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Being an American rather new to Shakespeare, I have come to discover
that Hamlet is my favorite play, and as of today the David Tennant and
Patrick Stewart version provides the breakthrough to understanding this
complicated play. I have watched all versions of Hamlet available and
was quick to check out the newest one; however, Patrick Stewart was the
only familiar actor to me. I have not a clue who Dr. Who might be. Just
as well, as that might have tainted my view of Mr. Tennant's acting.
Most contemporary productions of Shakespeare border on silly (Leonardo
D's version of Romeo and Juliet) to ridiculous (Ethan Hawke's Hamlet),
but this version rocks, to use an overused phrase.
I thought the juxtaposition of Shakespeare Old English in a Modern Setting worked amazingly well. The talents of the cast came together superbly (wished for a different Ophelia though). Polonius reminded me of a more dignified version of Bill Murray's treatment, but still caught the pompous drift of the character. Horatio played the devoted and loyal friend to great satisfaction. His Roman to the death speech had me crying all three times I watched the dramatization. I thought Tennant's version of Hamlet contained a measured lunacy, the intelligent fool who had mostly everyone fooled. The To Be soliloquy had the right intensity and then in a moment Tennant switches to Guarded Lover with Ophelia and Knave of Fools to Polonius.
I'm up for another view after writing this. Three hours spin by as I absorb new nuances and understanding. What a marvelous way to spend the afternoon.
This is great. When one is such a passionate Shakespeare appreciator as
I am - and even one who rarely has the opportunity to attend theater
performances - the coming of a major new Hamlet production is a Great
Event. I anticipate it with excitement, I pre-order the DVD, and I
prepare to let the Royal Shakespeare Company work its dependable magic
and sweep me off my feet with a stunning new production. And with
Tennant's Hamlet I am not disappointed. It's fresh and it's delightful
and every single moment of it held me utterly captivated.
It is in modern dress which worked well in most scenes, but less well in a few others. Taking place inside some aristocratic castle with black walls, marble columns and black shiny floors, it certainly achieved the requisite darkness that this play must have (although I found it didn't make sense pointing out clouds in an in-door environment. I also found the lack of paintings, which would comprise such an obviously effective device in a setting like this, rather strange) - which is good, because Tennant himself never quite conveyed a convincing sense of brooding menace and inner turmoil. I am a big fan of David Tennant, esp. his Doctor Who, but there's no doubt he can pull off a much wider range of roles, although I do think comedy is his main strength. And he wasn't a bad Hamlet - just not a great one either. He might have been, under different circumstances, but not in this incarnation. Tennant being Tennant, however, he was still splendidly entertaining to watch, even if Claudius, Polonius, Horatio and Gertrude all out-acted him quite a bit.
In this version, the early scene where Claudius is addressing the court, turns to Hamlet, saying, "Now...", and then arrogantly turns around to address Laertes instead of Hamlet was for me the greatest single moment. It succeeded in making me consider something I never had before, namely how odd and deliberate it is that the king in this situation addresses Laertes before Hamlet. This is quite a stunningly thought-provoking detail. Hamlet being the crown prince, etiquette should demand that he be honored with the earlier mention at such an official function. Laertes should not take precedence there. Clearly, Claudius is actively belittling Hamlet, consciously treating him with less dignity than his status demands. Well done there, Mr. Doran!
This is overall a good Hamlet, but it is not a seminal one. It is probably true that it worked better on stage than on television, and I also felt that several actors, incl. those playing Laertes and Ophelia, fell short of the necessary charisma. Even Tennant himself, in most scenes, was not quite intense enough to convince me that he really was Hamlet, and I was a bit disappointed with many of the soliloquies, which in most cases are recited almost without gesture, without animation and without the action that would have directed us towards some subtle interpretation of each speech. One marvels at a director who has this rare opportunity to produce the greatest speeches in all of literature, and then does not seize it. Maybe he had no opinion about them? A bit odd, I find. I'm probably missing something, though.
Also, having the same actor play Claudius and Old Hamlet, essentially making them twins? I dunno. One of the play's most major points is how different the two brothers are. The main difference between them, perhaps, is in character, but Hamlet also makes a point out of pitting them against each other physically, when he describes them to Gertrude. If they look the same, this scene becomes a bit dubious. Still, having secured someone like Patrick Stewart for the parts, one does rather like to see him in as many roles as possible, so I'd be something of a deadbeat if I belabored this point any further. :-)
Having mentioned these shortcomings, I must admit to being quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this Hamlet after all. One of the most successful scenes was Hamlet's final "absent thee from felicity" plea to Horatio, which I thought was quite a bit more powerful than most other scenes in this version. All in all, I think this must be said to be the best Hamlet to come out on DVD since Branagh's, which however it falls significantly short of matching. Gregory Doran is no Ken Branagh, and the Tennant Hamlet will probably not, however fresh it feels today, endure the coming decades without acquiring some air of staleness. Still, for speaking loudly and clearly to a current audience that may be justifiably fed up with the loftier kinds of Shakespeare productions, it deserves high marks indeed.
On the one hand it is difficult to do a good Hamlet, but on the other hand it is also difficult to foul up such resplendent material. The RSC being the RSC, most of this Hamlet does hold the attention and does make the mind work. Shakespeare is such a passion-filled author that most productions, in my opinion, actually fall short of fulfilling the dramatic potential of the text. It is a continual puzzle to me why producers don't seem more awed by Shakespeare's words than they do. But I guess that just gives us so much more to look forward to in future productions. What luck that Shakespeare is never too old to be dusted off and renewed for a new generation of literature lovers!
7 out of 10.
After seeing Branagh's version years ago, I honestly never thought it could be improved upon. However, while that version relied heavily on pageantry, this one thrives on the script. I may have minimal theater experience, but I do have an English degree and felt that this was a wonderful interpretation of the play. The difficult thing for many people is, having seen it performed before, cannot re-imagine it any other way. It's a shame to hear some of the reviewers bash the actors when we all know that no two Hamlets are (or should ever be) the same. Who's to say how it was performed during Shakespeare's time? That's the beauty of the play. In a time of constant Hollywood remakes where the original is available to be seen and borrowed from, the RSC has made it fresh and new again. I hung on the words as if hearing them for the first time, and in some cases thought of them in an entirely different fashion. Plus, as a long-time Dr. Who and Star Trek fan, it didn't feel as if I was watching the Doctor or Captain Picard performing. The staging was quite brilliant as well; it didn't distract or become a character in and of itself. The rest of the cast performed quite well and should be celebrated also.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) 2009 filmed version of "Hamlet"
captures the essence of the play vastly better than most versions.
David Tennant's phrasing of each of Hamlet's lines provides an emotional depth of understanding that makes the iambic pentameter accessible in a way that I have only experienced in my own silent readings to myself.
I have committed to memory several parts of various Shakespeare plays, and recite from memory certain soliloquies from Hamlet all the time. I have so wished that the various actors I have watched over the years speak Shakespeare with an emotional understanding of each word and modern intonation in a way that students could understand the greatness of the language. I have seen Sir Ian McKellan play "Richard III" live, and even then, as great an actor as Sir Ian is, I felt his phrasing was archaic and only avid fans could fully grasp the heartache and desperation in Shakespeare's characters.
The triumph of the RSC's 2009 version of Hamlet is that each actor speaks each line with emotional clarity. Yes, I know that with emotional clarity there is less of the dialogue open to the viewers' interpretation. This is a "Hamlet" that clearly believes the ghost of Hamlet's father was real. This a "Hamlet" that believed that Ophelia loved Hamlet and that Hamlet truly loved Ophelia. This is a "Hamlet" that believes Hamlet was in great danger, if he directly attempted to overthrow Claudius from the throne, so Hamlet had to feign madness to achieve his objective. And, yes, this is a "Hamlet" that believed Hamlet's madness was feigned.
I have thought and read "Hamlet", where each of those points of view were opposite, but this 2009 productions strong points of view didn't bother me at all. I found its clarity of mind almost refreshing, if not liberating, because without all of the ambiguity, I could simply enjoy the action and drama.
Sir Patrick Stewart is astonishing as Claudius; he is every bit the King. I have watched Sir Patrick live on stage several times, on television and film, and his experience and comfort with the character is obvious. It is good to see him in fine form.
The set and stage direction is as clear as the actors and the dialogue. Bravo!
I highly recommend this RSC 2009 television version of "Hamlet". (BTW - it looks breathtaking in high-definition.)
I lived in the UK during the production of this Hamlet, but, alas, tickets were sold out. When I found it was filmed, I was ecstatic. A long time fan of Patrick Stewart and David Tennant, I had high hopes. However, I was blown away by this film. Those who have complained about Tennant's acting skills are treating him as the Doctor starring in Hamlet. Tennant's portrayal is one of my favorites. Here is the Hamlet I've read, a young man with a terrible knowledge searching for answers and guidance. His "To be or not to be" was chilling. Patrick Stewart as Claudius is soft-spoken and deadly. He gave me shivers. Here is a man who looks like your uncle (to use one reviewers words), but would kill you in a moment. If I had one complaint, the actress portraying Ophelia was an obvious let-down. I'm not a big fan of Ophelia and this actress seemed to be struggling with the character. Her "mad" scene was painful to watch. So, I had to give this 9 stars. Excellent production. Great set, acting, and atmosphere. I loved it.
No matter how many times I see Hamlet (and I've seen it a LOT), I always seem to be in directorial mode, mostly to the detriment of what I'm watching. This is one of only two Hamlets where I was capable of actually watching the PLAY, rather than the director's mistakes. Tennant's very tense and tightly-wound Prince exhibits a pain and obtusion almost excruciating to watch. The contemporary gloss (LOVED those black interiors, shiny floors, endless reaches of doors and columns and the infinite dark starkness) doesn't feel superficial and does not distract at all from the text, unless you're one of those Renaissance Purists. Patrick Stewart's Claudius was slick, smooth, menacing, and (oddly enough), almost touchingly revealing. This production's Queen Gertrude had that haggard, 'wanna be young' angst seen in so many truly beautiful women once they hit fifty -- and I liked that she seemed to age as the battalions of misfortune kept coming in waves. Most importantly, I liked that the director allowed the TEXT to take center stage, rather than some radical new interpretational agenda. For once, a director that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I checked the spoiler check-box to be sure, but I don't think anyone
would be surprised by the bits of storyline I'll reveal. :)
I wasn't fortunate enough to see the production on stage, so I was very excited when I found out that they will release it on DVD. I watched it the day when finally arrived till 2 am and totally worth the next sleepy workday.
I saw David Tennant in many roles and I think he's one of the most talented actors in his generation. He never fails to connect his character with me and I was curious to see his Hamlet. I wasn't disappointed. I saw quite a few Hamlets over the years, but this was the first when I was able to see the human behind the role. I don't know anything about the inner work of theater, I'm merely one of the audience, I only can say what I feel. Don't get me wrong, Kenneth Brannagh was an amazing Hamlet, but even he couldn't get Hamlet close to me. David Tennant did. He showed me the real meaning and depth of those beautiful words Shakespeare written. He made me feel all of Hamlet's pain and uncertainty, the educated man who not only lost his beloved father, had to see his mother married so close after the funeral, but witness an appearance of a ghost and based on its words he was expected to commit a murder. No wonder he was considering suicide to escape from all of this. I could totally understand, even sympathize with him like I never did before. This version of Hamlet is the most memorable for me because of his powerful performance.
Also Sir Patrick Stewart was an authentic and subtle villain, the essence of the "smiling in your face than stab you in the back" type. His Claudius showed genuine love for Gertrude as well which was one of the main reasons why he murdered his own brother. I always felt that many actors (or directors) failed to put some focus on that. After all there should be some very good reason to kill your closest kin and it's not like Denmark was especially powerful or rich at the time with Fortinbras and his army at the borders.
I also loved Penny Downie as the clueless, "goes with the flow" Gertrude, even if I wonder all the time that how is it possible that she doesn't suspect anything right until the bedroom scene. Penny made me think that maybe she does, only she choose not to see what happens in front of her eyes.
Unfortunately I couldn't love Mariah Gale's Ophelia, I couldn't connected with her like I did with the others. Maybe it's my fault but I couldn't see her as the beautiful and intelligent young woman who worth of the love of the prince and who return his feelings so strongly, that when she lost him to the madness she takes her own first step to that way as well.
This review gets quite long so just some quick words about the set: I think the modernization worked very well, the black, mirror-like floor, the security camera system helped me to rethink the play from a new viewpoint and showed it like it would be the first time anyone perform it. It seemed new and fresh to me and I wondered if that was the way (aside from the modern technique of course) they used to perform in the first days before the play was burdened with so much expectation and history.
All in all, I highly recommend this movie for those who have never seen Hamlet before and for those who have seen a lot, but are open for some fresh version of it.
Living as close as I do in Birmingham, I have gone done to
Stratford-upon-Avon on four or five occasions to see various
adaptations by the RSC but by the time I casually enquired about this
production, tickets were long gone. The casting of the two big sci-fi
names made this no surprise but it was a little annoying still when I
later read the good reviews it got. Credit to the BBC then for not only
bringing a filmed version of the production to the television but also
doing it in primetime on Boxing Day. I can't remember the last time the
BBC did such a thing but it is certainly befitting their remit to do
this and hopefully it will not be the last time.
To the film itself though. Three hours long as it is, the time does move well because the source material is as good as it is. Moments of drama, comedy, tragedy and intensity all blend well together, with lots going on in the main and on the edges in summary the plot is simple but there are lots of nuances to be had here and, in this regard, it does help that the cast have done this material in full many times on stage. Focusing on the production as a production rather than a film, there is much to appreciate. Normally I'm not a fan of contemporary or modern settings for Shakespeare but here it doesn't get in the way it doesn't add much to be sure but nor does it irritate or get in the way as I have seen it do in other productions. The reflective black stage is retained from the theatre version and it does provide a suitably stark backdrop to allow the viewer to focus on the actors. All of this relates to the production but the biggest difference here is that this is being made for television rather than a theatre and this is no small change.
Others have commented on the loss of the physical audience as a point in space for the cast but in fairness one would have thought that the focal point of the camera would have actually made this easier particularly given the way that the stage in Stratford this was on is surrounded by the audience on three sides. However it doesn't work like that because stage director Doran (who directs here) doesn't seem to make a decision to either shoot it as a stage play or to embrace the use of the camera. This manifests itself in a sort of halfway house where at times it does one or the other well but mostly it resides in the middle where it isn't comfortable with either. Thus while we have moments where the camera compliments the action by virtue of its movement or where it is, mostly it just stays out of the way, apart from the CCTV gimmick (which fortunately is quickly dropped as an idea). As such it makes for an odd television film and I do think that more could have been done to make it more than just a filmed version of the stage production (which is what the makers said they were trying to avoid the film being).
The cast are mostly impressive. I have seen more impacting Hamlets but Tennant does do well and demonstrates a lot more range than he has the chance to do on Doctor Who. Is he a great Hamlet? I'd have to say no but he does engage and do a good job nonetheless. Stewart adds gravitas to his characters and he delivers a very good Claudius not too slippery and treacherous but enough so we can see it in his heart. Downie is very good as Queen Gertrude while Davies, Gale, De Jersey and indeed most of the supporting cast are equally good. The only slight downside is that the habit of using the same actor for multiple very minor characters is a little more obvious on the screen than on the stage and it does distract at times.
Overall this version of Hamlet deserves credit for being produced for prime time on a terrestrial channel and it does have much about it to appeal to viewers. As a production of Hamlet it is enjoyable and very well put together but it does not replace seeing it on the stage, since it doesn't do a particularly good job of moving from stage to the screen.
I was fortunate enough to see one of the previews this production on stage while David Tennant was still fit. It was spellbinding , every actor on the stage was immaculate in their performance, the audience laughed and cried openly. The DVD version is a very good representation of the stage version but it lacks the magic of watching a live production, the interaction that the characters have with the audience, the emotional responses of a theatre full of people that allows you as an individual to show greater emotion than sitting in front of a TV. I also feel that the nature of filming in close up and multi angle sometime gets the viewer too close to the characters. All that said, this is a tremendous production, the comedy is brought to the fore which makes the tragedy even more profound. The cast is absolutely superb and I do mean the entire cast, not only the big name leads.The delivery of the dialogue is so beautifully done that even a Shakespeare novice will understand what is being conveyed. I have seen Hamlet performed live a dozen times and have left before the end on at least six occasions. This version when performed live is by far and away my favourite. My favourite film version is still the 1948 Laurence Olivier version....but this is a close second
For American audiences who love Shakespeare (an oxymoron at best!) and
Harry Potter, the casting of David Tennant as Hamlet is an intriguing
one. Tennant, who is wildly popular in the UK in the Doctor Who series,
is also known to fans across the Isles as Barty Crouch Jr. from Harry
Potter fantasy franchise.
Pairing David Tennant with Patrick Stewart, who is a double foil as both the slain ghost king father and Hamlet's uncle Claudius is masterful casting in this version from the Royal Shakespearean Company. As a result, Stewart was nominated for an Emmy as Best Supporting Actor.
Besides this quirky casting choice, director Gregory Doran propels this oft-told tale through the tone and inflection that each character brings to the all too familiar silted language of the Bard. One could easily close their eyes and simply bask in the joy of the rise and fall of phrases and words spun into this delightful audio experience.
Yet another pleasure is watching Sir Patrick Stewart literally play against himself - mano y mano - as Hamlet's mournful ethereal specter and the greedy, selfish brother. Pennie Downie, Mariah Gale, and Oliver Ford Davies provide an excellent counter-point to the brash and bold Tennant/Steward duo.
This is a fine minimalist production that should be added to any Hamlet FANatic's collection.
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