Christmas drama: The best specials and new series to watchDec 2 | 6 min read
Man vs Bee star Rowan Atkinson’s 5 best movie and TV roles - from Blackadder to Bean
Comic genius Rowan Atkinson is back on our screens, pitting his wits against a pesky insect in Netflix’s Man vs Bee. We look back at the biggest hits of his 40 year film and TV career.
Since he first burst into the public eye in 1979 as a member of the ground-breaking Not the Nine O’Clock News team, Rowan Atkinson has created a host of comic characters that have proved enduringly popular not just in the UK but right across the world.
Atkinson’s best-loved Not the Nine O’Clock News sketches are a blend of physical comedy and sharp-tongued witticisms and it’s a combination of talents which the actor has exploited ever since, from the acerbic Blackadder to the absurd Mr Bean. His rubber-faced contortions have also stolen scenes in movies, from his big-screen debut in James Bond's Never Say Never Again to Love Actually.
Man vs Bee, Atkinson’s new series of short films on Netflix, sees the 67-year-old prove that age is no barrier to his brand of physical comedy.
In the nine-episode series, Atkinson plays lovable but bumbling dad Trevor. When he lands a new job as a housesitter, Trevor’s first assignment is at a luxurious mansion filled with priceless artwork, classic cars and an adorable dog called Cupcake. But when a bee lands on the scene, can Trevor keep everything under control, or will their raucous rivalry just lead to increasingly disastrous consequences?
The series of 10-minute episodes, which also stars Jing Lusi (Gangs of London), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Green Wing), Greg McHugh (The A Word), India Fowler (White Lines), Claudie Blakely (Call the Midwife) and Tom Basden (Plebs), is released on Netflix from 24 June.
Here are five more favourite TV shows and films from Rowan Atkinson’s career that you can enjoy right now – and a few more movies to spot him in.
Atkinson’s most enduring comic role is actually four roles as he portrayed scheming Edmund Blackadder across 430 years of history.
From the cowardly prince of The Black Adder to the cynical army captain of Blackadder Goes Forth, via Tudor and Regency incarnations, Atkinson and a trusty troupe of co-stars including Tony Robinson, Tim McInerny, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, along with writers Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, created a comedy dynasty that is still fondly remembered – and regularly quoted – to this day.
As well as the four six-episode series, made between 1983 and 1989, the 1988 special Blackadder’s Christmas Carol – which turned Dickens’ morality tale on its head – are all available on BritBox. You’d have to be dumber than Baldrick, thicker than a whale omelette and madder than Mad Jack McMad not to join Blackadder’s trip through time.
The Black Adder, Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third, Blackadder Goes Forth and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol are all available to watch on BritBox.
2. Mr Bean
A year after the witty, wise-cracking Blackadder bade farewell, Atkinson demonstrated his comic versatility by introducing us to a character who barely spoke at all and yet who went on to become one of British television’s most popular exports.
Atkinson had been portraying the buffoonish Bean since his college days in the 1970s, but had put him to one side until the 1987 Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, Canada, when he signed up for the French-speaking bill in order to see how his brand of physical comedy would fare on an international stage.
The routine was a huge success, and on New Year’s Day 1990 ITV broadcast the first of 15 half-hour episodes which ran sporadically until 1995.
But Mr Bean’s citron green Mini didn’t stay in the garage for long. A feature film, called Bean and directed by Atkinson’s former Not the Nine O’Clock News collaborator Mel Smith, came out in 1997, followed by a sequel, Mr Bean’s Holiday, 10 years later.
An animated series and several Comic Relief specials followed before Bean underlined his international fame – the original series has been sold in 245 territories worldwide – by joining the London Symphony Orchestra for a hilarious rendition of the theme to Chariots of Fire at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Watch all 15 episodes of Mr Bean on Netflix, Prime Video and BritBox.
3. Johnny English
In the 1990s, Atkinson starred as bumbling MI7 spy Richard Latham in a series of TV adverts for Barclaycard.
In 2003, the character, now renamed Johnny English, made his big-screen debut in a parody of the James Bond films. With assistant Bough (Ben Miller) and Interpol agent Campbell (Natalie Imbruglia), English – rapidly promoted from a desk job to a front-line secret agent - is assigned to thwart an attempt by Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich) to steal the crown jewels and become King of England.
The film spawned two sequels, 2011’s Johnny English Reborn and 2018’s Johnny English Strikes Again, which sees the agent recalled from retirement for one last mission.
Watch Johnny English and Johnny English Reborn on Prime Video.
4. The Thin Blue Line
Atkinson and Blackadder writer Ben Elton were reunited in 1995 for policing sitcom The Thin Blue Line. Atkinson plays Inspector Raymond Fowler, a fussy, old-fashioned uniformed officer constantly at loggerheads with DI Derek Grim (David Haig), the CID chief at Gasforth Police Station.
Fowler’s colleagues at Gasforth include naïve PC Goody (James Dreyfus, above), old-timer PC Gladstone (Rudolph Walker) and the serious, driven WPC Habib (Mina Anwar). He also has to fend off the sexual advances of desk sergeant Patricia Dawkins (Serena Evans), who just happens to be his partner of 10 years but who does not share his prudishness in physical matters.
Kevin Allen and later Mark Addy co-star as laddish CID officers who work with Grim to wind up Fowler, although it’s the uniformed officer who usually wins the day.
The series features a number of references to Blackadder, including a Sergeant Darling, references to strangely shaped vegetables and an appearance by Stephen Fry as an extremely loud and hare-brained authority figure not unlike General Melchett.
Watch series 1 & 2 of the Thin Blue Line on BritBox and Prime Video.
In a departure from his comic roles, Atkinson took on the role of George Simenon’s French detective Jules Maigret in four feature-length ITV dramas.
Atkinson played the quiet, contemplative Parisian sleuth, best known for puffing on his pipe while considering the clues in violent murder cases.
“I have been a devourer of the Maigret novels for many years and I’m very much looking forward to playing such an intriguing character, at work in Paris during a fascinating period in its history,” the actor said before filming began on the first episode, Maigret Sets a Trap.
It was a brave move by Atkinson, especially as the early 1990s adaptations starring Michael Gambon were relatively fresh in the mind. The series met with a mixed reception, although one reviewer did praise Atkinson for showing his comic chops in the role.
“The Mr Bean actor has a superbly expressive face that crinkles with compassion or hardens into an implacable wall of determination with the flicker of a few muscles,” wrote Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail.
“That face has been the basis of all his comedy, because it can be so wildly contorted. Yet it is also capable of real subtlety.”
Rowan Atkinson's movie roles and cameos
Atkinson has made a number of appearances, occasionally in lead roles but often in hilarious cameos, in a number of movies...
Never Say Never Again (1983, above) as Nigel Small-Fawcett, a Foreign Office representative in the Bahamas who crosses paths with Sean Connery's 007.
The Tall Guy (1989) as Ron Anderson, an obnoxious comic and partner to straight man Dexter (Jeff Goldblum). Writer Richard Curtis based Anderson on Atkinson.
The Lion King (1994) as the hornbill Zazu, the strict majordomo of the pridelands. A rare opportunity to hear Atkinson sing, of sorts, in I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) as Father Gerald, the tongue-tied priest (“the father, the son and the holy goat”) who presides over wedding no.2.
Maybe Baby (2000) as Mr James, the straight-talking gynaecologist in Ben Elton’s comedy about the trials of IVF, starring Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson.
Love Actually (2003) as Rufus, the jewellery salesman with a penchant for over-enthusiastic gift-wrapping which almost lands Harry (Alan Rickman) in trouble.
Keeping Mum (2005) as Reverend Walter Goodfellow in this black comedy starring Maggie Smith as a seemingly sweet housekeeper with a very dark secret.
Watch Man vs Bee on Netflix from 24 June.