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As a collector of Shakespeare DVDs I am always thrilled to find a Hamlet DVD that I haven't seen before. I have had some disappointments with modern and extremely amateurish versions of Richard The Second (2001) and others, but this version of Hamlet starring William Houston was not awful. It does look fairly low-budget, but apart from a slightly grainy picture quality, it *is* a proper movie, with castles and out-door scenes, medieval ambiance, etc. This version was, to my mind, just a tad more worthwhile than both Nicol Williamson's stage version (1969), and both the 2000 films (Campbell Scott's and Michael Almereyda's), all of which I've rated a 4 or a 5.
Although this DVD lacks subtitles (I think it is scandalous to release any Shakespeare DVD without subtitles, but unfortunately it's often done), the actors here mostly manage to speak very clearly - of course, they *are* British, which, it seems, counts for quite a lot. The sound quality seems to decrease as the movie goes on, however, perhaps because of background noise (not excluding the music) in the plentiful out-door scenes.
The acting talent is rather uneven; Houston is adequate but not great as Hamlet (though he definitely has his moments - I like the scene where he actually lies in the dust, "seeking for his noble father", and I also thought the "I have of late, wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth" speech was well done), and this also goes for much of the cast, though some are better than others. The best performance clearly comes from David Powell-Davies as Polonius, whose take on the character is fresh and convincing. Horatio is quite good, too, with several admirable scenes. The relationship between Claudius and Gertrude is also appropriately lusty, which is an overlooked element in many productions. I don't think there's much acting emanating from Gareth Thomas, though; he is not the seductive satyr that Hamlet says he is. But then again, I've yet to see a Hamlet version with a properly handsome, seductive and thoroughly devious Claudius.
Overall the play included a surprisingly large amount of the 2nd Quarto text, opting rather to shorten speeches than to skip entire scenes. But a lot of speeches and passages were shortened almost to the point of omission. The only major part missing was the Fortinbras subplot, which is omitted in many productions. But I did in fact remain absorbed - if only intermittently impressed - with this Hamlet throughout its 114 minutes (no, not 220 as it says on the DVD sleeve), which in a somewhat amateurish production of a difficult play is quite a feat.
Amateurish call I it, because the editing, both of the text and the film scenes, left something to be desired. Strange cuts occur frequently, speeches are practically interrupted, and the director doesn't quite seem to have mastered the art of fade-outs and transitions. The scenes of violence are also not brilliantly choreographed. On the whole, this film comes short as regards the film-making craft, but is of normal theatrical standards as regards interpretation of the text. One is compelled to remark (and not for the first time) that people who do not know what they are doing should cut their film-making teeth on easier material than Shakespeare. Having said that, however, I am still positively surprised with this version, and may on occasion return to it for repeated viewings. Among the better Hamlet adaptations on film, however, it is not. While neither very good nor half bad, the result is somewhere in between.
I rate it a solid 6 out of 10 stars.
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