TV Review: Upstart Crow, Episode 5, What Bloody Man Is That?

I couldn't see a co-writing credit alongside Ben Elton's name* for William Shakespeare, but as anyone with a basic grasp of English literature will spot this week's episode is a comical rewrite of Macbeth. And a pretty nifty one, with David Mitchell as the bard convinced that he has committed murder at the behest of his scheming wife so that they can move to the big house in Stratford before prices rise out of reach.

So while you know how the plot is going to play out the fun is watching the way Elton tweaks the tale. Shakespeare's rival is a Scottish neighbour – cue lots of William Wallace/blue paint gags – and a mix up between milk and white paint leads Shakespeare to think he has done him in. When Mrs Shakespeare starts washing her hands it looks as if she is in on it too. Or is she just being hygenic after using the lavvy?

A pretty lively ghost-at-the-banquet scene pulls all the characters and the plot together. This is also the cue for the weekly dose of Gervais-baiting from Spencer Jones as actor Will Kempe. The actors are providing the post-prandial entertainment and Kempe wants to do something Italian, superior and clever about a fly but it goes over their heads. Instead they laugh at Burbage being kicked up the arse. It's a comment on broad comedy Gervais made himself in Extras with the When The Whistle Blows sitcom-within-a-sitcom. 

Elton has a pretty straightforward template here – Shakespeare in a Blackadder style – and this week in particular he barely needs to knock off a plot. Instead he can just lob in jokes that he might do in a stand-up routine but rewritten for the Elizabethan era - bad public transport, sulky teenagers, a bit of smut and a bit of politics – but it all slots together rather neatly. I doubt if there will be a second series as Upstart Crow is tied in with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this year, but with one episode left this series has slipped down nicely and done much to revive Elton's sitcom status.

Upstart Crow, Mondays, 10pm, BBC2. Catch up here.

Read review of Episode 1 here.

Read review of Episode 2 here.

Read review of Episode 3 here.

Read review of Episode 4 here.


*Actually I can't see any writing credits at the end of the episode....**

**Although it does say "Written and created by Ben Elton" at the start.


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