Prince Edmund (Rowan Atkinson) is a man who desperately wants to be
king - but no, he is only the King's (John Savident) second-born, and
while his effeminate brother Henry (Robert Bathurst) spends his days in
blissful idleness waiting for the crown to land on his head, Edmund is
entursted with all sorts of ungrateful tasks, like organizing the
entertainment for his mother's (Elspet Gray) birthday. And does he get the
tiniest thank you for that?
Nope, his father even gives away Edmund's
lands to a Scottish warhero, McAngus (Alex Norton), just because he
doesn't give a shit about his second-born. Edmund wants to have his
revenge on McAngus, or to put it otherwise, he wants to murder him - but
killing him just like that wouldn't sit well with daddy, who likes McAngus
and would be sure to find out Edmund to be the culprit ... so Edmund has a
cunning plan to put up a play for mommy's birthday, at the climax of which
McAngus is hanged - and just "by accident", the hanging would be
a real one. Nobody could blame Edmund for an accident, now could they?
the little play, McAngus gets roaringly drunk, and just before his death
scene (which would also be his death), he tells Edmund about letters in
his possession that would prove Edmund's brother to be not the son of the
King but of McAngus' father - in other words a bastard, which would
disqualify him as heir to the throne. However, before McAngus can hand
over these letters to Edmund, he is about to be hanged on stage by Edmunds
henchmen Percy (Tim McInnerny) and Baldrick (Philip Fox), and Edmund has
to go to quite some length to save him.
The next day, Edmund tries to
prove his brother to be a bastard, but by more careful examination in
front of everyone it turns out that not his brother but Edmund himself is
the bastard. To distract everyone's attention from that fact, Edmund
immediately challenges McAngus to a duel, defeats him and stabs him - only
to discover Baldrick has handed him a trick sword, upon which he has to
beg McAngus for forgiveness on top of everything else ...
In the end,
Edmund is at least allowed to get a little bit of satisfaction when he
tricks McAngus into sticking his head into a cannon and ... well, take a
It is regarded as common knowledge that the first season
of Black Adder, in which the lead character is portrayed as
a hapless clown, is pretty shitty, and that it has to be credited to
writer Ben Elton, who only joined the series with Black Adder II,
to have turned him into the ruthless schemer everyone has come to love.
This Ben Elton-less original and unaired pilot however is proof to the
contrary, it already shows Rowan Atkinson at the top of his game as
ruthless schemer, with next to no clown-stuff. God knows who decided this
was not the way to go with the (first) series that would follow, and
interestingly the pilot was later remade with Atkinson in clown-mode as
episode 2 of the first series, Born to be King.
However, all is
not great about this pilot, the slapstick for instance is rather sloppily
put onto screen, the chemistry of the characters is not quite there, and
especially the character of Baldrick, the despicable but loveable weirdo
as portrayed by Tony Robinson throughout the rest of the series, remains
totally pale and disappointingly ordinary as portrayed by Philip Fox.
at least fans of the series should give this one a try, as they will not