|Index||6 reviews in total|
For the most part, this is a first-rate version of the play, and the
mean score -- 7.8 -- is a lot more reasonable than the ridiculously low
"weighted" average of five-and-a-half.
Kevin Kline is excellent for the most part, especially when he's being quietly contemptuous and bitterly ironic. He only falters somewhat when trying to express loud rage. At these points (thankfully rare) he bellows in a melodramatic, actorish manner and occasionally rolls around on the floor ala Curly in The Three Stooges.
Special note should be made of Peter Francis James, who plays Horatio. He's excellent as Hamlet's one real friend. His attempt to act like a true "Roman" actually brought a tear to my eye -- the only time I've ever gotten weepy during this particular play.
Kline slips easily into the role of Hamlet, displaying the humor that
Shakespeare gave the character even in the midst of a tragedy, while
maintaining elegant poise in tragic scenes.
Unlike the dark sets and Elizabethan costume that dominate many versions of this play, the modern costumes (women in evening gowns, men in military uniform) and sparse sets used by Kline emphasize the interpretation of the script via the actors, not the setting. The actors seize this opportunity vigorously along with Kline, interpreting Shakespeare to provide new insights into age-old characters that have on several occasions slipped into strict stereotypes.
I found this version a bit confusing the first time I watched it as it broke new ground and interpreted in ways that I'd never thought upon to interpret a Shakespearean tragedy. Upon my second viewing, I was able to catch the minute nuances that I had failed to see the first time, adding to the richness and excellence of this version. I look forward to future endeavors by Kline in the realm of Shakespeare (notably: A Midsummer Night's Dream to be released in May 1999)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you are curious to watch a film version of Hamlet, this is well worth the while. Present on a bare stage, what drives each actors' performance is truly the emotions, which Kline is no exception. The implicate of the ghost appearance to Hamlet, makes the madness that follows seem more genuine then perhaps dare I say it, Olivier's Hamlet. Kline throws himself into the role until you are clinging on to every word he says, even if you've read Hamlet a hundred times. Plus the intimate atmosphere of the staging, allows the action to seem more real. I've seen many version of the bard's great play, but this is the first time I've honestly cried along with Hamlet.
Kevin Kline does a rather excellent job with Hamlet, keeping the mania, self-righteousness and bitterness of Hamlet intact, all characteristics that make Hamlet less than likable, while still being a very sympathetic and throughly intriguing character. We can empathize with his plight, and even though he's often a lot to take, we feel like he really alone in a corrupt and vile world, and not just an overly critical bastard (like Brannagh's Hamlet.) Unfortunately, Ophelia sucks and practically derails the play. Claudius, Gertrude, and Horatio are impressive, but they can't save the play from Ophelia's dreadful overracting and the utter irritation that issues forth from this teleplay's Polonius. Overall, worth it for Kline, but far from perfect.
The best of the stagey Hamlets I've seen, as opposed to the Gibson and Branagh really dedicated movie versions. I expected even better from Kline though; if he was pushing a new interpretation, I missed it completely. It was, after all, stagey, and pretty much standard in reading.
The disturbing thing is that I thought the Player King in his Priam speech was more natural than the outer play. I found that spellbinding and enlightening in a speech - sadly shortened - that I'd never paid
attention to before. I guess that's the stage for you, though.
Hamlet is such a complex world of layers that at a certain level of
maturity one develops doorways into it.
For me, these are three, and I bring them to every production, both as a pathway into the universe as it is woven and as a way of evaluating how well the interpreters do.
The name of the play comes not from the son, but the father. It is his thoughts that drive everything. All of young Hamlet's "extra" levels of introspection are generated externally and inserted into an otherwise average soul. If the players don't understand the externally of the reflection, all is lost. Trustworthy legend has it that Shakespeare himself played the Ghost. Naturally.
The second touchstone is Ophelia. As the King enchants his son, so the son enchants his lover. Imagine the situation just before the play begins. We all know the gentle softness of fresh love. We all know the reciprocated obsession of sex, indeed she may be pregnant. We enter the already ruined coupling. For me, if proper attention is given to how she anchors the thing. Especially key is the "flowers" speech. Branaugh got it right and so did Almereyda (for whom this Ophelia was his Gertrude!).
Alas, this play is one that is often hijacked by actors who believe the soul of the thing is in the characters first. Then we get modern notions of inflating a soul who speaks, the exact opposite of how Shakespeare imagined it. And so it is with this production. Actors rarely handle Shakespeare effectively, though I suppose they can produce effective speeches, disconnected from the whole. They actually believe in the story, you see.
Done right, one can enter the splitted layers of consciousness through furcated lust, but not here.
The third touchstone is understanding Wittenberg, the college from whence our hero comes. Elizabethan audiences would know it as the place one would go to study supernatural science. Indeed, most students believe the book Hamlet reads when approached by Polonius shows signs of being such a treatise. The four schoolmates would all have been students of fate and influence. The nutshell gateway, such as it is.
Kline is a fine man. He at least manages the part better than Mel Gibson of the same year, but he never grasps any of the complexities of the play.
I found the camera particularly primitive. Yes, I know this is a stage production into which a camera was invited. But this business of having a camera look at every speaker every time he or she speaks in full face is excessively primitive. Have we learned nothing at all about putting the eye BEHIND the language?
Ted's Evaluation: 1 of 3 -- You can probably find something better to with this part of your life.
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