In a series of uneven quality (the Opera World series of G&S videos, made in the 1980s) this production is a standout. Almost without exception, the performers embody Gilbert's comic style. The title character, John Wellington Wells, is played by Clive Revill with proper Dickensian gravity, leavened by an anarchic twinkle. D'Oyly Carte veteran Donald Adams wields marvelous timing and diction as Sir Marmaduke, whose excessively good manners are no equal to Wells's potion. A weak point is Alexander Oliver, not very juvenile as the juvenile, Alexis; Oliver is a dull presence in a sparkling cast.
The production succumbs to a few television gimmicks, like having the actors speak directly into the camera. And the supernatural effects may look primitive by 21st-century standards, but that adds to the charm. From the opening number, filled with earnestly prancing villagers, you know you're in a world that follows its own giddy rules. --David Olivenbaum