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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 09:27 GMT
Love poetry takes centre stage
Amanda Holden
Amanda Holden recites Wendy Cope's Bloody Men

A host of British actors are bringing some of the nation's best-loved poetry to life this Valentine's Day on BBC Two.

Damian Lewis, Andrew Lincoln, Amanda Holden, Liza Tarbuck and Ioan Gruffudd are among a 35-strong cast acting out love poems dating from the 16th Century to the present day.

The work of poets ranging from William Shakespeare and Andrew Marvell to Kahlil Gibran and Wendy Cope will be performed in a series of mini-dramas.

The action takes place across five half-hour programmes, covering the whole spectrum of love - from first date to marriage, adultery and the death of a partner.

Right words

The series is fronted by TV producer and writer Daisy Goodwin, who has published four best-selling poetry anthologies, including 101 Poems To Save Your Life.

Andrew Lincoln
This Life's Andrew Lincoln: Reads the "young, sexy male poetry"
"I've tried to choose poems that have shaped the way I have thought about things in my life," says Goodwin. "I hope that they will do the same for other people. They are poems you can relate to."

A few years ago, Goodwin faced a career crisis. It was only when she read The Big Decision by CP Cavafy that she found the courage to take a leap into the unknown.

"If you find the right words when you need them, it can make an enormous difference," she says.

"You don't need any special equipment to read poetry. It can tell you much more about the world than reading those dreadful self-help books - and it's a lot cheaper.

"I find reading poetry much better than getting drunk or depressed."

Goodwin - editorial director of Talkback (the company behind She's Gotta Have It and Jamie's Kitchen) - has taken a close interest in the casting and staging of the mini-dramas.

Contemporary setting

"We were delighted when Damian Lewis and Andrew Lincoln said yes because they are perfect for some of the young, sexy male poetry," says Goodwin.

"Getting Christopher Lee to do The Prophet was a coup because it's hard to think of a more august actor to read a poem like that. It's such a profound work."

Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee: Lord of the Rings actor takes part
Lewis, who played Soames in The Forsyte Saga, reads 17th Century poem To His Coy Mistress. The seduction, sparked by an e-mail, takes place in an office.

Of the contemporary setting, Goodwin says: "People's emotions don't change. Their clothes and the words they use change, but what people feel is the same.

"There's nothing in To His Coy Mistress that any modern man trying to get a woman into bed wouldn't recognise.

"People forget that poetry is sexy. It can also be erotic, bitter and spiteful. It can do all the things that music can do," says Goodwin.

'Not elitist'

Amanda Holden, who recently split from comedian Les Dennis, recites Wendy Cope's Bloody Men. "We certainly didn't pick her because of her personal life - we picked her because she is a terrific actress," says Goodwin.

The poems have been categorised by theme, rather than author or era. Love's Philosophy by Shelley nestles alongside Lucy Sweetman¿s text message poem, I W8 Fr Yr Mesg.

Goodwin is quick to dismiss poetry as elitist, saying it "shouldn¿t be any more intimidating than listening to pop music".

She hopes Essential Poems will reach out to many people: "I think you can watch this quite happily, even if you have never picked up a piece of poetry.

"If I can make one person think 'here's a poem I want to read' I will feel that I have achieved something."

Essential Poems (To fall in love with) starts February 14 on BBC Two at 1930 GMT.

See also:

13 Feb 03 | Entertainment
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