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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Chaucer's tales get updated

By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

>BBC One has brought the medieval Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer to a new audience with a six-part adaptation, setting the famous cautionary tales in modern-day Britain.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are some of the most famous pieces in the English language - as famous and influential, some say, as the works of William Shakespeare.

The BBC's decision to take six of the writer's stories and adapt them for 21st Century Britain has been an enormous challenge.

It has led to a half-dozen prime-time dramas that bring to life the 14th Century author's tales of greed, passion and treachery to familiar territory.

They are set on a fictional journey by a group of pilgrims between a tavern in Southwark and Canterbury Cathedral, taking turns to tell stories that highlight man's moral failings.

The Sea Captain's Tale
Om Puri (centre) is the cuckolded husband in The Sea Captain's Tale

The six dramas have also attracted some of the UK's best-known actors, including Cold Feet's James Nesbitt, State of Play's John Simm and Julie Walters, currently starring in Calendar Girls.

Nigerian refugee

The stories are not faithful adaptations, however, with the language and settings updated to modern-day Britain. This is not Chaucer that will require translation or a study guide, producer Kate Bartlett has said.

The updated Tales
The Pardoners
The Knight's Tale
The Miller's Tale
The Pardoner's Tale (pictured)
The Wife of Bath's Tale
The Sea Captain's Tale
The Man of Law's Tale
For instance The Man of Law's Tale, originally about Constance, the Sultan of Syria's Christian bride being set adrift and landing in England, has become the tale of a Nigerian refugee who falls in love with an Englishman and takes him back to her homeland.

The Miller's Tale, regarded as the "bawdiest" of the tales, is now set in a karaoke bar, with James Nesbitt playing a seedy "talent scout" who promises fame and fortune to a naive pub landlord's wife, played by former pop star Billie Piper.

The Sea Captain's Tale sees a spoiled young Indian wife (Indira Varma) married to an older godfather figure (Om Puri), who plots to run away with his younger business partner.

Canterbury Tales
The adaptations unite some of the UK's best writers and actors

Chaucer purists might be surprised at the liberties being taken with the 600-year old tales.

But looking at the reworkings of Shakespeare that have still made gripping viewing - Ian McKellen's Richard III, for instance, - the BBC's bold move may be what Chaucer's stories need to survive into the future.

Have you seen the programme? What did you think of it? This debate is now closed. Please see below for a selection of your comments.

I threw my remote control away with disgust - for this I pay my TV licence? The costumes may be fine, the acting good - but why butcher Chaucer in this fashion? The modernisation was sadly lacking, and the wealth and depth given to us by Chaucer was lost in the interpretation.
Sarah Piper, United Kingdom

The wife of Bath: a marvellous adapation! Well written, well performed and well directed, couldn't ask for more.
Mark Swain, UK

Wife of Bath. Excellent, brilliant entertainment. Superb acting. Great writing. I am moved to pick up Chaucer for the first time since A level and compare. BUT would love to have read who was involved in the creation of such entertainment.

BBC please please consider this: we cannot read the credits when you zoom them through, squashed over the side of the screen, whilst you LOUDLY blow your trumpet for some other programme. TV listings are all over the place and still you insist on shouting about something else before we've finished enjoying the first thing.

Get your priorities right. Give credit where credit is due. Stop being in such a hurry like all the other channels. Congratulations on the whole.
Emma Cunningham, England

I was very impressed with the Miller's Tale. This drama had me hooked until the credits rolled up. Not knowing Chaucer's work, I could make out the moral plot of the story and look forward to watching the other tales. If the rest of the programmes are this good, who knows, I could start reading Chaucer.
Vik, Devon

Rare Chaucer goes on sale
17 Sep 02  |  England
Chaucer edition goes online
26 Feb 02  |  Entertainment
Ancient manuscript goes on CD
31 Oct 00  |  Wales


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