The RSC puts a modern spin on Shakespeare's Hamlet in this filmed-for-television version of their stage production. The Prince of Denmark seeks vengeance after his father is murdered and his mother marries the murderer.
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New York, 2000. A specter in the guise of the newly-dead CEO of Denmark Corporation appears to Hamlet, tells of murder most foul, demands revenge, and identifies the killer as Claudius, the new head of Denmark, Hamlet's uncle and now step-father. Hamlet must determine if the ghost is truly his father, and if Claudius did the deed. To buy time, Hamlet feigns madness; to catch his uncle's conscience, he invites him to watch a film he's made that shows a tale of murder. Finally convinced of Claudius's guilt, Hamlet must avenge his father. Claudius now knows Hamlet is a threat and even uses Ophelia, Hamlet's love, in his own plots against the young man. Murder will out? Written by
Nearly four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare continues to be the best screenwriter in the English language. This beautiful, moody, stylish adaptation of his greatest play is no exception. Another wonderful thing about the Bard is how his drama seems to elevate any actor willing to take on the challenge. I especially enjoyed Bill Murray as Polonius: his performance was all the more delightful because of the necessity of restraining his comic genius here; he appears always on the edge of cracking a joke, and of course doesn't, adding even more tension to an already extremely taught production.
But what I loved most about this movie was how it departed from the usual staging conventions (medieval costume, stone castles) to get at the heart of what the play is really about: a kid coming home on a college break and discovering that his uncle has murdered his father and is having sex with his mother. Ethan Hawke does a fantastic job in the role, giving us the brooding, confused, lovesick, and ultimately self-destructive adolescent that Shakespeare intended.
If I were a high-school English teacher, this is the Hamlet that I would want to show my students.
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