Androcles and the Lion
George Bernard Shaw
BBC DVD Collection
Review by Philip Fisher
It seems fair to assume that a production of this light hearted fable featuring Billy Connolly as a very Glaswegian Greek would be an easy way to start the epic journey.
First seen in 1984, this does indeed prove to be a gentle comedy, although it does have a serious core. Quite who directed it is unclear from the disc, although Shaw's biographer Michael Holroyd is credited with a hand in the series.
The opening scene featuring the Christian Andy and his shrewish wife is extremely funny and ends bizarrely as, after the bearded animal lover removes a thorn from the paw of a lion, Tommy, given mighty throat by the famous animal impressionist Percy Edwards, the pair end up in a delightful waltz of mutual pleasure and admiration.
The nobility of the Christians is demonstrated not only by Androcles but also by his colleagues who will be forced into passive duels with Gladiators (the males) and thrown to the lions (the females and our hero).
Shaw does a nice job in presenting archetypes with the tiny Anna Calder-Marshall (recently seen in the Pinter celebration at the Gate) charming as Lavinia. She is the kind of woman whose Christian belief is so deep and sincere that one can believe that she would calmly allow herself to be martyred in the mouth of a wild animal believing that a heavenly future was just around the corner.
By contrast, her brother Ferrovius, played by Bernard Bresslaw, is a gigantic hulk who is desperate to be good but whose amazing physicality may well make martyrdom impossible.
John Tordoff provides a good contrast as a wimpish co-religionist whose lack of courage is rewarded with an early death that may prevent his entry into heaven.
Everybody must surely know the way in which this hour-long production ends but that detracts nothing from the feel-good factor that is inevitable when Andy and Tommy dance once more and then entertain themselves at the expense of Peter Copley's Caesar who is far from imperial, at least when confronted with a rather human lion.
Androcles and the Lion proves to be a very pleasant and humorous start to a project that offers so many further riches over the next few weeks or months.