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All's Well That Ends Well On Screen

Television adaptations of Shakespeare's bitter, cynical 'romance'

Main image of All's Well That Ends Well On Screen

First produced 1602-03 and published in the First Folio of 1623, this was sourced from the tale of Giletta Narbone from Boccaccio's The Decameron. A sour comedy of manners, whose title is revealed to be ironic in the extreme, it is regarded as one of Shakespeare's 'problem plays' because the central relationship between Helen and Bertram is anything but conventionally romantic: she is determined to ensnare him by any means necessary, while he is so horrified by the idea that he regards going to war as an attractive alternative.

Although two British films exist under the title All's Well That Ends Well, the trade paper Bioscope confirms that the 1912 Urbanora film had nothing to do with Shakespeare, and it's likely this was also true of the Cricks film of 1913, at least if its cast list is any guide. This seems to have been quite a popular title for silent comedies: similar non-Shakespeare efforts were also produced in the US (1907), France (1910) and Italy (1912).

The play itself has been adapted twice for television, firstly in a version directed by Claude Whatham for the BBC's Theatre 625 slot. Essentially a recording of John Barton's acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production starring Catherine Lacey (the Countess), Ian Richardson (Bertram), Lynn Farleigh (Helen), Clive Swift (Parolles) and Sebastian Shaw (the King), it was broadcast on 3 June 1968.

The second version was made specifically for television as part of the completist BBC Television Shakespeare project, directed by Elijah Moshinsky and starring Angela Down and Ian Charleson as Helen and Bertram, supported by Donald Sinden (the King), Peter Jeffrey (Parolles), Celia Johnson (the Countess) and Michael Hordern (Lafeu). It was broadcast on 4 January 1981, and is generally regarded as one of the better productions of that notoriously variable series, especially with regard to its visual confidence (Moshinsky was a hugely experienced stage director, but this was his television debut). A Shakespeare in Perspective documentary was shown the previous evening, in which the play's themes were discussed by the writer Barry Took.


Theatre 625, BBC, tx. 3/6/1968, d. Claude Whatham
BBC Television Shakespeare, BBC2, tx. 4/1/1981, d. Elijah Moshinsky

Shakespeare in Perspective, BBC2, tx. 3/1/1981 , p. Barry Took

Michael Brooke

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