Portrayed brilliantly by Diane Morgan, Philomena Cunk is best known for her Worlds of Wonder segments on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, and since we haven’t had a series of that this year, we’re all getting withdrawal symptoms for more Cunk, so now she has her own show as part of the BBC’s tribute to the bard, commemorating 400 years since his death, in 1616 (yes, I know you can also do maths).
Cunk admits early on, “I’ve been studying Shakespeare… ever since I was asked to do this programme. And it turns out he was more than just a bald man who could write with feathers”. There’s intentional schoolboy humour, such as when she’s seen pointing to the last four letters in the name of his play, Coriolanus; plus interviewing guests like actor Simon Russell Beale, asking him if he just learns the famous bits, or does he have to memorise the whole thing. On confirming the latter to her, she replies with exclaim, in the manner you expect from an unruly teenager, “Are you fucking joking?!! Shut up!”
Diane Morgan shows perfect comic timing throughout, including when showing disdain many a time, from simply looking bored as Theatre Director Iqbal Khan talks (see clip below), to eating a banana and playing on her phone as Simon Russell Beale recites Hamlet.
Like the best Alan Partridge episodes, this programme feels like they’ve gone through the script countless times in order to take out any split-seconds that don’t have you splitting your sides, resulting in the best TV comedy programme of the week, if not the year so far!
Every line is a gem, and I could repeat them all here but I’ll just mention some of them, such as when Cunk was studying Shakespeare’s first folio (aka, a book), where the text on the front was “a bit wonky”, observing, “I suppose they didn’t have rulers in those days”; she describes Romeo and Juliet‘s star-cross’d lovers being from warring familes as “it’s like love at first sight… from a distance… just like Tinder”.
Regularly, I had tears of laughing rolling down my face, but the biggest bellylaugh came with “School in Shakespeare’s day was vastly different to schools today, except far easier… because he didn’t have to study Shakespeare.”
Now Cunk has tackled William Shakespeare, I hope we see her fronting many more documentaries. Not only did I laugh constantly and loudly, but I even learned a few things about the bard.
Louis Theroux – watch out!
Cunk On Shakespeare is available on the BBC iPlayer, up until June 10th, and click on the top-right image for the full-size version.
Director: Lorry Powles
Producer: Sam Ward
Writers: Charlie Brooker, Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris
Philomena Cunk: Diane Morgan
Simon Russell Beale
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.