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Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1980)

TV Movie  -   -  Drama  -  10 November 1980 (USA)
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Hamlet suspects his uncle has murdered his father to claim the throne of Denmark and the hand of Hamlet's mother, but the prince cannot decide whether or not he should take vengeance.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Eric Porter ...
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Patrick Allen ...
Robert Swann ...
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Geoffrey Bateman ...
Emrys James ...
Jason Kemp ...
Geoffrey Beevers ...
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Peter Richard ...
Player in the mime, Queen
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Storyline

Hamlet comes home from university to find his uncle married to his mother, and his father's ghost haunting the battlements and scaring the watch. Then his father's ghost directs him to seek revenge. Written by Kathy Li

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Drama

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Release Date:

10 November 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark  »

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Patrick Stewart plays Derek Jacobi's stepfather despite actually being two years younger. See more »

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Version of Hamlet (1996) See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Doughnut Has A Hole In It
6 January 2007 | by See all my reviews

What a great play! Shakespeare really is more rich and detailed here than just about anywhere else.This particular production of Hamlet has great virtues. It also has a vacuum at the center that really kills it.

Eric Portman, who usually played mournful death's heads like Soames Forsyte, here plays the best Polonius I've ever seen - a man of gravity and wisdom floating off into dottiness. Claire Bloom as Gertrude is, as usual, faultless in Shakespeare, completely natural in both language and understanding. Patrick Allen is a restrained and powerful Ghost, thinning out his rich voice into a dry and austere insistence. Robert Swann brings warmth and dignity to Horatio.

That being said, there are problems. Patrick Stewart early in his career seems a bit lost, often setting the Indoor Iambic Pentameter Speed Record by simply gabbling his speeches at the expense of meaning.

Lalla Ward's Ophelia is acceptable in her Mad Scene, but not so in what leads up to it, where she enjoys being watched a little too much. David Robb's Laertes is OK when quiet, without resources at top volume.

Rodney Bennett, more at home with Dr. Who episodes, hasn't a clue about directing Shakespeare. Shot out of sequence in 8 days, the scenes lack emotional flow from one to the next, unusual in this BBC series. Patrick Stewart's hairpiece migrates distractingly up and down his pate, and Hamlet himself has two different haircuts. But the real problem is the star.

Derek Jacobi followed a West End run as Hamlet with a two-year tour that took him all over the UK and the Far East. Taped immediately after his return, this DVD shows him ossified and stale, gimmicky and unable or unwilling to scale his performance down for TV.

Hamlet's soliloquies are directed to the camera, which works only if we are addressed as individual viewers, not as a public gathering. Here they are overstated and wearisome.

Especially in the first half, Jacobi's performance is often trivial silliness, as one audience-tested piece of shtick follows another with trip-hammer inevitability. Hamlet's bawling during the Ghost's speech is mere scene-stealing, and his subsequent collapse in a fit is just awful to watch, like diving off the high board into an empty swimming pool. Hamlet's scene with Ophelia is remarkably vicious, the one with Gertrud genuinely distasteful. Only as events speed up to a final climax does Jacobi even begin to pull himself together.

Throughout, Derek Jacobi performs with one hand holding a mirror, so he can watch what he's doing. Worse, he likes what he sees. I presume this kind of calculation of effect can work on stage, but with a camera up his nose, it's unbearable.

This is probably why Sir Ian McKellan has made a screen career and Jacobi hasn't. A film or TV actor doesn't project to the audience, he lets the camera read his mind. Jacobi, by contrast, alternates between megaphone and sledgehammer. For me, Jacobi remains a superficial, inconsequential Hamlet compared to Olivier or Burton.

A strong director might have been able to bring all this under control, but that's not what happens here. A humane Polonius and genuine Gertrude can't compensate for a self-indulgent Hamlet, a tentative Claudius and a weak hand on the tiller.

The BBC is sitting on a 1964 Hamlet actually filmed at Elsinore Castle with Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland. May we see that please?


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