Let you know and all that” been his last line, it would have been entertaining. Having him come back to life because he thinks he was carrying a cigarillo case too, only to realize, “Oh damn, I must have left it on the dresser” and die again, is brilliant.

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