Any television production that is introduced by John Houseman promises the best quality. Unfortunately, some fail to live up to the promise.
The 1980 production of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor was performed and filmed at Los Angeles’s Globe Theater in classic Elizabethan style. The play itself is unique in several ways.
It is the only play Shakespeare wrote entirely in prose, and is the only play in the canon to feature middle class Elizabethans as the main characters–a sort of sixteenth-century sit-com. A long-standing tradition also says it was written quickly at the request of Queen Elizabeth, who after seeing 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV asked to see more of Sir John Falstaff.
The lead actors do a fine job–Valerie Seelie Snyder as Mistress Ford and Oscar-winner (!) Gloria Grahame as Mistress Page–though Leon Charles’s Falstaff somehow manages to portray Falstaff charmlessly (an easier task, admittedly, in this play than in the Henry IV plays). Eugene Brezany as Slender was painful to watch, and many of the actors playing minor roles (Rugby, Simple, etc.) were dreadfully amateurish. Even Mistress Quickly (Dixie Tymitz), a delicious role that can be played to great comical effect, was lacking.
On the bright side, the production was mostly true to the text, with only minor changes, and it does show how far Shakespeare has come in the last thirty-seven years.
This production is available on DVD and Amazon Prime (which is how I watched it), among other places, but there are so many better ways to see this play (such as the Shakespeare’s Globe and the Stratford Festival production or your city’s Shakespeare company), I suggest you avoid this one.