If you”re a Maggie Smith fan who enjoyed watching the Dowager Countess” biting wit or seeing Professor McGonagall”s strict but kind-hearted command of her classroom, you”re in for a treat today.
In the 1960s, when Smith was a fixture at the National Theatre in London, she starred in a production there as one of Shakespeare”s wittiest verbal sparrers, Much Ado About Nothing“s Beatrice.
That production boasted plenty more talent, including Derek Jacobi early in his soon-to-be-acclaimed stage career, Franco Zeffirelli producing the show just before he went on to make his celebrated Romeo and Juliet film, and Smith”s first husband, Robert Stephens, shortly before they got married. Though all that talent on stage together was preserved in a 1967 telecast on BBC, preserving the show forever didn”t appear to be the production”s destiny. Recorded at a time when BBC routinely deleted archive programs (several early Doctor Who episodes were also lost), it seemed lost to the ages.
Then there was an exciting discovery in 2010: a copy of Smith and Zeffirelli”s Much Ado in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It had been loaned to PBS.
BBC Archive Development set to work restoring the recording, and now that restoration”s complete. Today, The Stage dug up a BBC webpage detailing the restoration that includes a clip from the production”s first scene, when Beatrice has a handful of clever burns about Benedick before he arrives and when the two get to have their first “skirmish of wit” of the play. You can see in this production, Smith”s and Stephens” take on the couple has them starting out bickering with quite a bit of flirt, clearly having some fun with their verbal spar before the crowd of house guests. That is until they turn really pissed off at each other, right around when Beatrice insults Benedick”s appearance.
Watch it below!
Take a peek at the comments section for the couple low-quality clips of this Much Ado that have managed to make it onto YouTube since the recording resurfaced in 2010, and you”ll see Bardolaters eager to watch the full telecast. Unfortunately, though, it doesn”t look like it”ll be released to the public in full any time soon. The BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource is currently making it available only to those in formal UK education.