She Stoops to Conquer
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Acorn Media.
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Upon its debut in 1773, Oliver Goldsmith’s brilliant comedy of errors, She Stoops to Conquer, was an atypically base and unsentimental installment in English theatre. In fact, were it not for Dr. Samuel Johnson’s (author of the first dictionary) coercion of a theater director, the play may never have reached audiences. With this television adaptation, which originally aired on the Sky Arts channel in Britain, Goldsmith’s clever satire has the opportunity to reach all new audiences.
This word-for-word adaptation is very enjoyable, comic viewing. The performances are great, and the presentation of the play in a 17th-century English manor is fitting. However, it seems the creators of this five-episode series gave no thought to how it would transfer to the screen verbatim. The piece suffers in translation as asides and soliloquies are superfluous in filmic adaptations. It therefore feels and sounds like play, even if it doesn’t look like one. But just as one becomes acclimated to the grammar of classic English dialogue, one quickly adjusts to the theatricality of this production, even if the asides and soliloquies never really click. All its problems aside, the comic luster of Oliver Goldsmith’s original work shines through, making this a must-see for fans of classic theatre.
Also included in this set is a 50-minute documentary called A Gooseberry Fool: Oliver Goldsmith Stoops to Conquer. Actor Simon Butteris, who portrays one of the servants in She Stoops, recounts tales of Goldsmith’s life, and takes on the role of Goldsmith himself, when extensive quotes from the author are used. A greater appreciation of the play is gained from viewing A Gooseberry Fool, where one learns of Goldsmith’s selfless generosity toward the poor; his attempts to overhaul to British comedies of the era, which were of a hollow, sentimental sort; and Goldsmith’s influence on later artistic movements. Also, it is quite surprising to learn how much of She Stoops, a play that may seem a bit farfetched to some in its premise, was in fact autobiographical.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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