BBC Video // 1969 // 121 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 14th, 2009
Two men wearing pantyhose kissing on British television for the first time.
In 1969 Sir Ian McKellen starred in a staging of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II at the Edinburgh Festival. The production was captured for posterity by the BBC, and caused a sensation when it aired because it featured a first in Britain at the time. The play showed the love of two men, and even allowed them to (gasp)...lock lips! It's tame by today's standards, but it was all so revolutionary at the time. Outside of shock value for 1969, the play is staged beautifully and acted impeccably. It's nice to see McKellen in his formative years taking on a classic that has been adapted time and again, and hard to believe he only "outed" professionally within the last decade, with this being a watershed moment in his career. This was all a good forty years ago! Now McKellen is an icon, a fey wizard who leads hairy footed young lovers to a magical ring, a pimped out guy in a helmet with metal-bending magnetic powers only matched by equally strong unrequited love for Patrick Stewart. Yet here he is the average gay guy in tights getting busy with another man while they spout off four hundred year old verses at each other.
The Christopher Marlowe play sounds a lot like Shakespeare, and it telescopes the entire reign of Edward II in to two hours. It opens with the return of Piers Gaveston from exile, a man Edward II has great passion for. We see all the problems this causes, and it seems most of the grief stems from this unfortunate love. We get political power plays, deep discussions of matters of the crown, and endless speeches about how great Gaveston is. The 1969 production has lots of psychedelic swirling colors found on a simple set of spirals and chains. Funny to notice, the period perfect costumes often are topped off with tie-dyed capes which only actors in 1969 could wear without irony. The thespians move around and speak at a fast clip, and there is hardly a breath taken between lines or scenes.
The DVD from BBC Video looks exactly like what you'd expect a video recording of a play in 1969 would look, meaning it's not spectacular. It has that unmistakable look of television from back in the day. Somehow detail still looks pretty good, and colors are not washed out as you'd expect. It is all presented in the original fullscreen accompanied by a mono soundtrack. Interestingly enough, the producers of the DVD have included an extra that explores the mystery surrounding the death of Christopher Marlowe in 1593. It's a well done piece, but seems strange given the historical significance of the production featured for being so homoerotic. Where's Ian, and a cool interview about how he feels about all of this now?
Edward II is a notable DVD for several reasons not the least of which is the importance of it to fans of GLBT television and cinema. It will also be a fun watch for people yearning to see English actors slurring out text while swooping around in psychedelic costumes. In truth this is a lively, passionate version of a classic play that certainly deserves to the full DVD treatment. BBC Video has given us a great look at theatre that made history, and a production that marked the arrival of one of the best actors of our time. Just never mind the overstuffed gold cod pieces and swirling colors on most of the fabrics.
A beautifully staged groundbreaking production, Edward II is free to
go. Thank you Ian McKellen for being brave enough to become a pioneer.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Ian McKellen Site