The Beggar’s Opera

comedy

Typology

feature

Czech title

Žebrácká opera

Runtime

94

Country

Czechoslovakia

Copyright

1991

Production year

1991

Premiere

01.10.1991

Language version

Czech

Director

Jiří Menzel

Screenplay

Jiří Menzel, Václav Havel

Summary

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.

Synopsis

It is the 1920s. Captain Macheath, nicknamed Mack, is an infamous robber, thief and murderer, but also a sleek and elegant seducer. His competitor in the criminal field is Peachum who, however, has the advantage of being a secret ally of the police commander Lockit. The two underworld representatives employ all possible means to fight each other. Mack marries Peachum's daughter, a naive girl named Polly, hoping to capture his rival – Polly's father – with her help. Peachum learns about his daughter's marriage to Mack and is first in a rage; he, however, has no choice but to reconcile with the fact. A prostitute Jenny who was robbed of her virginity by Mack years ago, brings the dandy to prison several times. He is first helped to escape by Lockit's daughter Lucy who he also married some time ago. Peachum wants to make use of Mack's next imprisonment for some profitable business, thus offering Mack to join him and work together. Mack senses that an agreement with Lockit is behind the proposal. He is visited by Jenny in his cell. The prostitute explains and apologizes for the reasons for her betrayal. Mack believes her and outlines their common future to her. Lockit summons Mack before his release and explains that there is no escape from his offer because Jenny tripped him up again, betraying all Mack's plans. The captain must sign the agreement. Lockit and his wife rejoice at their control over the entire underworld. Mack walks proudly on the street with his two wives – Polly and Lucy, both pushing their prams. Mack conspiratorially winks to the camera.

Note

The original comedy was written by Václav Havel on the motifs of a theatre play of the same title written by the English poet and playwright John Gay (1728). The play, which was introduced by Jiří Menzel in the Činoherní Club in 1990, originates from 1972 and it was performed only once by amateurs in 1975 in Horní Počernice.

Cast

Josef Abrhám

kapitán Macheath zvaný Mack, šéf podsvětí

Marián Labuda

William Peachum, Mackův konkurent

Nina Divíšková

Elizabeth, Peachumová žena

Libuše Šafránková

prostitutka Jenny

Rudolf Hrušínský

policejní velitel Bill Lockit

Veronika Freimanová

Lucy, Lockitova dcera

Barbora Leichnerová

Polly, dcera Peachumových

Jiří Zahajský

kapsář Harry Filch

Oldřich Vízner

Jim, Mackův komplic

Ondřej Vetchý

Jack, Mackův komplic

Jeremy Irons

vězeň

Jana Břežková

Mary Lockitová

Kateřina Frýbová

Diana, majitelka vykřičeného domu

Jana Švandová

prostitutka Betty

Mahulena Bočanová

prostitutka Vicky

Naďa Kotrčová

prostitutka Ingrid

Miloslav Štibich

četník-vězeň

Rudolf Hrušínský ml.

četník-vězeň John

Jiří Lír

vévoda z Glosteru

Pavel Zedníček

zloděj-slepý žebrák

Oldřich Vlach

četník

Petr Brukner

četník

Ljuba Krbová

květinářka

Jitka Asterová

zlodějka

Blanka Lormanová

tlustá prostitutka

Alice Dvořáková

hubená prostitutka

Eugen Jegorov

zloděj v kanále

Filip Minařík

malý zloděj

Crew and creators

Second Unit Director

Eva Kadaňková

Assistant Director

Monika Maratová, Annika Eisel-Šonka, Eric Chaikin, Zuzana Přibíková

Based on

Václav Havel (Žebrácká opera – divadelní hra), John Gay (Žebrácká opera /The Beggar's Opera/ – divadelní hra)

Script Editor

Pavel Hajný

Second Unit Photography

Richard Valenta, Tomáš Hruška

Camera Operator

Antonín Mařík

Production Designer

Zbyněk Hloch

Set Designer

Bedřich Čermák, Rudolf Beneš, Jaroslav Lehman, Miloslav Dvořák

Film Editor

Jiří Brožek

Sound Designer

Jiří Hora

Production Manager

Jan Šuster

Unit Production Manager

Jan Peterka, Jan Hadrbolec

Unit Production Manager

Pavel Štěrba, Roman Molnár

Cooperation

Eva Horázná, Eva Blažková (2), Soňa Nemcová, Jiří Zobač, Milan Býček

Music

Music Composed by

Jan Klusák

Music Performed by

FISYO

Music Conducted by

Štěpán Koníček (FISYO)

Production info

Original Title

Žebrácká opera

English Title

The Beggar’s Opera

Copyright

1991

Production Year

1991

Premiere

01.10.1991

Distribution

Lucernafilm - Gama

Creative Group

Jiří Menzel, Jan Šuster

Technical info

Format

Betacam, DVD, HD

Versions

Czech

Awards

Vítěz

Festival: 13. festival české a slovenské filmové veselohry Nové Město nad Metují

1991
Nové Město nad Metují / Czechoslovakia
Jiří Menzel

Vítěz

Festival: 13. festival české a slovenské filmové veselohry Nové Město nad Metují

1991
Nové Město nad Metují / Czechoslovakia
Libuše Šafránková