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BBC Shakespeare Tragedies DVD Giftbox
BBC Shakespeare Tragedies DVD Giftbox
Actors: Anthony Hopkins, Jan Lapotaire, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Sir John Gielgud
Director: Alvin Rakoff;Herbert Wise;Rodney Bennett;Jack Gold;Jonathan Miller
Genres: Drama
G     2002     15hr 6min

Shakespeare is rightly considered the world's greatest playwright for the soaring beauty of his language, for his profound insight into human nature, for the truths he dramatized and for the realism of the characters he cr...  more »


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Actors: Anthony Hopkins, Jan Lapotaire, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Sir John Gielgud
Director: Alvin Rakoff;Herbert Wise;Rodney Bennett;Jack Gold;Jonathan Miller
Genres: Drama
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance
Studio: Ambrose Video
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/22/2002
Original Release Date: 11/10/1980
Theatrical Release Date: 11/10/1980
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 15hr 6min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 5
SwapaDVD Credits: 5
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 16
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: G (General Audience)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

At Last! The First Part Of The Ambrose Series!
Richard R. Carlton | Ada, MI United States | 10/22/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is an update of this review.....This is the BBC series marketed by Ambrose Video that many colleges and libraries have purchased (see These DVD packages are a very good deal because the original videos are prohibitively expensive (although I broke down and purchased several of the plays that are simply not available on any other media - when was the last theater run you saw of Cymbeline, Henry VIII, or Troilus And Cressida?). The 37 play VHS series is still >$2,500, the DVD series ~$3,000, selected 5 play sets on DVD $150, and individual plays around $100. The series was remarkable in that it actually included all 37 plays in full with a solid set of players (many famous) who worked hard at maintaining as much historical accuracy as possible, but especially with the verbiage.

This set has selected some of the best ones, so it is well worth the expense. The problem is that many of the scenes are less than's very much like watching the filming of the series of plays instead of watching a movie or TV version.....even the Bard himself would have struggled to keep the life in them with no audience. Sometimes the effort for accuracy actually shows in some of the acting. You have to give the various troups credit for sticking to the goals of the series, but realize that it is done with some sacrifices to the thrill and magic at some points.

This set makes a total of 15 of the plays now available at reasonable cost on DVD. There are 3 five play DVDs now available as follows:


Romeo & Juliet
Julius Caesar


Henry V
Richard II
Richard III
Henry IV, Part I
Henry IV, Part II


As You Like It
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice

The Tragedies Series has some of the best, so it is well worth the expense. The problem is that many of the scenes are less than's very much like watching the filming of the series of plays instead of watching a movie or TV version.....even the Bard himself would have struggled to keep the life in them with no audience. Sometimes the effort for accuracy actually shows in some of the acting. You have to give the various troups credit for sticking to the goals of the series, but realize that it is done with some sacrifices to the thrill and magic at some points.

What I like about the BBC series is the hard-to-find All's Well That Ends Well, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Measure For Measure, Henry VI, Henry's nice to see the whole Wars Of The Roses historical series with the same troup.

Here is the information on each play in this series (as given by Ambrose Video):

Perhaps his greatest triumph as a stage play. When the evil Iago plants the seeds of doubt in Othello''s mind about Desdemona''s fidelity, audiences around the world have been held spellbound. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago. A play about relationships, filled with manipulation, deception, jealousy and finally self-understanding. Running Time: 208 minutes

Breaking all conventional rules of drama, Shakespeare creates neither a clear-cut hero nor a Villain. Instead, this great tragedy presents complicated human beings in agonizing conflict with one another, and themselves. Starring Richard Pasco, Keith Michell and Charles Gray as Caesar. Running Time: 161 minutes

This savage tragedy is one of Shakespeare''s most enduringly popular. Told by a trio of witches that he is fated to become King of Scotland, the warrior Macbeth, aided by his wife, in his quest for power murders his king and assumes the throne. The two embark on a guilt-ridden reign of terror. Starring Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotire. Running Time: 148 minutes

One of the great love stories of all time and a ""hit "" for over 400 years. Full of passion and exquisite language, it expresses love in its infinite variety more than any other work in the English language. Stars Sir John Gielgud, Rebecca Saire, Patrick Ryecart. Running Time: 167 minutes

In this richly costumed production, the greatest tragedy ever written maintains all the tension of a murder mystery as it examines the fundamental issues of justice, guilt and death. The director''s innovative film technique creates an intimate performance that succeeds extremely well on small as well as large screen. Hamlet, the most complex of all Shakespeare''s characters is considered the greatest challenge for an actor. Derek Jacobi is a superb choice in the rigorous tradition of Shakespearian acting. Stars Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, Eric Porter and Claire Bloom. Running Time: 222 minutes.

The Best of Shakespeare
viewer | 08/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In this gorgeous set of 5 plays produced by the BBC & Time-Life you get the pleasure of seeing some of the most wonderful talent such as, the late Sir John Gielgud in Romeo & Juliet, Jane Lapotaire in Macbeth, Anthony Hopkins in Othello, Patrick Stewart & Derek Jacobi in Hamlet just to name a few!!! The set comes with a full cast list for all titles and english sub-titles so you can read along. A must-see."
The Gold Standard.
Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 09/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In 1978, the BBC ambitiously set out to produce all of Shakespeare's 37 plays for television. (Alright - so it's 38 ... so they didn't include "The Two Noble Kinsmen," which is cribbed from Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" anyway. But who's counting beans?) With casts featuring the better part of British acting nobility, including some promising (then-)newcomers, the enterprise was completed in two launches with distinct creative approaches and, for all occasional frictions in continuity, remains a one-in-a-kind endeavor: the gold standard every Shakespeare enactment must either meet or fall short of in comparison; for truthfulness to the Bard's intent as much as for stellar acting and production values. Fifteen plays have since been released in sets of five tragedies, comedies and histories: one might've wished for some additions, or more sets overall; but all three compilations are worth their price's every penny.

Laced with murderous schemes, revenge, and the search for justice, love, and peace of mind, Shakespeare's tragedies delve into the human mind's darkest recesses; exploring greed, envy, ambition, guilt, remorse, and pure evil next to compassion, generosity, humility, and innocence, all interwoven in timeless plots unmatched in variety, construction, and richness of characters. Interpretation is substantially left to the actors: Despite Hamlet's litany of directions to the Players appearing in that tragedy's "play-within-the-play" - directions representing Shakespeare's own grievances, including his irritation with comedian Will Kempe's tendency for spotlight-seeking beyond his scenes' actual confines (therefore, "let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them. For [some] will ... set on [the uninformed] spectators to laugh ..., though [meanwhile] some necessary question of the play [must] be considered. That's villanous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it," Hamlet quips) - the ultimate actors' playwright gives few express stage directions, leaving his own players considerable freedom, and making the world wonder, ever since their Globe Theatre premiere: What's driving the Prince of Denmark - madness? revenge? indecision? something else entirely? Is Claudius, that tragedy's king, evil incarnate or a man wrecked with guilt? Is Othello's antagonist Iago bent on revenge because he "hate[s] the Moor," or giddily enjoying his malicious plots' every second? How much capacity for guilt has Macbeth ultimately left: is he truly, thoroughly corrupted, or has something of the king's loyal thane remained inside him?

The set's natural centerpiece, both for its preeminence among Shakespeare's plays and for this production's superb quality, is "Hamlet," the Bard's four-hour-long adaptation of the Danish Amleth saga. As the Prince, Derek Jacobi - the legitimate heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, and mentor to Kenneth Branagh - gives a lifetime's performance: if you only know him as Claudius the Stutterer from the magnificent adaptation of Robert Graves's "I, Claudius," or as Cadfael from the equally magnificent series based on Ellis Peters's books, you're in for a truly unexpected treat. For Jacobi's first love is the theater, and it shows: with near-unmatched insight into Shakespeare's world (particularly this play and its title character), he makes the Prince of Denmark all his own, in a portrayal easily on par with the best in existence. There's no pulling of punches here, no wavering like Olivier's; but no genuine madness, either - just pure, unrestrained passion, often swinging between emotional extremes within seconds: I wonder whether Mel Gibson's vaguely similar approach in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 movie was based on a study of Jacobi's performance. The production also features Patrick Stewart as a Claudius covering emotions from Macchiavellian intrigue to deeply-felt guilt, Claire Bloom as an unrivaled, regal, but very vulnerable Getrude, Eric Porter as scheming master politician Polonius (never mind that Hamlet calls him a "tedious old fool"), Robert Swann as one of the strongest Horatios I've ever seen, Emrys James as a wonderfully congenial Player King, Lalla Ward as a sweet, but not *too* sweet Ophelia, David Robb as impetuous Laertes, Tim Wylton as the First Gravedigger and Peter Glae as Osric (both milking their scenes to optimum, but never over-the-top effect), and an outstanding cast rounded out by Patrick Allen (the Ghost), Ian Charleson (Fortinbras), Jonathan Hyde (Rosencrantz), Geoffrey Bateman (Guildenstern), and Paul Humpoletz (Marcellus).

But while I'd probably have bought this set for "Hamlet" alone, I am equally delighted with the remaining productions: Patrick Ryecart and Rebecca Saire as star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet (through which play we're guided by John Gielgud's Chorus) are every bit as youthfully innocent but determined as Franco Zeffirelli's and Baz Luhrman's Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes; moreover, there's Anthony Andrews's captivatingly flamboyant Mercutio, a young Alan Rickman's brash Tybalt, Michael Hordern's Capulet, and Celia Johnson's Nurse. - In the play that keeps me yelling, "Othello, wake up!!," Anthony Hopkins gives a tour-de-force performance as the Moor ("the part [he'd] always wanted to play," he is quoted); yet, he's almost upstaged by Bob Hoskins's deliciously, mirthfully evil Iago. Penelope Wilton's Desdemona is all blameless righteousness; and the production wouldn't be the same without the spot-on performances of Anthony Pedley (Roderigo), David Yelland (Cassio), and Rosemary Leach (Emilia). - The "Scottish Play"'s impact rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its title character and his lady, and those of Nicol Williamson and - particularly - Jane Lapotaire's breathtaking Lady Macbeth provide strong support indeed for the Thane-of-Glamis-turned-king (and murderer) and his ruthlessly ambitious wife. Brenda Bruce, Eileen Way and Anne Dyson scare you near-witless as the witches, maliciously mock-echoed by James Bolam's Porter, and besides Ian Hogg's Banquo and Tony Doyle's Macduff, among the production's most impressive performances are Jill Baker's and Crispin Mair's (Macduff's wife and son). In Shakespeare's look at the Ides of March from Caesar's murderers' and heir's perspective, finally - that play without heroes or villains - the four principals are well-divided among Richard Pasco (Brutus), Keith Michell (Mark Antony), Charles Gray (Caesar) and David Collings (Cassius), while Virginia McKenna (Portia) and Elizabeth Spriggs (Calphurnia) make the most of roles easily overlooked in weaker actresses' hands.

Also recommended:
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition
The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare: 38 Fully-Dramatized Plays
BBC Shakespeare Histories (Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Richard II, Richard III) DVD Giftbox
Olivier's Shakespeare - Criterion Collection (Hamlet / Henry V / Richard III)
Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet
William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Henry V
Richard III
Peter Brook's King Lear"
viewer | California | 01/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Derek Jacobi's Hamlet is the best I've ever seen, bar none. He gets it exactly right. Patrick Stewart's Claudius is likewise the most interesting and convincing performance of this role. Claire Bloom as Gertrude will break your heart. Only Lala Ward's whiny Ophelia is not up to snuff; she tends to grow a little tiresome. I haven't seen the other videos in this set, so I can't vouch for them. If you don't want to gamble on them, you can order the individual Hamlet video from Ambrose Video ("