This award-winning BBC production brings life, enormous appeal, and intelligence to a play criminally underperformed. It's a pleasure to watch ... and re-watch .... and re-watch.
Let's start with the fact that the production itself has been hailed far and wide for its beauty and visual precision. Director Elijah Moshinsky patterned it after paintings of Vermeer, and even though this may be unknown to the viewer, it has a remarkable subliminal impact.
Now for the cast:
Angela Down is truly the perfect Helena (the heroine of the play). She looks the part -- comely yet intellectual -- and speaks her lines with the perfect emotional fit. Most importantly, her diction and enunciation, and the speed at which she says the bard's words, make everything she says perfectly understandable and perfectly apt within that emotional fit. The viewer never has to wonder "What did she just say?" or "What does that mean?" Nonetheless the lines are fluid, musical, emotional, and very human. To me, this is the sign of a true Shakespearean actor.
Celia Johnson as the Countess Roussillon (Bertram's mother and Helena's guardian) is equally fantastic. She's a pleasure to watch and listen to. Consummate acting.
Ian Charleson as Bertram, Helena's very reluctant love object, is suitably sullen and morose, yet we see the physical beauty and the inherent charm, nobility, and charisma which attracts Helena to him. Charleson, a very internal actor, never overplays the part. To some extent he sometimes almost underplays it, occasionally speaking softly whilst his compatriots declaim more loudly or forcefully. Yet he holds our attention and fits the role very well.
The supporting cast is almost without exception quite admirable -- some remarkably so. Excellent casting, and a lot of excellent acting.
All in all, a very good production which makes the play easy to understand and enjoy.