To call Beckett on Film a TV series feels like somewhat of a stretch. A more accurate description would be that it is the result of a project to make cinematic versions of Samuel Beckett, some of which were then broadcast on television. Still, it is what it is and this was a series that won a South Bank Show award for Best TV Drama so what do I know.
Over the course of the 19 episodes I was given a crash course in the oeuvre of Samuel Beckett to the point that I have now seen more Beckett plays adapted than I have Shakespeare. I guess that’s a weird brag to unleash at some point upon some unsuspecting colleague at work…
Anyway. Whilst I would agree that it is a noble, and maybe even cool, idea to put all these plays on film (especially as some of these just aren’t performed too often) the results are a bit of a mixed bag. This is not necessarily because of the directors and actors involved, but because my own reactions to the plays themselves.
You have some like Happy Days, Play and Come and Go which are engaging because of their symbolism, weird staging or both. However, you also have the likes of That Game, which failed to engage, or Endgame, where words do not exist to explain just how bleak it was.
For most people going into watching Beckett on Film, the play that will attract their immediate attention. After all, this is the play people will have heard of and it is meant to be one of the most significant plays ever written. It, being Beckett’s magnum opus and the first play on the project list, is also the perfect introduction into the remaining 18 plays you will see to complete series.
You have his nihilistic views, interesting take on staging (which, for me, reaches it’s peak in Come and Go), love of repetition and the nudge that everything you’re going to watch will be unlike anything you have see before. I mean, how do you explain the limited staging of Act Without Words II? I mean I’ve watched it and I’ve read the explanation on Wikipedia and I’m still not sure how to go about explaining it.
As a cultural education I cannot help but recommend watching Beckett on Film. In terms of it being an engaging TV series… I’m not so convinced.