John Buchan: The Man Who Wrote Loads of Books

Edinburgh, Literature

Since we’re drawing inspiration from some of his best writing, we thought it was only fair to give you a bit of an introduction to the great John Buchan. Best known for his spy thrillers, Buchan led a life comparable to some of his most daring characters. He drew a lot of inspiration from the remarkable events he witnessed – to help you navigate this, look out for which books he wrote at the different stages of his life.

This is the face of a man who has submitted a lot of essays in his time.

Part One: Calvinist Beginnings 1875-1895

John Buchan was born on 26th August 1875 (for the historically minded – bang in the middle of the Victorian era). He was the son of another John Buchan, a Church of Scotland minister, and Helen Jane Buchan. Like James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott and numerous other Scottish authors, he spent a lot of time in the borders area while he was growing up and appears to have developed a love for landscapes and outdoors activities such as hiking. He later listed Hogg and Scott as literary influences for his own novels.

He initially studied at Glasgow University but struggled both financially and socially until he won a scholarship to Oxford, where both his literary and personal exploits were more successful.

Friends made: No one particularly notable, but lots of sheep

Books written: none known but I suspect Buchan was the type of child who wrote one a week.

Part Two: University 1895-1900

Buchan was accepted into Brasenose College in Oxford with a scholarship to study Classics. According to some contemporary accounts, he was tremendously lively and threw himself into the full student experience. One source tells of how he rescued an American student who had a candle thrown into his pants – Richard Hannay, eat your heart out. Buchan was officially published for the first time while at Oxford, and received a First-Class Degree in Law upon graduating. He was also the President of the Oxford Union and won several prizes for his essays and poetry.

Friends made: Hilaire Belloc (Anglo-French poet and politician), Raymond Asquith (son of future PM Herbert Asquith), Aubrey Herbert (offered the throne of Albania, twice) and Sholto Douglas (famous painter who bailed out Oscar Wilde). Also, presumably, the grateful American from the candle incident.

Books written: Sir Quixote of the Moors, John Burnet of Barns, A Lost Lady of Old Years, The Pilgrim Fathers, Grey Weather: Moorland Tales of My Own People, Sir Walter Raleigh (biography), Scholar-Gipsies (non-fiction), A History of Brasenose College (non-fiction)

Part Three: London Life 1900-1914

Edmund Ironside was a spy and later Field Marshal who was famous for using disguises. He worked undercover in Southern Africa and clearly really impressed Buchan.

Without any family income, Buchan had to support himself in the years after graduating. He managed to squeeze in a quick career as a barrister, publisher and journalist at the Spectator before deciding that diplomacy and government were more suited to his skills. In 1901, he travelled to South African to work as the private secretary to Alfred Milner, then High Commissioner of Southern Africa. South Africa and its people featured in many of Buchan’s novels and this period served as his introduction to the British Empire at its outer reaches.

It’s not entirely clear what Buchan made of the Empire. On one hand, many of his characters fight valiantly to protect it and it’s often upheld in his books as the forces of civilisation and progress. On the other hand, as a committed Calvinist, Buchan was notably compassionate towards those in difficulty and was later committed to protecting minority cultures from being wiped out by Western governments. According to his granddaughter, he saw the British Empire as a natural stepping stone towards achieving a Federal system of states in alliance around the world. Certainly, he didn’t share his hero Richard Hannay’s anti-semitic and racist views – they can be more easily attributed to the common speech of the officers and diplomats he observed.

Buchan married Susan Grosvenor (cousin to the Duke of Westminster) on 15th July 1907. Despite her lofty connections, Susan was also very keen on reading and by all accounts, the two enjoyed a long and happy marriage together with several children. During this time, Buchan also entered politics for the first time and ran as a Unionist candidate for Peebles and Selkirk. He supported women’s suffrage, free trade and national insurance but ran against many of the recent Liberal welfare reforms.

Friends made: Viscount Alfred Milner, GM Trevelyan (historian), Edmund Ironside (Field Marshal and possible inspiration for Richard Hannay), the well-to-do of London (including but not limited to: the Wellesleys, Walpoles, Balfours, Cecils, Stuart-Wortleys, Lytteltons and Talbots)

Books Written: The Half-Hearted, A Lodge in the Wilderness, Prester John, The Moon Endureth: Tales and Fancies, The Marquis of Montrose (biography), Andrew Jameson, Lord Ardwall (biography), The African Colony (non-fiction), The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income (non-fiction), Some Eighteenth Century Byways (non-fiction), Nine Brasenose Worthies (non-fiction), What the Home Rule Bill Means (non-fiction)

Part Four: Enter Richard Hannay 1914-1935

As the First World War broke out, the government rather sensibly employed Buchan in the War Propaganda Bureau. He also worked as a correspondent for The Times in France, and was later appointed as a second-lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps. In 1917, he was promoted to Director of Information and assisted in writing a 24-volume contemporary history of the war. Buchan made it through the war relatively unscathed, but his younger brother Alastair was killed at Arras in 1917. It’s not clear whether he stayed involved with intelligence after the war ended, but we’d like to think that he did…

The much-spoofed The 39 Steps remains a literary classic even today, thanks in part to Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation. Also, my mum really fancies Richard Hannay so there’s that.

During this time, Buchan also wrote some of his most famous novels, focussed on the wartime hero Richard Hannay. They were initially published in serial form and were extremely popular with soldiers on the front-line. At the close of the war, he continued to publish both novels focussed on Hannay and other fictional heroes. He also became Director of Reuters news agency and Lord High Commissioner within the Church of Scotland.

In 1927, he made his first successful foray into British politics as the Unionist MP for the Scottish Universities. Here, he proposed his own form of Scottish Nationalism – he saw Scotland as a self-contained nation within the greater British Empire. He petitioned Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin to appoint him to the Cabinet, but was unsuccessful. It’s not entirely clear why this is, but know-it-alls with a phenomenal work ethic don’t tend to be very popular with their work-shy Parliamentary colleagues – that’s my best guess. Just look at Alexander Hamilton.

Friends made: Lord Beaverbrook (newspaper baron and proto-Richard Murdock figure), General Allenby and TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia to us), Lowell Thomas (American journalist), most of British High Command, Hugh MacDiarmaid (poet and Scottish nationalist), Stanley Baldwin, Douglas Fairbanks Jr (Hollywood star)

Fiction published: Salute to Adventurers, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Power-House, Greenmantle, Mr Standfast, The Path of the King, Huntingtower, Midwinter, The Three Hostages, John Macnab, The Dancing Floor, Witch Wood, The Courts of the Morning, Castle Gay, The Blanket of the Dark, The Gap in the Curtain, The Magic Walking Stick, A Prince of the Captivity, The Free Fishers, The Runagates Club, Poems: Scots and English

Non-fiction published (selected!): An enormous amount of work on World War One, Francis and Riversdale Grenfell: A Memoir, Lord Minto: A Memoir, The Man and the Book: Sir Walter Scott, Montrose: A History (biography) Julius Caesar (biography), Oliver Cromwell (biography), The Last Secrets, The Margins of Life, The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers 1678-1918, The Causal and the Casual in History, The Kirk in Scotland, Montrose and Leadership, The Novel and the Fairytale, The Massacre of Glencoe, Gordon at Khartoum

Part Five: Governor of Canada 1935-1940

In the same year that The 39 Steps was adapted for cinema by Alfred Hitchcock, Buchan was elevated to the peerage as Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield. This tied together his love for Scotland and Oxford, and also prepared him for appointment as Governor General of Canada on 1st June 1935. He moved his entire family out to Canada and began his tenure as Governor on 2nd November.

No, he wasn’t at Coachella. This picture has a somewhat touching back story as Buchan was awarded with an honorary title by the leaders of the First Nations in recognition of his extraordinary talents as a storyteller.

In many ways, Buchan was the ideal candidate for this position – he had a longstanding love and appreciation of Canada and had visited several times after the war. He was also well respected across Canada and, despite his failing health, he travelled the length of the country to encourage national unity. He had a particular respect and appreciation for First Nation culture and was a major early campaigner for multiculturalism as a key part of Canadian society. There is one amusing anecdote from the man himself regarding a party with some Ukranians:

“At Regina on Saturday afternoon I visited the community halls of the Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Rumanians, Ukrainians White and Red, and the Jews, and spoke in each. The Police didn’t want me to go to the Red Ukrainians on the ground that they were dangerous Communists, so of course I insisted on going, and was received deliriously in a hall smothered in Union Jacks, and they nearly lifted the roof off singing the National Anthem.”

Perhaps his greatest success as governor was organising George VI’s tour of Canada in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War. This shored up support for Britain in the face of German invasion, and strengthened relations between Britain and America which proved invaluable in the following years.

John Buchan died on 6th February 1940 after suffering severe head injuries following a stroke. He received an extraordinary amount of tributes on both sides of the Atlantic, and his ashes were returned to Oxford. The most personal was the naming of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia – for a man who loved adventures in the untamed wilderness, there could be no finer gift.

Friends made: George V, George VI and family, Mackenzie King (Canadian PM), Franklin D Roosevelt, a lot of Canadians

Books written: The House of the Four Winds, The Island of Sheep, Sick Heart River, The Long Traverse, The Far Islands and Other Tales of Fantasy, Augustus (biography), The King’s Grace (non-fiction), Naval Episodes of the Great War (non-fiction), The Interpreter’s House (non-fiction), Presbyterianism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (non-fiction), Memory Hold-the-Door (non-fiction), Comments and Characters (non-fiction), Canadian Occasions (non-fiction)

While you’re here…

We hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy exploration of one of Scotland’s finest authors (it’s not our fault – the man wrote over 100 books!). We’ve been working on our own rather exciting project and we are very excited to finally introduce it properly. Inspired by John Buchan’s masterpiece Mr Standfast, we will be bringing our very own spy adventure to the Fringe and you (yes, you) can be a part of it. Follow this link to grab tickets and feel free to contact us for more information at 

Further reading:

Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan, Ursula Buchan, Bloomsbury 2019
John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier, Andrew Lownie, Thistle Publishing 2013
John Buchan: A Biography, Janet Adam Smith, Hart-Davis 1965

Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. We think John Buchan would be pretty pleased with this.

A Brief History of Escape Rooms


Ah yes, the great Escape Room. They’ve swept across the world in the last few years, followed by a trail of awkward selfies with weird props and increasingly confusing themes (see below…). But where did they come from?

“In 1203 AD, a mysterious tale reached the shores of England. Sailors spoke of a room containing riches beyond imagination, that could be accessed if the seeker was brave, clever and quick enough to find them. But if they failed to escape within one hour…they would be trapped in an underground bunker forever, doomed to die amongst the puzzles they failed to solve.”

– William of Newburgh, Anglo Saxon Chronicler and Historian

It was at this moment that Susan remembered how much she hated mazes.  Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

I made that bit up. There are no Escape Rooms in Anglo-Saxon chronicles (as far as we know) and their origins are somewhat more prosaic. Treasure hunts and puzzles have existed in some form or another since…well, since one person knew where something was but wanted to make it harder to find. Labyrinths and mazes provide some early examples – treasure maps are another. Socialite Elsa Maxwell was credited with the invention of the treasure hunt as a party pursuit – in her own words, it was a good opportunity to pair people off and create mischief as they inevitably disappeared into bushes and hooked up. Something to consider when choosing a partner for an Escape Room.

A more recognisable version of Escape Rooms arrived with platform video games – designers carefully built levels to make players hunt for clues and solve puzzles. (Personally, I still remember the summer of 2001 when I spent weeks on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on Gameboy Color and still couldn’t find the Asphodel Root. Message me if you want to know where it is). Another possible inspiration came in the form of game shows such as Jungle Run and The Crystal Maze, which became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. They involved interlinked challenges and teams were rewarded for solving puzzles and obtaining special items to help them along the way. And who could forget Trapped! – that borderline-creepy show on CBBC which made small children solve puzzles to escape an old man, all whilst one of their friends was secretly sabotaging them. Nowadays, you can achieve the same effect by taking the most unhelpful person you know as part of your Escape Room team.

Most Escape Rooms come equipped with an equally Sardonic Games Master. Photo: The Crystal Maze

The culmination of this came with Crimson Room, a video game designed by Toshimitsy Takagi and released in 2004. It featured room-based challenges, and forced the player to collaborate in order to progress through different levels. In 2007, the Japanese company SCRAP took this concept one step further and created real-life escape rooms, based around different themes. From here, the concept spread across Asia and into Europe, eventually reaching across the globe.

Escape Rooms in Popular Culture

Escape Rooms are now sufficiently popular across the globe that they’ve started to crop up in popular culture. They’ve appeared on shows as diverse as Modern Family, Brooklyn 99, Conan O’Brien, My Little Pony, Castle, The Big Bang Theory and even Sherlock in one form or another. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the horror genre’s affinity with problem solving (looking at you, Saw), an escape room themed film (imaginatively entitled Escape Room) was released in 2019, with a sequel to follow in 2020.

It’s pretty likely that the craze is here to stay. If you’re new to it all, just to start you off we’ve found some the weirdest escape room themes out there:

  • Komnata Quest – an “adult” escape room aimed at couples (would love to know the divorce statistics on this one)
  • The Black Book – find very specific evidence of Government corruption (In case you couldn’t get enough of Bodyguard and felt like you had to BE Richard Madden. Sex with the Home Secretary not included)
  • Escape the Plane! (Samuel L Jackson not included)
  • Pet-Snatched! Rescue the Pet-napped Emu (and question your life choices?)

Why are you talking about Escape Rooms on a theatre blog?

I’m so pleased you asked. We’ve got something quite exciting in store for Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019. It involves spies, quests and enough running around alleyways to make Elsa Maxwell very happy. Keep your eyes peeled for more information in the next few months…

Cover photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

Audacious Women Part Three: Maria Marvingt

Audacious Women

Move over, Han Solo. Shuffle up, Bear Grylls. Our next Audacious Woman was quite literally described as Danger’s Girlfriend. She also had much in common with our own Muriel Thompson, including a need for speed and a passion for ambulances.

In 1875, the suffrage movement in France was some 70 years away from achieving voting rights. Women couldn’t vote, study or even open their own bank account. Maria Marvingt was born into a world where being “audacious” was not exactly a prized quality for women. Neither was being an incredibly accomplished sportswoman, but thanks to some encouragement from her parents, Maria was reportedly capable of swimming 4000m at the age of 5. By 15, she had canoed 400km across Europe and by 24, she had obtained her driving license at a time when very few people even owned a car.

All of this was accomplished while running a household after her mother’s death, and there was plenty more to come. She competed in and won awards for all of the following sports:

She even made the leather/fur combination look great.

  • Water polo
  • Speed skating
  • Luge (the one where you slide a tea tray down an icy deathtrap on your back, not your front)
  • Bobsledding (same as above but in a speeding metal crate, not a tea tray)
  • Boxing
  • Martial arts
  • Fencing
  • Shooting
  • Tennis
  • Golf
  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Mountaineering
  • Circus skills (specifically rope work, the trapeze, horseback riding, and juggling)

Why master one, when you can win awards in all of them? She also climbed most of the mountains in the Alps and swam the length of the Seine. Oh, and when the Tour de France refused to let her enter (because of that being-a-woman-thing), she cycled the full length of the course anyway, beating two thirds of the field without any support.

Utterly dazzled and somewhat cowed by this, the French Academy of Sport awarded her the only ever “Gold Medal For All Sports”. This might have been to try and make her stop so that someone else could win something for the first time in a decade, but it’s still pretty cool.

This wasn’t quite enough for Maria, however. Perhaps bored with winning everything she ever entered, she took up flying and became a qualified pilot of hot air balloons and monoplanes. As well as setting various records and winning numerous awards (I won’t list them here as I am not paid by the word), she used her aviation expertise to come up with an idea which was to change the face of medicine in warzones: Air Ambulances.

This idea was a slow burner, mainly because planes were incredibly unreliable during the early 20th century. Due to financial issues, the plan had to be shelved during World War One, and Maria had to find other ways to occupy her time. This involved disguising herself as a man, sneaking into a French army unit and fighting at the front until she was discovered, being dismissed and transferring to the Italians (who were desperate for soldiers and less sexist), flying bombing raids and winning a Croix de Guerre for destroying German factories. It’s a good idea to stay active in your 40s, after all.

An illustration of Maria working with the air ambulances. She was frustrated with how slow battlefield medical procedures were, so naturally she came up with her own.

After the war, Maria worked as a journalist and lecturer, and redoubled her efforts to promote the idea of aeromedical evacuation (essentially, airborne medical support). She pushed engineers to create planes suitable for medical purposes, founded the Flying Ambulance Corps to train doctors, nurses and pilots for warzones and invented a new type of surgical implement in her downtime. By World War Two, the Allies were equipped with a fully functional Air Ambulance service, and Maria continued to serve as a surgical nurse through the war and in Morocco afterwards.

Retirement was apparently not on the cards, and in her 80s, Maria learned to fly helicopters, cycled 200 miles across France and broke the sound barrier in a jet plane. She died in 1963, aged 88. Happily, she lived long enough for women to get the right to vote, and to see her country freed from invasion. I would like to imagine she probably would have been the first woman in space, if she’d held on for a few more years.

One last thing – somewhere along the line, Maria had also published poetry and fiction under the pseudonym Myriel. Unsurprisingly, it won awards.

For more information:
Air Ambulance Service
A Tribute from Airbus
War History Online (who describe her as an overachiever…)

One last note for anyone who is still reading on – if you need a daily fix of amazing women, I can happily recommend Rejected Princesses for all of the stories of women who didn’t quite make it into the Disney Princess lineup. For *ahem* reasons.

women's regiment

Audacious Women Part Two: Maria Bochkareva

Audacious Women

Now for something slightly more surreal. While the British and other Allied forces were doing their level best to keep women out of the armed forces (we salute you, Flora Sandes, for getting round this rule and looking pretty fabulous while doing it), the Russians had taken a slightly different approach. With their forces heavily damaged and morale low, the Russian army had already permitted women to join the regular units. This wasn’t quite enough for Maria Bochkareva, however, who wanted to take matters a little further.

Maria was born to a peasant family in 1889, and had a difficult childhood as a result of abuse from her father. Fleeing home at 15, she married Afanasy Bochkarev, moved to Siberia and began to work as a labourer. Strong willed and determined, Maria quickly became a supervisor. Unfortunately, Bochkarev was abusive to her, and Maria left him to take a variety of jobs on steamships and in brothels. She soon met her second husband, Yakov Buk, and put her management skills to work opening a butcher’s shop.

Maria might have been an excellent man-manager but she was sadly not so skilled in choosing husbands. Buk was also abusive, and was arrested for stealing twice. The outbreak of World War One gave Maria a new chance to escape and make her own way, and this she did in style.

Maria Bochkareva

Maria has no time for your sexual harassment. She’s got men to rescue and trenches to capture. And lots and lots of medals to win.

Turned away by the army on her first few attempts, she contacted Tsar Nicholas II for personal permission to join the army. He granted it (perhaps he heard how good she was at running butcher’s shops) and she joined the 5th Corps, 28th Regiment of the Second Army. This was where Maria really shone – she won numerous awards and saved over 50 injured men during a single battle in No Man’s Land, while facing down ridicule and sexual harassment from the men in her unit.

The entire army was thrown into turmoil by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the abdication of the Tsar. Maria, however, had other ideas. She campaigned for, and was granted, an all-female regiment of women to command. It was extraordinarily popular – around 2000 women volunteered, but only 300 survived Maria’s strict training. Once ready, the “1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death” (the Russians took the naming process very seriously) were sent to the frontline.

Their performance was extraordinary – in one mission alone, they took three trenches and 200 prisoners. They were deprived of a future as a regiment, however, by the hostility of male units in the army. Despite her extraordinary record, Maria was captured and nearly killed by Bolshevik forces due to her connections to White Army captains. She managed to escape to America, where things take a rather bizarre turn.

Maria was feted as a war hero and secured meetings with Woodrow Wilson and King George V. She even begged Wilson to intervene in Russia, reportedly moving him to tears. Somehow, she also found time to write her memoirs – still in print today – and met Emmeline Pankhurst. Pankhurst described Maria as “the woman of the century”.

Emmeline Pankhurst and Bochkareva

One of the bravest and most inspiring women in history meets Emmeline Pankhurst.

We’d like to finish the story there, but events took a rather sadder turn. Returning to Russia, Maria tried to organise another regiment to fight for the White Army, but was captured by the Bolsheviks. Against the orders of Lenin himself, she was executed by firing squad in May 1920.

She was posthumously pardoned and has remained a standard bearer for the military achievements of women. By World War Two, hundreds of thousands of women were enlisted into the army and were utterly vital to the Resistance movements. But we’ll leave you with Maria’s own words in one of her recruitment speeches:

“Come with us in the name of your fallen heroes. Come with us to dry the tears and heal the wounds of Russia. Protect her with yours lives. We women are turning into tigresses to protect our children from a shameful yoke – to protect the freedom of our country.”

For more information on Maria, feel free to follow any of these links:
Batalon (2015) – Russian film following the story of Maria and the battalion
Spartacus Educational
The Female Soldier

edith cavell

Audacious Women Part One: Edith Cavell

Audacious Women

Audacious Women Part One: Edith Cavell

We’re in the midst of planning our next project (fans of women, ambulances and tales of incredible courage, stay tuned) and in the meantime, we’ve got a series of posts about other lesser-known stories of wartime bravery.

First up, the remarkable Edith Cavell.

Born in 1865, Edith was the daughter of a vicar, who worked as a governess before taking up nursing at the age of 30 (some additional inspiration for any of us who graduated without a clue as to what we wanted to do with our lives…). She was also a passionate lover of nature, and loved ice skating.

edith cavell

Having qualified as a nurse, she was rewarded for her work during the typhoid fever epidemic in Maidstone. Her superior was less impressed, however, noting that “Edith Louisa Cavell had plenty of capacity for her work, when she chose to exert herself” and that “she was not at all punctual”. To be fair to Edith, conditions for nurses were incredibly challenging – 14 hour days and very low pay.

She moved to Brussels in 1910 and helped develop the professional nursing movement, providing hospitals and even the Queen of Belgium with fully trained nurses. Ironically, given her earlier timekeeping, she was a stickler for punctuality and was happy to punish latecomers with extra duties. When war broke out, her family begged her to return but she declared that her work was more important than ever and remained at her post.

As the first casualties of the German offensive in Belgium arrived, Edith treated the wounded of both sides with equal respect, earning her considerable criticism from Allied forces. A strong Anglican Christian, she believed that all wounded were worthy of dignity and respect. However, her efforts on behalf of the British went quite a lot further than treating the wounded. She was secretly smuggling hundreds of men out of Belgium and into neutral countries, assisted by members of the Belgian nobility and her fellow nurses.

This was not to last long. Edith was arrested in 1915, and condemned to death for treason. The idea of executing a woman, and a member of the medical profession, was a highly controversial action, and multiple neutral countries appealed on her behalf for clemency. Even prominent members of the German government were highly uncomfortable with the decision. Nonetheless, they proceeded and Edith was executed on 12th October 1915 at dawn. A very moving account of her final hours has been recorded by the prison pastor – available here.

After her death, her story was spread widely as an example of German brutality and she received a memorial service in Westminster Abbey. Perhaps her greatest legacy is the words she spoke the night before her death:

edith cavell

Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.

A pioneer of nursing practice, a faithful matron and an incredibly courageous (and bossy!) woman, Edith is an inspiration to the Not Cricket team. We hope she inspires you too! For more information, feel free to follow any of these links:

Edith Cavell’s Life

The Cavell Nursing Trust

The Nursing Trust

The Definitive Ranking of Shakespeare’s Best Couples


In a belated celebration of Shakespeare’s 453rd birthday, we’ve been taking a look back over some of his most iconic couples. Some of them were inspirational and uplifting – relationships which have stood the test of time, remaining relevant some centuries after their creation. And some stabbed each other, stabbed themselves, stabbed their friends and ruined major nation states through incomprehensibly bad decisions. Read on for our entirely biased, completely arbitrary ranking of Shakespeare’s best romances. Oh, and a few dishonourable mentions.

10. Touchstone and Aubrey, As You Like It
In a play stuffed with ridiculous love triangles and gender switcheroos, this couple stands out as being both fairly sensible and very time efficient. While everyone else runs round cross-dressing and sticking things to trees, Touchstone the Fool woos Aubrey the goat girl in about three pages of dialogue and both are thoroughly content with the outcome. Afterwards, he very sweetly promises to kill a rival “a hundred and fifty ways” if he tries anything dodgy.

9. Ferdinand and Miranda, The Tempest

Ferdinand is probably also rubbish at chess, but he’ll be very nice about it.

A man so attractive that he makes Miranda hit puberty on the spot, Ferdinand is also sort of endearing in how pathetic he is. He is hopeless at all of the really heroic stuff he attempts – swordfighting, log carrying, standing up to anyone at all throughout the play – but he makes up for it with being so genuine and kind to Miranda. And she is every inch his equal, with an excellent sense of humour and a superhuman ability to carry timber. They’re in it for the long run.

8. Regan and the Duke of Cornwall, King Lear
You know what they say – couples that gouge together, stay together. At least until he’s (SPOILER) assassinated by a servant who’s not such a fan of the gouging. But Cornwall stands by Regan when she’s having some family issues, and she is every bit his equal in the political realm. And it’s nice to share hobbies, even if the hobbies are a little grotesque. They lose points for Regan hitting on someone else before Cornwall is even properly buried, but while they were together, they were an unstoppable force.

7. Henry V and Katherine of Valois, Henry V
They only really get one scene together, but this pair are an example of triumphing over adversity. In this case, the adversity is that he’s just killed thousands of her countrymen – probably a few of her relatives too – and disinherited her entire family to make himself King of France. But hey, they find a way to work around that, and even conquer the language barrier caused by all English people being dreadful at French to make this list.

She did make a very pretty boy, after all.

6. Viola and the Duke of Orsino, Twelfth Night

Both hilarious and bizarre, this is the most touching section of the tangled love web formed in Twelfth Night. She’s in love with him but can’t tell him because she’s dressed as a man and she’s trying to woo someone for him. He’s in love with someone else but she’s so attractive even as a man that he starts to question his own sexuality. Plus, it spawned the best romcom ever made about football and cross dressing.

5. Hamlet and Ophelia, Hamlet
These two scrape into the top five on the basis that they clearly do care about each other, even if they’re utterly awful at being together or expressing how they feel. But the best breakup scene in Shakespeare, followed by some truly moving scenes after (SPOILER) Ophelia drowns herself, give these two a spot on the list. Even if she spies on him, he stabs her father, they both go a bit mad and neither actually declare their love to each other. It still gave Shakespeare the chance to make the best genital related pun on record.

4. Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

Aesthetically pleasing but not at all Health and Safety approved.

They may be borderline hysterical, hasty and hopeless at forward planning. But they’re iconic for a reason, and it gave Shakespeare a chance to write some of his most famous and beautiful love poetry. Critics have argued whether or not it was intended as a warning about irresponsible young love, but either way the story is a tear jerker. Bonus – it’s been ripped off by everyone from cheerleaders to vampires to High School Musical.

3. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth
He’s weak and indecisive and takes advice from strange women with dodgy potions. She’s cold, power hungry and obsessive about cleanliness. Together, they commit treason, homicide and an array of other crimes before being brought down by an army pretending to be trees. Yes, they come to a disappointing end as a couple but it’s brilliant while it lasts and after all, it’s nice to do things together. Like bring down the kingdom of Scotland.

2. Beatrice and Benedict, Much Ado About Nothing
The best bickering couple in literature, these two trade insults like they’re going out of fashion. They have the benefit of being the comic relief in a comedy, but their scenes are some of Shakespeare’s best comedic writing. Admittedly, he dumped her once already, and she tries to convince him to kill his best friend; he’s awful at love poetry and they both have to be tricked into saying anything nice about each other. But no one’s perfect and they get this spot on the list for being so much fun to watch.

Dishonourable mentions:

Claudius and Gertrude, Hamlet
It starts off as treasonous and a bit incestuous. It ends with most of the Danish Royal Court dead. It doesn’t really get better in the middle either.

Othello and Desdemona, Othello
Any points this couple get for being forward thinking on racial matters are wiped out by his ability to jump to conclusions based on angry subordinate officers and handkerchiefs. Not cool, Othello

Goneril and the Duke of Albany, King Lear
The only question with these two is why anyone thought they would make a suitable couple. She hates him, he’s scared of her, she betrays him and he can’t even muster up a little bit of sadness after she runs off and (SPOILERS) kills herself.

And the best couple in all of Shakespeare?

1. Hamlet and Horatio, Hamlet

They even do nice things together! Like visit graveyards and ruin funerals.

Horatio is probably the best friend in all of literature. He’s supportive of Hamlet, even when Hamlet goes mad, is rude to everyone in the vicinity, puts on poorly considered plays and commits multiple homicides. He doesn’t even judge when Hamlet takes the advice of a ghost, comes back from time abroad with some rubbish about pirates and doesn’t even try to excuse sending other friends to their deaths. I’m not totally sure what Hamlet brings to this relationship other than uncontrolled verbosity, but these two are cute together, and there’s not a shred of betrayal in sight.

The Six Types of Flyerers at the Edinburgh Fringe and How to Deal With Them


Picture the scene. It’s the first week of the Edinburgh Fringe. You know that you need to get down the Royal Mile to see a show you’ve booked at the space, which is apparently a feminist mime reinterpretation of unpublished Oscar Wilde letters (your friend is in it). But to get down there, there is one obstacle in your way.

Well, a couple of thousand obstacles in your way.

Flyerers. A persistent, difficult and dangerous species which have the power to make you feel guilt, frustration and deep confusion. Here is the unofficial guide to the different breeds and how exactly to handle them.

The mercenary often moves in a pack, making them considerably harder to avoid.
photo credit: byronv2 Fringe on the Mile 2016 052 via photopin (license)

The Mercenary
This breed of flyerer has been hired by a show to flyer on their behalf. Maybe the show is that rare show which will make enough money to justify this extravagance. Maybe the organisers couldn’t face the Royal Mile everyday. It isn’t for the weak. Either way, mercenaries are likely to have little to no idea about the show they are advertising. They probably couldn’t tell you where or what it is, let alone how much it costs and how on earth to get there. They usually have obnoxious hoodies.
How to deal with them – they are easily dissuaded by people with little to no interest in their show. A simple “no thank you” and a hasty retreat ought to do it.

The Hunter
This particular beast will clock you as you are walking down the mile. If you fit into their target demographic (which is usually broad), they will approach you tactically, cutting off all avenues of escape. If by some miracle you manage to avoid them, they are likely to chase you down the Mile until you accept a flyer as a way of shaking them. It’s entirely possible that if you don’t take a flyer, they will follow you around for the rest of the day out of sheer persistence.
How to deal with them – just take the flyer. There is no getting out of this one and there are plenty of bins around further away. Just don’t throw it away in plain sight of them or they will begin the chase again.

The Snob
Every so often, you will get flyered by someone who acts as though they’re bestowing a truly wonderful gift upon you by giving you their flyer. You should be grateful to share Mile-space with this particular thespian and they will let you know that. They might even make disparaging remarks about being forced to flyer for audiences. Even though their profit-share is about as likely to be profitable as the Tories are to increase Arts Funding.
How to deal with them – they’re probably too lazy to flyer you anyway but avoid getting into a conversation with them about the show, for fear of being subjected to a description of their commitment to method acting.

Flirt to Convert
This one is easy to spot. Their costume looks good and they know it. They are attempting to bring in an audience through sheer animal magnetism. The male edition is a particular favourite amongst older women – vaguely cheeky remarks and lots of getting far too close to the person you are flyering. They’ll probably promise to come and see your show too, which is a blatant lie unless there is any chance of sex.
How to deal with them – this one really depends on whether or not it’s worked on you. If you’re into what they’re offering, by all means go and see their naked ventriloquist Cabaret set entirely to the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain. Otherwise, smile politely, and accept that you are very unlikely to see them at any of your shows, regardless of what they’re promising.

Just to prove how edgy his show is, this man is wearing an ineffectual blindfold. But think of the ART.
photo credit: byronv2 Fringe on the Mile 2016 0227 via photopin (license)

GCSE Drama Students With A Lot Of Feelings
Also pretty easy to spot, mainly because they’re actually not going to try and flyer you. Instead, they will recreate crucial, emotional sections from their piece about identity/dystopia/emotions/shouting indiscriminately/fear (delete as appropriate). The scenes are often threatening and/or confusing, but by golly they’ve got a lot of feelings and they’re keen to share them. With anyone who will pay. Their parents think they’re wonderful.
How to deal with them – this group may not actually try to flyer you at all. They are often quite happy to stand in the middle of the mile and shout things for a few hours, then go away pleased. You might get one earnest looking fifteen year old run up to you and ply you with one but most of them prefer to have feelings.

Stunt Flyerers
Similar to the GCSE students but almost more concerning in that they are adults. So they know what they’re doing and they probably funded it themselves. Stunt flyerers can be found shouting off-putting things like “Worst show on the Fringe” and “You will hate it”, which are not wholly inaccurate. Other variations include terrible puns, such as pretending their flyer is a telephone (it isn’t) or a piece of litter (it is). Sometimes they will just make themselves and everyone else feel very uncomfortable, by doing something faux-outrageous and really rather silly, like tying yourself up or pouring wine over your own head repeatedly. (A rare exception to this is the actual stunt acrobats on the mile who are usually extremely talented. And also smug)
How to deal with them – Walking round most of them will do the trick since they don’t want to break the illusion of being mad/uncomfortable/angry simply to catch a punter who isn’t utterly enthralled.

The Hungover Flyerer
If you happen across this sorry soul, have mercy. They are in their own personal hell, surrounded by bright lights and noisy people after a late night and too many pints in C Main. No need to approach; they would probably rather not have an audience today anyway.
How to deal with them – keep a respectful distance. If requested, take a flyer, offer your condolences and move on.

Disclaimer: this post was written entirely in love. I love the Fringe, and I
even love the madness of the Royal Mile. For anyone headed there in 2017, I am a self proclaimed Hunter and I pride myself on getting anyone to take a flyer from me. Happy flyering!

Much Review About Nothing: The Joss Whedon Edition

Much Review About Nothing

This week, we take a look at the much acclaimed black and white 2012 edition of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon. He filmed it in 12 days, shortly after wrapping on Avengers Assemble and the entire film was shot in his private home. As often seems to be the case, this entire cast is made up of “the one from that thing, you know?” – in this case, rather than obscure BBC shows, it’s the entirety of Joss Whedon’s back catalogue. Agent Coulson, that bloke from Firefly and most of the background extras in Avengers Assemble pop up in various guises. If they weren’t so good, you would have to assume that Joss Whedon was the ultimate I-only-cast-my-friends director. (We all know one)

And is it any good? Well, yes. It’s well thought out, it’s nicely shot and there is not a single Styrofoam lion to be found. The text seems to work well in the setting and there are no rogue cast members attempting to derail or distract so broadly, I’m calling this one a success. The main takeaway I had from it is that the plot works better when you assume everyone was permanently either hammered or hungover – evidently, Joss Whedon has a very well stocked alcohol cupboard. And with that, onto Much Review About Nothing: The Joss Whedon Edition!

This version has also chosen to begin with Beatrice and Benedict’s backstory, and it’s another case of Benedict The Horrible Love Rat as he walks out on Beatrice after a night together. Bit of a somber start, especially given most stage versions begin with a flotilla of minstrels and a party.

We switch to the present time and Agent Coulson is here! He is playing Leonato, who receives a text rather than the usual Ye Olde Scroll to inform the household that Don Pedro is approached. I’m unclear as to what war has just occurred, but it’s apparently not terribly exciting as most of the household are far more concerned with the salad preparation than the news of a war being over.

Agent Coulson just did a little roar. Not quite a Brian Blessed sized roar but a roar nonetheless, and with very little context or justification. I also appreciate Beatrice’s desire to have a knife in her hand whenever she refers to Benedict, but it’s hindering everyone else’s salad prep.

There is a fairly lowkey entrance from the victorious army – Don Pedro and his cohort of “soldiers” look less like battle weary soldiers and a bit more like Sixth Formers returning from a particularly hard General Studies lesson. Except for Borachio, who looks about 12 and surely isn’t old enough to either go to war or drink.

Beatrice and Benedict have their first verbal spar in private, whilst angrily flower arranging. I had never considered aggressive floristry as a potential method of attack against an ex-lover but I will consider it such henceforth.

Dramatic music as Don John has appeared. He seems to be restrained with freezer ties…this is one of a few moments in the film where you stop and ponder – Art? Or budgetary limitations?

Most of the discussion over whether Claudio should marry Hero takes place in a very obvious children’s bedroom, with obvious tiny children’s beds.

We interrupt this high brow Shakespeare to bring you a deleted scene from Mamma Mia

Either no one is going to sleep at all while they’re here, or they’re going to be highly uncomfortable. Benedict monologuing around a giant Barbie house only serves to underline this situation.

And now they wrestle on the tiny beds, which looks hazardous to them and also to the structural integrity of the bedframes.
It’s all lots of fun, although I do have trouble believing any of them were at war until recently.

Now we cut to Don John, who seems to have been given a sex cage rather than a children’s room. Which is just as well, since Conrade is A) a woman and B) not being very subtle about what she’s actually doing in his room. I wonder with this scene whether every director that approaches it finds it so dull that they have to spice it up with caverns, oil or sex. Or possibly all three. Either way, plotting and villainous monologues are currently second fiddle to general sexy behaviour.

Borachio enters as they are getting towards the business end of things, and they have to stop with all of the sex. For now. Probably just as well since Borachio looks about 12 – not old enough to have had a full Sex Education class, much less actually do the deed himself.
The second he leaves, they jump right back to it against a door. This must be a little bit weird for Joss Whedon considering that it’s not a film set, it’s actually his house.

We interrupt this highly acclaimed production to bring you Laurence of Arabia. Is it me or is most of this film Benedict in silly disguises?

We cut to the party preparations, and Agent Coulson is wearing a very fetching paisley scarf. Beatrice appears to have overdone it on the predrinks and is drunk while everyone else is getting started.

Drinking near a swimming pool may be aesthetically pleasing but it is also incredibly dangerous so lose 10 points for your poor party planning, Agent Coulson. Borachio reveals an unexpected talent for piano playing – this film is nothing if not efficient, it would seem.

There is a drunk man hitting on Beatrice and he is doing his level best to pull focus throughout most of the scene. An attitude I can fully get behind – you milk that screen time, drunk man. But then Benedict comes along and one-ups him by threatening Beatrice with a flaming marshmallow. Then joins a conga line. Why not?

When the hangover hits

We reach the morning after and EVERYONE IS IN THE POOL. WHY? Did you miss my memo about it being dangerous??
It’s not quite everyone; it’s actually just Claudio surrounded by Don John, Conrade and Borachio, leading to questions about what on earth was going on under the water.
Having been confused by the Bad Guys Swimming Club, Claudio storms straight into the house to find Benedict. And hungover Benedict has no time for your misunderstandings, Claudio. He is cleaning the house the morning after, like an A+++ party guest though, so points to Benedict.

Still-drunk Don Pedro is riffing away on a guitar. He’s not terribly good but he is a prince so no one says anything.
It’s a genius move to have these conversations played out as though everyone is drunk and/or overexcited though, since it explains the sillier bits of the Shakespeare without assuming that the characters are a bit stupid.

I also like to conduct my Shakespearean villainy from the comfort of a heated swimming pool

Hero looks fairly unenthused about marrying Claudio and based off it being agreed while everyone was sozzled, I can concur with that. Don Pedro drunkenly propositioning Beatrice works beautifully though.

More shots! How is anyone sober around here? Hero evidently isn’t as she is substituting having any lines for pulling focus by spitting out her drink at unexpected moments. Got to work with what you’re given, I guess.

Don John has found out about Claudio and Hero via an air vent of plot convenience, and he is unhappy about it. But telling the 12 year old to go and seduce people seems like a poor solution – I definitely had a poor grip on the concept of sex aged 12.

Benedict grousing about love while surrounded by Wedding Admin is perfect. Less perfect is the decision to have a different woman appear every time he mentions women in general.

“Shall we hear this music?” and an iPod is connected. Genius. Points to Whedon for that one. It’s also very nicely staged to have Benedict on the other side of the windows during the tricking scene, leading to general hijinks and commando rolling around in the background.

This is followed by some unconvincing yoga as Benedict attempts to impress Beatrice with his Cobra. Not an innuendo.

“Just act natural,” they said

Then Beatrice rather dramatically falls down the stairs. Which looked both dangerous and painful but apparently she’s A-OK and the scene continues. Hero and Margaret are both played by extras in Avengers Assemble – I hope that saves you an IMDB trip if you were watching and wondering where you had seen them before.

We’re back in the lads’ bedroom/6 year old girl’s room again and a ladder of toys has been added in the corner. Benedict has shaved and Don Pedro and Claudio are doing lots of manly fist-bumping.

But then an ominous underscoring begins and Don John appears, accompanied by the eerie harmonica music of betrayal. I like to imagine it was just Joss Whedon playing a harmonica off camera for the atmosphere.

Oooooh here is Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry as an overly earnest home-security man. And it works! He’s accompanied by a troupe of incompetent interns as the Watch and it’s frankly a masterclass in making difficult Shakespeare work.

They stumble across Conrad and Borachio, who has had possibly his first ever taste of alcohol. It hasn’t agreed with him.
And suddenly we plunge into some slightly seedy soft-focus flashback scenes, in case the audience isn’t smart enough to work out what “wooed” means in this context. Sex. He means sex. They are then arrested by the interns, who look far too young to be handling firearms.

It’s wedding time, and the Messenger from way back in the first scene is here and throwing shade as much as his hastily expanded part allows. Which is to say, he’s doing an awful lot with very little.
Agent Coulson looks adorably ready for a wedding. He should rock this look in Marvel movies too.

Props to the photographer for continuing to photograph the wedding as it takes a turn south and Claudio starts hurling accusations of sex around. She’s been paid for a job and she’s clearly going to do it, regardless of what the content of the photos is.

Just a quiet country wedding, they said. What could go wrong, they said. Friar Francis decided he needed to start charging more.

The issue of setting it in the modern day is that it feels very uncomfortable seeing people discussing virginity, or a lack of, in public. Although how much of that is my crippling Britishness is up for debate.
But the Messenger clearly agrees with me since he’s awkwardly trying to shoo away the crowds. Or perhaps he’s still just trying to build his part.

Benedict sneaks away for a shot mid-service. This is the sort of wedding etiquette I can get behind. Meanwhile, Hero faints, slightly anti-climatically and probably just because the lines don’t make sense without it.

And now Agent Coulson is having a fatherhood crisis and alternating between hugging Hero and threatening to kill her if she’s had sex. Fathers in Shakespeare – who’d have them? Between Lord Capulet, Lear, Gloucester and now Leonato, there aren’t many solid models for parenthood circa 1600.

The famous post-wedding scene between Beatrice and Benedict takes place in the dining room. Unsure if they were both moping or or hoping to take advantage of all of the free catering. Or both.
Beatrice telling Benedict to duel Claudio now sounds like an even more onerous obligation since first, he’s going to have to work out what on earth a duel looks like in the 2010s. Water guns? Gladiator podiums? I would opt for the latter.

Time for a much less macabre interrogation scene than is often the case, and the Sexton looks like anyone would look when presented with a room of interns with a lot of feelings. He’s also staggeringly competent by comparison and it’s wonderful.

Don Pedro and Claudio are STILL drunk (go crazy, since clearly Joss Whedon is paying) and are only sobered up by a double whammy of Benedict suddenly slapping Claudio and a heavy dose of underscoring. And still no one is bothered that dueling is highly impractical.

The Watch have brought Conrad and Borachio (I’ve finally worked out who he reminds me of and it’s a budget Alex Pettyfer from about 2005) to confess their crimes. Agent Coulson gets to demonstrate some serious acting chops – this scene is actually very moving.
It’s then promptly upstaged by Dogberry; Nathan Fillion is scene-stealing as only he can.

But then we take a turn for the drastically happier as Benedict sings badly and woos Beatrice with aplomb, all while aping the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

They’ve reassembled the wedding set with incredible efficiency, and the same photographer is back! I wonder what she’s been up to, and I hope they pay her extra for double wedding duty.
Happily, Don Pedro is finally sober for the first time since the shoot began.

And we end on a less frenzied and more relaxed note than other adaptations, with a little bit of music and an awful lot of dorky disco dancing all round.

Drinks Consumed On Screen: A highly concerning 34. I don’t know who picked up the tab for that one.
Not Cricket Rating: It’s Cricket. A smart, fast and very competent version of the play with excellent acting and beautiful cinematography.

Much Review About Nothing: The More Cool BBC edition

Much Review About Nothing

Much Review About Nothing is back, and this time it’s modern! And cool! And no one speaks in ye olde English, because clearly the BBC programmers had a crisis in 2005 and decided that having survived 400ish years, Shakespeare’s scripts had run their course and simply had to be replaced. The result? Four adaptations of his best known works set in different workplaces, with entirely modern language.

Does it work? Well…sort of. Macbeth received excellent reviews at the time, but having rewatched it, it’s very hard to see why. It’s James McAvoy looking sad while dissecting bacon. And Much Ado About Nothing? Well, it has an awful lot of people in it who went onto much more impressive things. Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, Sergeant Brody from Homeland, Gary from Miranda and that one who was on Merlin one time all make appearances. This Much Ado is set in a local news station, and follows the plot but not the script of the original play. What did we think? Well, read on to find out – here is Much Review About Nothing: The More Cool BBC Edition.

And we open with a montage! Damian Lewis (who I once saw in Prezzo) and the woman who’s been in everything on the BBC (a hasty Google informs me she is Sarah Parish) are getting ready for a date. Damian has sprayed his crotch with deodorant for reasons best known only to himself.

Ahhh…OK. It’s Beatrice and Benedict’s backstory. He’s a nasty man who stood her up, although she gets an enormous amount of wine instead so I would question if she really lost out there.

We cut to three years later and everyone’s hair has gotten bigger. A fair assessment of the 2000s. In a totally laudable upgrade to the original Shakespeare, most of the opening dialogue is discussing local news stories which are so British, it hurts.

Gary from Miranda is here! And in this film he is playing…Gary from Miranda. In fairness, I think the only other thing I remember him for was wearing a dodgy wig in Merlin so maybe it’s best he stuck to what he was good at.

Our Don John in this story is just called “Don”, and makes one small mistake while putting together a newsreel. This presumably dooms him to villainhood for the rest of the play as mistakes at work equal EVIL INTENTIONS in this world.

Claude (Claudio)’s tie matches Hero’s dress. It can only mean true love.

This version also nails Dogberry and Verges, making them irritatingly officious security guards. There is an awful lot to like so far. It pains me to say it but it’s true.

Beatrice has a co-anchor who is old, pervy and possibly senile. He is also not in the original plot and hence is shuffled off after about half a scene. But Beatrice needs a new co-anchor, and there is now a sexy-ginger-shaped hole on that news sofa…

Sexism swinging both ways here:
“Can’t you just buy a new sofa?” from Beatrice – evidently new furniture is an adequate replacement for men.
“All of the men look at Hero like that. That’s why you have her on the show.” – gross, and doubly gross when that line is addressed to her dad.
“Bit sexist to compare a woman to a car.” “Depends on the car.” Nice.

But all might be forgiven as this version of Benedict is a creepy late night antiques dealer and I’m can see nothing wrong with that concept.

I can find nothing wrong with this picture.

Hero has Claude mesmerised with her wobbly pen trick. Not an innuendo and in fairness, I was also bewitched by that one the first time I saw it.

Oh but it’s time for some HEAVY BACKSTORY as we find out that in this version, Hero and Don (John) had sex one time. Huh. I guess they’re not going for Hero being made entirely of angel tears and chastity belts in this edition. I’m sure that somewhere, there will be some Shakespeare purists screaming but I’ll take it over the versions where the poor girl doesn’t get a line until Act Three.

It’s time for a fancy dress party! Are all of the costumes specially designed to reveal something not-so-subtle about the characters? You betcha. Hero is Marilyn Monroe, further cementing the Naughty Hero vibes this version is chucking about. They’ve also chosen to throw some mummy issues in for good measure, to up the #angst quota. They never really get mentioned again, though.

Margaret has come as every one of us at at least one Halloween party in our lives – “some sort of vaguely sexy cat”, but Ursula definitely wins this round as Little Miss Muffet. It ain’t subtle but this version sure is fun.

And of course, Beatrice has come as the ultimate single woman. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Don John (dressed as some hybrid of Cher from Clueless and the Joker before Heath Ledger made it cool) mildly insinuates to Claude that maybe Hero might have at some point come into contact with another man before him. Claude, who appears to be entirely ruled by his genitals, flies into an inconsolable rage at this idea. And what an idea – women touching things! In the world! How dare we!

Dogberry and Verges are on the verge(s) of flirting. It’s a couple I never knew I wanted and yet I really do.

We never actually see Claude resolve his anger with Hero, because the next thing you know, he is busy making out with Hero again. Beatrice and Benedict mimicking the two of them in love is a masterstroke from the BBC. Nuance be damned, this is hilarious.
I am sad, however, that there is a perfectly good pool and no one has ended up in it. Did they learn nothing from Kenneth Branagh’s version?

Don John is properly evil in this version. He’s not just an Elizabethan emo like all of the others, he’s a lonely, twisted and manipulative man. And you know what? It works.

Claude and Hero definitely went from a first date to an engagement in under seven minutes of screentime. Bit keen.

“You really put the W into Anchorman”. Gold. I’m borrowing that one.

Benedict is now debating shaving his pervy antiques dealer beard off. I’m in favour, but I’ve fancied Damian Lewis ever since his five minute turn as a clean-shaven Russian assassin on Stormbreaker (remember that one?).

The need to trick Benedict

is a little unexplained in this one, as Peter (Don Pedro)’s character has largely been absorbed into Leonard (Leonato), who never announces plans to make Beatrice and Benedict fall in love. It is, however, enjoyably meta – they’ve actually pre-planned their conversation on a script in the recording booth.

Beatrice has arrived at Hero’s hen party dressed as hot, bitchy Tinkerbell. And within ten seconds of meeting Benedict, makes a masturbation joke. Keep it PG, guys.

“There’s a large blue ball in your wardrobe” – as it very much were

“Are you smoking crack?” Beatrice says what we’re all thinking, watching Damian Lewis try and fail utterly to use an exercise ball. In his defence, I’m not actually sure what they’re there for, other than as disappointing space hoppers.

It would appear that it’s innuendo hour at the BBC as Hero and Margaret discuss “doing it” in a suspiciously clean nightclub bathroom. But seriously – where are the bits of mashed up loo roll and empty plastic cups?

“Why do they say sense of humour when they mean sex?” – CAN I GET AN AMEN

Don is back being a Proper Baddie, but he’s forgotten that CCTV is alive and well in this world. Rather than having to interrogate drunken henchman as in the original, Dogberry manages to locate Don’s villainy through being good at admin.

Beatrice hiding in a cubicle is all of us in clubs once we’re over the age of 20.

Hero and Margaret’s conversation in this version plays out beautifully as well, with Hero acting like a decent, concerned friend and Margaret bitching about Beatrice for all she’s worth. And taking it a little too far. Also, with regard to one of her insults, a night in with pitta and houmous sounds pretty ideal to me.

Damian has shaved! Perhaps he got the memo about stubble rash. Either way – it looks good.

Everyone is arriving for the wedding, and Benedict and Beatrice have been put in adjacent rooms in a hotel with a secret door between them (oo-er). I feel this definitely violates guest privacy laws. But it’s hella convenient for the plot so no objections here.

Meanwhile, Don has confronted Claude about Hero’s supposed infidelity, through the medium of a poorly assembled collage of Hero’s face and a forged reference to doing the naughty sometime.

Claude flips out at this display of poor craftsmanship and throws Don against a bookcase again and again. And again. And every time he does it, I become less and less convinced that the books are real.

Back to Beatrice and Benedict, and Benedict is reading the only book he has brought with him. And it’s a book of sonnets! What are the chances? Low. The chances are low. It’s an extreme case of plot convenience.

Now they’re on the same bed! JUST MAKE OUT ALREA


DY. Cease and desist with this sexually charged GCSE English Lit session.


They don’t kiss.

Beatrice’s reaction to the sad lack of kiss is all of our reaction to the sad lack of kiss.

Back to the less happy side of the story and Don has manage to make Hero look like a liar to Claude. Which fills in a crucial plot hole in the original Shakespeare as originally it was only Don John’s word against Hero’s, making Claudio look like an idiot and an asshole. This Claudio/Claude has evidence that Hero can’t be trusted. Even if it’s the evidence of a whiny little man who can’t operate cameras properly. (The clues were there from the start)

It’s time for the wedding. This can only go well. Claude looks constipated, Benedict is cracking inappropriate jokes and Beatrice has chosen to go bra-free, placing this production firmly in the 2000s.

“You’re beautiful. I’m sorry” – and with that, Gary from Miranda turns this into the wedding from hell.

And it is nasty. This version goes SO DARK. Less hair pulling and set destruction, but lots of verbal mud flinging. Props to Hero who shouts right back, and extra credit to this version’s Leonato/Leonard who sensibly sides with his daughter in the face of her psycho fiance. And rather than fainting, Hero storms out of the church in a flurry of lace, tulle and righteous fury.

The chapel scene that follows is beautifully scored (take note, Branagh) and other than a final awkward sex joke, the loving moment between Benedict and Beatrice is genuinely beautiful. And topped off with a hug that feels more appropriate and loving than a kiss would have been.

Beatrice’s exhortation to “kill Claude”, however, comes across as near-sociopathic. Probably because duels are a little frowned upon in this period, even if the victim in question is a colossal asshat with poor wedding etiquette.

Steamy stuff from the BBC

But it’s followed by a hot angsty kiss, complete with dramatic bouquet ejection (still not an innuendo). DAMN.

Claude and Don are drunk together and this is utterly unacceptable. I am not well versed in male drinking/dating etiquette but I feel like a line has been crossed here for Claude to be drinking with the man that ruined his wedding. Even if Gary from Miranda makes a very convincing drunk.

But what is this? Hero has made a highly irregular appearance post-wedding! Psst, Hero, everyone knows that girls that might have had sex one time are supposed to hide away and fake death while everyone else decides what happens to you…
And rather than allow the patriarchy to decide her fate, she smacks Don in the face.
It’s great.

And then, alas, she falls backwards into a pillar because there is only so far you can bend the plot before you have to abandon it all together. And the plot demands an unconscious Hero because in Much Ado, men only begin to feel bad after an instance of serious injury or death.

That’s a LOT of blood. Maybe they had some left over from Macbeth.

This adaptation has committed to going darker than most can go, since unlike in the normal productions where the audience knows it’s a fake-out, Hero’s life is in serious danger here due to the cruel manipulations of one man.

I’m sort of missing the local news stories right now. I could do with a welly wanging tournament to lighten things up a bit.

But in the midst of all of this, there is some happy news as Benedict finally makes amends for standing Beatrice up in the pre-credits scene. I would still have taken the wine, personally.

Claude and Hero’s story is wrapped up in a far more progressive manner, with Hero refusing to jump straight back into bed with a man so easily fooled that he dumped her and got drunk with his own enemy. Feminism: 1. Claude: 0.

But what is this? Another wedding? Surely Hero hasn’t changed her mind that quickly?

And with that, BBC’s cool, trendy and actually very competent production comes to an end.

Local News Story Count: 16 (my favourite was the news that Swanage has appointed its new Town Crier)
Not Cricket Rating: It’s Almost Cricket. It’s a genuinely very funny version, if occasionally a little heavy handed.

Much Review About Nothing: The BBC Edition

Much Review About Nothing

This week’s version of Much Ado About Nothing is a BBC classic, released in 1984 as part of their efforts to film all of Shakespeare’s plays. It was one of the last, despite being scheduled to air in 1978 at the beginning of the mammoth Shakespeare-athon that the BBC organised. Why? Well, as it turns out, there was an entire other version shot with Penelope Keith from The Good Life, but that version was canned and a whole new Much Ado was shot with a different cast.

And what a cast! The bloke from My Family, Lance Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army and that woman who was on Strictly Come Dancing once all make appearances here. And what did Kate, Kosi and I think of it? Well…it’s a much more staid affair than the Branagh – it’s actually quite hard to imagine anyone having any sort of naughty business in this version of Messina, so the idea of Hero having too much is similarly a stretch. But, without further ado (about nothing), here is Much Review About Nothing: The BBC Edition.

And after a very long and stately title sequence, we are off! Gosh, that is an enormous lion. Not live, sadly, but very square and looks distinctly Styrofoam.

How does that hat even stay on his head?

What is the point of the Messenger’s hat? It’s literally defying gravity here, hanging onto 75% of the side of his head, and it’s definitely not keeping any other part of his head warm.

I see this production also belongs to the well worn tradition of giving Hero as few lines as possible, because everyone knows that silence = chastity.

We’re five minutes in and already Cherie Lunghi as Beatrice is carrying most of this scene. Everyone else seems to have got the memo to look like you’re mentally planning a dinner party for once this day’s filming is done.

The men have entered! No horses or shouting in this version, just a casual stroll through the fakest orchard I have ever seen, against the least realistic landscape of Messina anyone has ever painted. But I suppose this was the second time round so maybe they were cutting corners on this one.

You have to admit there is a striking resemblance

Robert Lindsay as Benedict with the beard and the moustache bears a striking resemblance to Robin Hood from the first Shrek film.
He also has an incredible blusher on. Damn, Benedict. That blusher is poppin’.

Lunghi and Lindsay almost feel like they’re overacting in this moment, but I think it’s probably because they are the only two who are actually acting. Everyone else in the background has been deactivated into a sort of standby, BBC-actors-doing-Shakespeare stock pose.

I also appreciate that Lindsay is playing Benedict angrier than is the norm – it places him on an interesting line between clown and actually cruel that people often miss in the character.

This version of Claudio, played by Robert Reynolds, appears to have forgone emotion in favour of more buckles on his fancy red leather doublet. There are definitely more buckles than facial expressions in this scene from him.

Hey, they’ve left in the scene which is basically never done, where Antonio tells Leonato things we all already know. But dammit, the BBC is nothing if not faithful to the text, often at the detriment of pace, entertainment and technical aptitude.
Leonato’s costumes are all fabulous here, but this one in particular is reminiscent of a fancy dress Pope outfit.

And we’re back in the cellar again for Don John! Seriously, guys, let the poor man have some sunlight. Maybe he’s not evil, just suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The baddies have been colour coded for our convenience, so it’s nice and easy to identify accomplices. Such as Conrad, who in this version looks like a budget Alan Rickman from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Nobody has moved more than their chin for the last five minutes. I assume this is a rule for BBC Shakespeare, to emphasise how seriously they take it.

Why does everyone in Shakespeare insist on walking around in straight lines at parties?! We’ve been through this; it’s neither practical nor comfortable, it just makes you look like you’re lining up for a particularly vicious game of British Bulldog.
Also – the extra in the green dress on the back row just nearly fell over. She styled it out like some Renaissance-y dance move though so it’s OK.

We interrupt this serious period Shakespeare to bring you that bit from Insidious where they’re all in some kind of circus hell

THOSE MASKS. I’m going to have actual nightmares.

We’re 20 minutes in and Hero has just had her first line. Happy days. She said it with such enthusiasm; it’s like she knows she won’t get many more.

These dances have so much hopping in them. Is this something we’re missing out on? Should someone restart a hopping craze for the 21st Century?

Kate has quite correctly pointed out that the man in the background has an enormous drum (oo-er) but no apparent intention of playing it. There are also more Styrofoam lions dotted about the place like very regal trip hazards.

I think Benedict is drunk. Or maybe Robert Lindsay was, and couldn’t be bothered to wait til he was sobered up to film. They did this thing in a week, you know. No time to wait around for sobriety. He’s also flagrantly breaking the fourth wall here, which is a little disconcerting as it’s less House of Cards style suave, and more manic.

“You, who have stolen his bird’s nest” – and by bird’s nest, he does mean vagina. Naughty.
Also, for a big, mean and scary villain, Don John’s villainous efforts have so far added up to upsetting Claudio a little bit over a small misunderstanding at a party, which is a big deal in Jane Austen and rather less impressive here. He’s no Iago.

Does Claudio still know he’s in shot? It looks like he’s been put onto standby mode again and is staring blankly in the corner of the screen. He’s so unresponsive that Leonato basically attaches Hero to him before he gives any sign of life.

They then have a very awkward first kiss while Leonato stands way to close to them. Dude. Personal space. They’re trying to hatch their first emotion together.

We slow fade into a closeup of Don John as he realises that his first plan was neither very effective, or even particularly evil. Meanwhile, Borachio is acting pretty much exclusively through his eyebrows. If they go any lower, they might actually swallow the rest of his face up. Where is Keanu Reeves when you need him? “Too slippery to stay in shot” – Kosi.

And we’re back in the orchard for the famous tricking scenes! Maybe this is where the pace will pick up?

I have no idea what game Benedict is are supposed to be playing with oranges. The fact that they are being used as balls confirms my suspicion that everything in this orchard is fake, and probably a prop from a previous BBC Shakespeare though.
He’s also definitely undone his shirt quite some way since the first scene.

Oh, now he’s thrown, attempted to catch and dropped the orange rather anti-climatically. That was probably a mistake but heaven forbid anyone reshoots a scene here. Instead, it shall remain where it is while Benedict goes back to breaking the fourth wall. It’s like he’s the only one who knows about the Matrix.

Goodness me, that is an enormous lute. Not an innuendo.

This scene is being played like a Parents Evening Meeting, as Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio very solemnly discuss how disappointed they are in Benedict. Guys. Up the pace a little. Or maybe try a new emotion. Is there an expansion pack that only Beatrice and Benedict got loaded with?

Claudio is continually wandering in and out of shot, sort of like his programming has malfunctioned. He keeps pausing like he’s a Sim that just had an action cancelled.

Benedict is so shocked at these (very somber) revelations that he’s dropped yet another fake orange. Also, his shirt is so low now that there is a very real danger of a nip slip.

We interrupt this Elizabethan comedy to bring you Oliver Twist

Benedict appears to have caught the Parents Evening bug, as his delivery of most of his most famous monologue comes across less like excitement and romance, and more like lesson planning for a Year 8 Maths class. “The world must be peopled” is usually a hysterical line, and it sadly falls very, very flat here.

Oh dear. The BBC have been faithful to the point of leaving in all of the racism and antisemitism that is usually quietly disposed of.

We’re onto the next tricking scene and Hero has some lines! She’s determined to make the most of them too, and has dressed as a giant yellow napkin to make sure she is the centre of attention. Ursula, meanwhile, is modelling something which looks a bit more like you could buy it for an exorbitant price from Urban Outfitters.

Beatrice has been successfully tricked, and is also now breaking the fourth wall. Maybe it’s an achievement to unlock – once you’ve felt more than four emotions, you reach level two and become aware of the cameras. At level four, you realise that the entire orchard is fake and you are in fact on a cheap soundstage.

We’re in some sort of drawing room now, and it looks like it’s been filled up with all of the spare props from old history documentaries. I think Don Pedro has a game going where he tries to touch each one before the scene is over, as he’s worked his way through two silver goblets and a decorative globe within two lines.
Claudio has come dressed as the sort of gift bag that you put wine in.

This scene contains a much smaller lute than before. Still not an innuendo.
I’m also not sure Benedict has seen one before as he’s holding it by the neck and swinging it ineffectually.

Don John has literally popped out of thin air, and Don Pedro is so surprised by this that he dribbles into his beard. This is some high brow film making here.

This scene is actually played in a really interesting way as Claudio is far angrier with Don John than with Hero. Which makes an awful lot of sense given that it’s not only upsetting to Claudio, it’s also pretty offensive to the woman he loves to suggest that she is immoral. It still suffers from being played incredibly slowly, though.
Claudio throwing water over Don John is a neat bit of direction, but would have been more effective if it looked like it was done out of anger, rather than just because he had a programming malfunction and lost control of his arm.

We interrupt this sunny Italian setting to bring you the long lost music video for We Three Kings of Orient Are

Clive Dunn’s beard is no less majestic for being visibly fake.

Borachio and Conrad have arrived to drunkenly spill some secrets. Except that I’ve never seen two supposedly drunk people look more sober. Perhaps all of these scenes have gone on so long that they were drunk to begin with, but have since had time to sober up.

There’s not been an ornamental lion for a few scenes and I’m starting to miss them. A relic of happier scenes.

It’s time for the wedding and everyone has their shiniest clothing on. Claudio has gone to the effort of stapling a large ornamental tablecloth to his back, which is surprising given that he knows this wedding is a no-go.

Claudio is now casually renouncing Hero for maybe having sex with the man with the powerful eyebrows. Everyone is quite sedate about this. The extras are very calmly filing out of the church, probably to take advantage of the free banquet before it all gets put away.

Kudos to the director – they have at least left Hero’s lines in this scene rather than have her faint more or less on the spot, which is cool. And she is making the most of them to display a full three emotions, two and a half more than Claudio.

Oh no, I tell a lie – Claudio just had a big shout! A whole feeling, just to himself! Admittedly it lasts for two seconds, then he returns to standby and stares blankly into space again.

There is so little movement in this entire film that Hero fainting in the middle of the church actually feels like a jump scare.

Meanwhile, Benedict is hovering in the corner of the scene like a morally upright, wisecracking Quality Street chocolate in his shiny red and gold wedding get up.

The chapel scene in this version is darker than in others, perhaps because they’ve been a bit more bitter and less light hearted about their relationship in previous scenes. It’s less sweet and more tense but actually works well with that, and the lack of a kiss where it is traditionally placed is a sensible omission since it keeps this tension up. It’s a shame that the rest of the film can’t sustain the darker mood.

We’re back to the prison and the Sexton is not even pretending to write anything down; he’s just wiggling his prop quill over his prop parchment with no intention of making contact. Budget Alan Rickman looks utterly fed up and Clive Dunn’s beard has somehow gotten even less convincing.

The giant lion is back! I am pleased.

Pretty much all of the characters are wearing black now, and although there may be a more practical reason like mourning colours or whatever, I prefer the idea that Don John has unintentionally started a new craze for Scandinavian chic, 500 years before the rest of us caught on.

Well, that escalated quickly. What is usually played as a small spat between Antonio and Claudio has turned into Antonio chasing him around the giant lion with a visibly plastic sword. Where was this passion for the rest of the play? Maybe we just need more Antonio in our lives.

The watch have arrived to resolve the whole conundrum, and Verges appears to have become aware of the audience as well! Unless Clive Dunn just forgot he wasn’t supposed to be looking at the camera.

We interrupt this family friendly production to bring you Final Destination 7: Shakespeare’s Revenge

How did they manage to smuggle a brass band into the funeral? It’s like a really macabre version of the opening scene in Love Actually.

We’re into the final scene and everyone is wearing colours again! Perhaps most conspicuously, Don Pedro is dressed like a really fabulous set of road markings, accompanied by a bedazzled man bun.

I suppose it would be too much to hope for a few more emotions this late in the game, and true to form, Claudio’s reaction to the love of his life being mysteriously resurrected is one of mild confusion and apathy.
But never mind that because, in true Elizabethan style, this adaptation ends with couples alternately hopping erratically and making out.

Scenes with Conspicuous Styrofoam Lions: A staggering 23 scenes
Not Cricket Rating: It’s not really cricket. There are redeeming features but it’s just a bit too slow and staid to be considered entertaining.