As you might expect, the US isn’t the only country to adapt classic plays for television. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have obviously been putting on adaptions of classic plays almost for as long as they’ve been in existence.
However, unlike Shakespeare, for example, Greek tragedy is one genre that hasn’t seen many adaptations for British television. In June, the BFI gave a good sample of some of those adaptations, including one stage production of Electra for ITV that was broadcast entirely in Greek without subtitles.
However, one of the main catalysts for getting Greek tragedy onto the small screen and also radio was the writer/director Don Taylor. Taylor, whose career in theatre and television spanned decades, was responsible for numerous adaptations, sometimes of his own translations, including Euripides’ Helen for radio and Iphigenia at Aulis for the BBC. However, in 1986, he managed to adapt all three of Sophocles’ Theban plays – Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone – for the small screen as (surprisingly enough) The Theban Plays by Sophocles.
Starring the likes of Michael Pennington, Juliet Stevenson, John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, John Shrapnel and Claire Bloom, all three productions are very theatrical and the translations are somewhat loose, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any better productions on TV anywhere.
Oedipus The King
Oedipus at Colonus