Showing events from the point of view of two minor characters from Hamlet, men who have no control over their destiny, this film examines fate and asks if we can ever really know what's going on? Are answers as important as the questions? Will Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (or Guildenstern and Rosencrantz) manage to discover the source of Hamlet's malaise as requested by the new king? Will the mysterious players who are strolling around the castle reveal the secrets they evidently know? And whose serve is it?Written by
Mark Thompson <email@example.com>
Throughout the movie there are scenes where day suddenly changes to night and vice versa. This is a running gag of Tom Stoppard plays which often have "time jumps" written into the stage directions. See more »
[Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are riding horses down a path - they pause]
[Guildenstern rides away, and Rosencrantz follows. Rosencrantz spots a gold coin on the ground]
Whoa - whoa, whoa.
[Gets off horse and starts flipping the coin]
Hmmm. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads.
[Guildenstern grabs the coin, checks both sides, then tosses it back to Rosencrantz]
[...] See more »
Phenomenal play that really doesnt succeed onscreen
Tom Stoppard directs the film version of his own hit play from the 60s. Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and Richard Dreyfuss star
Tom Stoppard claims that the idea behind his hit play 'Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead' was suggested to him by his agent: What happens to two small parts in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' when they're off stage? Shakespeare reveals quite a bit about them (most notably, in the closing stages, when they are dead), but their own time on the stage is limited and they never have the opportunity to express real individual personality.
So Stoppard cleverly fills in the gaps, snaking his action through quotations from the original play. The two characters have as little idea about themselves as everyone else; they don't even know who is Rosencrantz and who is Guildenstern. They gradually piece together their stories as they overhear parts of the real play, stumble into the action, and meet a group of itinerant players who are also waiting to go 'on stage'.
It's a smart-alec literary gag with considerable potential for riffing on the mechanics of the theatre and the psychology of actors (making fun of the notion that they always see themselves as the centre of attention). In Stoppard's capable hands it's also a platform for questioning some of the central tenets of existence, and indeed what it means to exist. The play launched Stoppard's career as one of the giants of British theatre and a successful screenwriter (he's responsible for Empire Of The Sun and Shakespeare In Love). It also helped garner him enough clout to direct a $5million film starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, even though he'd never had any experience at the helm before. Sadly, no agent suggested a similarly fruitful way of successfully making the translation to the screen.
In fact, there seems to have been hardly any cinematic conversion at all. This film is stagey in the extreme. There's barely any movement and less momentum, the only additions are a few baggy extra scenes while countless subtleties are lost. Sure, there are a few nice props and bigger sets than you get in a theatre, but it's all so stationary it might as well be set on the stage. And even when there is significant action, it's usually an illustration of something the words are already doing rather than an end in itself. A horribly contrived, literal realisation of a game of verbal tennis on a palace court springs to mind.
All this just serves as a reminder that this is essentially a play about plays: not about films. A problem that Stoppard's adaptation roundly ignores. Conceits that work in the theatre are just annoying here. Anyone for a play within a play that's a rehearsal for a play within a play within a film? And the hammy head player, Richard Dreyfuss, and his group of clowns just seem like a distraction rather than the central issue. The sections from Shakespeare don't fare much better: Glen's Hamlet is deeply annoying, his sensual mother Gertrude (Miles) is decidedly unattractive and the evil king Claudius (Sumpter) is very likeable. So serious are all these faults that although there are fine central performances from Roth and Oldman (both wonderfully baffled) this film is just about unwatchable.
Verdict It's all too easy to tell that this is Stoppard's debut as a film director, and it's even easier to see why he hasn't made a film since. A disastrous adaptation of an excellent play.
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