Set in the 17th century, this episode focuses on a witch trial, with an old woman Elizabeth Gadge (Ruth Sheen) accused of witchcraft. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton play witchfinders Mr. Warren and Mr. Clarke respectively (with their names being a reference to actor Warren Clarke). The trial takes place in the village of Little Happens. The local magistrate Sir. Andrew Pike (David Warner) seems chiefly concerned with the witch trial becoming a tourist attraction. “Not since the escaped cow has there been such excitement here”. He later encourages the tourists to go sightseeing, citing the village duck pond and the bench as places of interest. He also mentions a rivalry with a neighbouring village called Much Happens, and how envious they’ll be. A fair is setup to take place for the execution.
Elizabeth Gadge is accused by her son-in-law Thomas Nutter (Jim Howick) and her daughter Sarah Nutter (Sinead Matthews), and it’s fairly obvious the reason behind it is that Thomas wants Elizabeth to move out of their attic room so they can use it as storage space. Sarah seems reluctant, at one point she speaks out saying they could be mistaken.
It’s not for nothing that the term “witch trial” is synonymous with the term “kangaroo court”. It was basically a way of scapegoating someone. But kangaroo courts and indeed witch trials are often good vehicles for comedy because of what a blatant farce they are. Here it is used with the completely ridiculous ‘proof’ that Elizabeth is a witch, such as the fact she has a pet mouse named Snowflake, with Mr. Warren pointing out that ”named” spells ”deman” backwards, which is close to ”demon”.
After torture, Elizabeth admits that she has engaged in prostitution, sucking off the local cobbler Richard Two-Shoes (Paul Kaye). He has wife, so we get a “Goody Two-Shoes” pun in. Elizabeth is tortured again overnight, stretched on a rack, and Mr. Warren drops some crumbs next to her so that Snowflake will be drawn to her, once again “proving” that she is a witch. She is found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Throughout the trial, Mr. Clarke doesn’t see it as fair, and is wracked with guilt. During the night, he replaces Elizabeth with Mr. Warren, concluding that Warren has become an evil man who just wants to torture and sentence people to death, so he deserves to be punished. Warren, who the villagers think is Elizabeth, is taken to be burned at the stake. The real Elizabeth is safe, and Mr. Clarke tells her she must run away and he is glad he has saved an innocent woman from death. However, it turns out that Elizabeth was a witch after all, and she snaps Mr. Clarke’s neck. As Mr. Warren burns, (and it’s implied that Elizabeth employs her witchcraft to make the fire burn down the whole village), Elizabeth takes Snowflake and tells him they should go to tell their master The Devil how well they have done, then she turns herself into a raven and flies away.
I predicted both twists in this episode, that Mr. Warren would be burned in place of Elizabeth, and it would turn out that she was a witch after all. This episode was probably the weakest so far, but it wasn’t bad. The tone is different, edging more towards comedy, and was more like a sketch show. It has shades of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Horrible Histories. It is also a little like one of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s earlier works,’The Kings Evil ‘sections of The League Of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse film. This goes with the guest cast too, as Jim Howick is a regular cast member of Horrible Histories, and David Warner played Dr. Erasmus Pea from “The Kings Evil” in The League Of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse. ‘The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge’ was amusing, but it was a little daft. It was inevitably going to look bad following from ‘The 12 Days of Christine’, and many have said that after that episode it had to be followed by a lighter one, but even so, ‘The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge’ is a bit mediocre. I suppose while I personally didn’t find it a shock, the ending is quite dark and a shift from the comedy of most of the episode, and it is well-played. Overall, I think the episode is somewhere between “average” and “good enough”.