Consider the ways in which ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ not only teaches us about the history and conditions of World War One, but also makes us share the characters feelings, and so sympathise with the soldiers involved in that war
‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ is a highly entertaining and very popular comedy series. It is, however more than just a comedy; it helps the audience understand many things about the First World War. In the episode ‘Goodbyee’, we see what life was like in the trenches on the front line, especially is what food and drink they had and what overall conditions were like in the trenches. It also says things about soldier’s feelings before they went ‘over the top’. The soldiers feel very nervous and are scared, they show this by trying to fool the general believing them that they were ill.
The programme teaches us about the conditions in which the soldiers lived. Blackadder’s makes up sarcastic comments during the programme. This says that the trenches were full of water, especially after rain and that they were not a very nice place to live in. People got trench foot. Trench foot was a common disease that was caught in the water in the trenches, a lot of soldiers had this before the war was over. This caused a lot of problems in the trenches. Blackadder says that 2 million men had died so far and that they had gone no further than an asthmatic ant with a large amount of shopping. This says that they had contributed to the war but it didn’t have any effect.
The programme teaches us that world war one was very different from previous wars. Captain Darling is saying that all the battles in earlier times were, easier because the British chose weaker opponents that they won easily. World War One is different to this because England didn’t have the upper hand, this time they were weaker, they had twin rifles and wooden sticks, whereas the Germans had machine guns and bunkers.
The programme teaches us that many people died needlessly. Blackadder’s joke says that everyone who goes ‘over the top’ will end up dead without a chance of survival, no matter what happens they will get taken out by shell fire or machine guns. George says that he was the only one left of his group, all of the others that were with him had died previously in the war. Blackadder says that two million men had died so far and that they had gone no further than “an asthmatic ant with a large amount of shopping.”
The programme teaches us that the average soldier did not understand what the war would really be like, and was badly trained and prepared for it. Propaganda was introduced by Lord Kitchener, he made the famous phrase “your country need you”. Baldrick’s thoughts of the war were that no one would be hurt and that war would be great fun, shooting Germans all day. Baldrick trained for the war by bayoneting sacks of hay until it was shredded all over the floor. This would not of been any use to him at any point in the war, except if a German got up to the trench line, he didn’t realise he would have to kill anyone. The public were told that the war was good for them.
I will now be looking very closely at the last ten minutes of the programme. I will focus on the way visual images and special sound effects make us feel certain things about the soldiers who died, and those in charge of the war.
The scene where Melchett gives Darling his orders to go to the front line is very effective at appealing to the audiences emotions. The whole room where Melchett gives Darling his orders is very dark and gloomy. A bright light appears on the set. The Camera closes in on Darling’s face when he realises that he will be going to fight on the front line.
This symbolises that when someone dies, they supposedly see a bright light before they go to heaven and light at the end of the tunnel. When Melchett tells Darling that he is going to go ‘over the top’. This makes the audience feel some sympathy for Darling because, he doesn’t want to go ‘over the top’. After Melchett has told Darling where he is going, and the driver arrives to take him to the front line, there is another bright light surrounding Darling, and a dark patch in the middle, this says to the audience that he was going to die when he went over the top. The camera looks down on Darling; this is so that the audience can get a view of his expressions from different angles and so you can really see how much he is panicking about going over the top and dying this also shows that he is of a low status and has to follow orders of those who are of a higher status than him.
The setting and props in Field-Marshall Haig’s office are effective in informing the audience about Haig. We see Haig thoughtlessly knock down lots of soldiers on his desk, this shows that he has no feeling for any of his men on his desk, this symbolises what is going to happen to the soldiers that are going to go over the top the next morning, he knocks them down to symbolise that the soldiers are going to end up dead. These fallen soldiers are then swept up by Haig and thrown over his shoulder, this would show that going over the top was a pointless tactic that will cost a lot of lives and never gain anything.
He threw them over his shoulder to show how useless they were to him. This shows us that he had no respect for the soldiers that he was sending over the top into no-mans land. Haig stands one of the soldiers up when he gives advice to Blackadder, this symbolises Blackadder’s life being saved because he wouldn’t be going over the top. They used a real person in this programme to symbolise that the programme wasn’t just a big joke. Haig’s office is brightly coloured and luxurious, but this image is juxtaposed with an image of the dull and dingy trench bunk rooms that all of the soldiers had to live in for 3 years during the war. This would make the audience feel slightly sympathetic towards the soldiers, because people in a higher rank would be treated a far lot better than the soldiers in the trenches were.
The final moments of the programme are particularly moving. Whilst the soldiers stand and wait to go over the top in the trenches, we hear the constant sounds of shellfire in the background. This symbolises that as soon as they get up into no man’s land they are either going to be killed by machine gun fire of shells falling and exploding on the ground. The background noise of gunfire and shelling stops as the men wait to go over the top. This builds up tension in everyone, because they are waiting to go, some are scared, some are excited. When the whistle goes they rush up and release all of their tension.
The men are filmed in slow motion as they advance over into no man’s land. This is done so that you can see that this programme was not just made for sarcasm and a laugh it meant that there was a real meaning behind all of Blackadder’s sarcasm and jokes. The Blackadder theme tune is also played in slow motion, this again builds up emotion in the audience, and it also makes sense to play the music in slow motion as the actual filming is done in slow motion. The picture becomes quite hazy as the men are shot at; this is done so that you cannot actually see the men getting shot at, this makes you wonder whether they are still alive, or whether they have died from machine gun fire, it also give the soldiers point of view.
I will now explain some of the effects of the ending of ‘Goodbyee’. The picture gradually turns from colour to black and white; this symbolises the time that has passed by. The picture then changes to a poppy field, this is done in memory of all those who died during WWI and gave their lives up for their country. There is total silence for a few seconds, so the audience can reflect what has happened. This bird song resembles peace at the end of the war and that there is no more fighting, the war was over.
I have shown that we learn a great deal about the First World War, and what it must have been like for those involved just by watching this one episode of Blackadder. The use of sound and visual effects makes the audience think very carefully about the war, and because we get to know the characters and like them, also they make us laugh and their large use of sarcasm makes the whole thing more enjoyable. We feel sympathy for the actors too.