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Dames of Classic Drama 

A companion piece to "Knights of Classic Drama," this documentary outlines some of the early career appearances of Britain's greatest actresses in the BBC Television archives.
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Episode credited cast:
Judi Dench ... (archive footage)
Vanessa Redgrave ... (archive footage)
Diana Rigg ... (archive footage)
Maggie Smith ... (archive footage)
David Tennant ... Narrator
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A companion piece to "Knights of Classic Drama," this documentary outlines some of the early career appearances of Britain's greatest actresses in the BBC Television archives.

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8 November 2015 (UK) See more »

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Rather Sketchy Survey of Some of Our Best-Known Actresses' Early Television Careers
22 November 2015 | by l_rawjalaurenceSee all my reviews

Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren ... five titans of the British stage who have also carved out notable careers on film and television. DAMES OF CLASSIC DRAMA surveys their television careers with the help of material from the BBC archives.

There is only one slight snag: many of these performers have made their televisual names with series from other companies. Dench made her comedy debut in LWT's A FINE ROMANCE; Mirren shone in ITV's PRIME SUSPECT; while Smith has enjoyed a late-career renaissance in DOWNTON ABBEY. Hence this program tended to focus mainly on the actresses' work in the Sixties and Seventies, while overlooking their latter careers entirely.

There were some interesting nuggets. We saw Dench in John Hopkins's landmark quartet of plays TALKING TO A STRANGER; an emotive Redgrave in AS YOU LIKE IT; a dowager-like Smith in THE MILLIONAIRESS; and a sensual Mirren in the RSC's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. These clips were transposed with interviews, some of which were particularly sexist in tone. Michael Parkinson seemed obsessed with breasts and nudity while talking to Mirren and Diana Rigg. Other interviews revealed past predilections for smoking: when Smith talked to Clive Goodwin in a late Sixties program, the two of them happily puffed away and lit up new cigarettes.

As with the companion program KNIGHTS OF CLASSIC DRAMA, it was gratifying to see clips from the BBC's extensive archive. One wonders why the Corporation doesn't repeat some of these programs as examples of classic television from the past. On the other hand, the compilations were a tad thin, reflecting the fact that other companies also had a significant part to play in television's rich dramatic history.


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