Beggar’s Opera

Jiří Menzel, 1991

Film at Filmový přehled


This classic 1728 ballad opera by English dramatist John Gay has been adapted several times for both stage and screen. One such effort was a 1972 non-musical adaptation by Václav Havel. If we do not count a performance by Prague’s Divadlo na tahu theatre company, which occurred in 1975 without the knowledge of the police in the pub U Čelikovských in Horní Počernice, just east of the capital, then the official premiere of this version took place in June 1990. A year later, Jiří Menzel, who successfully staged Havel’s Žebrácká opera (The Beggar’s Opera) in Prague’s Činoherní klub, also took the reigns for the film version. The adaptation strongly sticks to its stage roots, at the expense of creating a truly filmic spectacle. The film tells the story of two competing criminal organisations. One is led by the villainous Peachum, the other by the equally wicked, but very charming, swindler Macheath. Peachum persuades his daughter Polly to create some personal ties at the rival organisation in order to find out the nature of their plans. Meanwhile, Macheath also seeks to use Polly – as a mole to find out about Peachum’s activities. He succeeds in this plan as the naive girl falls in love with, and ultimately marries, her father’s nemesis. But “Mack” already has a wife: Lucy, the daughter of city police chief Lockit. Moreover, the crook’s real love is the cunning prostitute Jenny, who has no qualms about repeatedly betraying this man responsible for diverting her from a righteous career path. The story is set during the 1920s, and offers an entertaining moral about the dangers of the criminal intertwining of the state and underworld. The peculiar language used for the theatrical version is notably curtailed by the screenwriters – both Menzel and Václav Havel worked on writing the film adaptation. Menzel mostly casts the film with the actors from his theatrical version. Macheath is played by the elegant Josef Abrhám and Jenny by Libuše Šafránková. Peachum sees the former Jiří Kodet replaced on screen by Marián Labuda; the role of Lockit is excellently played by Rudolf Hrušínský, replacing the stage version’s Petr Nárožný. One bonus for film viewers is a cameo appearance by distinguished British actor Jeremy Irons in the role of a prisoner.
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Film data

About a film

Production year 1991
Countries Czechoslovakia
Categories film
Genres comedy
Form feature
Duration 94 min
Director Jiří Menzel
Cast Josef Abrhám, Marián Labuda, Nina Divíšková, Libuše Šafránková, Rudolf Hrušínský
Director of photography Jaromír Šofr
Screenplay Jiří Menzel, Václav Havel
Editor Jiří Brožek
Production designer Zbyněk Hloch
Music Jan Klusák
Sound designer Jiří Hora