Hamlet (2009)

  • Title:  Hamlet
  • Director:  Gregory Doran
  • Date:  2009
  • Studio:  BBC / Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Mariah Gale
  • Format:  Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

The DVD is a filmed version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant as Hamlet, and Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius, costumed in modern dress — and it’s brilliant!  Instead of merely filming the production straight-on, this is an actual film (and shown on BBC television per IMDB) – shot on location at an old abandoned seminary (according to the behind-the-scenes feature).  A few scenes do look like an older college building, rather than a castle – but for the most part the location really works.

The main location in the film, the court at Elsinore, has a jet black shiny floor that would make an Art Deco set designer from RKO Pictures proud.  Seriously, I thought this was a set when I watched the film, though a brilliantly designed one, for a play about deception and secrets. That the basic space really existed is amazing!

Anyway, David Tennant is so brilliant in this — and I thought he was brill in Doctor Who.  He has a wonderful manic energy — but, because this is film, and shot as film – not a mere theatre archive piece, he also has the ability to go very quiet and intense (such as in the famous “To Be or Not To Be” speech). Tennant also brings to Prince Hamlet the impression that he’s really quite clever and crafty – he’s faking being insane while trying to decide what to do with the information provided by his Dad’s ghost.  OK, so maybe not totally sane — but Hamlet doesn’t come off at the whiny wimp he sometimes can.

Sir Patrick Stewart, meanwhile, is also brilliant as Claudius.  You can see how he manipulates everyone around him – Gertrude, and Laertes, especially.  But even courtiers like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern jump to do Claudius’ will, immediately.

Both Gertrude and Ophelia were brilliantly played.  Gertrude is especially good in the “closet” (or bedroom) scene with Hamlet.  And Tennant is scary good in that – especially when he breaks the mirror! Mariah Gale as Ophelia does a great job with her mad scene, though it’s a thankless role.

The only one I didn’t like in the play was Polonius – whom I found annoying.  Now maybe he’s supposed to be annoying, but his quoting of quaint proverbs sounds actually clichéd, and he underplays giving the lines too! (E.g. bits like giving his son the advice “neither a borrower or a lender be” when sending his son off to college or wherever Laertes is going at the start of the play).

I loved the use of highly polished surfaces throughout the play, such as the floor in the court, and also the mirrors.  The cracked mirror in Gertrude’s room seems to symbolise Hamlet’s cracking soul.  Brilliantly realised that!

The use of cctv footage (breaking to a view through a camera) I found less successful – it was distracting, and I even wondered if there was a fault in my DVD at first (like it was going to an alt-angle view or something for no reason).  According to the “Behind the Scenes” documentary on the DVD – this is meant to suggest the lack of privacy and the “all-knowing, all-watching” state that prevails at Elsinore.  It didn’t quite work for me.

But I do highly recommend this – Tennant is brilliant, Stewart is brilliant, the rest of the cast is fantastic, the film is quite, quite good.

Running time was at least three and a half hours, though.  I watched it last night, and man – it did feel a bit long. But still well worth it.  There are two special features and a commentary.  There’s a nice behind-the-scenes feature, which runs a bit over half-an-hour, and there’s a quick advert for careers in the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), that’s actually pretty cool.  Haven’t listened to the commentary yet.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars!

Robin Hood Men in Tights

  • Title:  Robin Hood Men in Tights
  • Director:  Mel Brooks
  • Date:  1993
  • Studio:  Columbia / Tri-Star
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Cary Elwes, Richard Lewis, Amy Yasbeck, Tracey Ullman, Megan Cavanagh
  • Cameo Cast:  Patrick Stewart, Dom DeLuise, Dick Van Patten, Mel Brooks
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R2, PAL

“Let me introduce you to my best friend, Will Scarlett.” — Little John
“Scarlett is my middle name. My full name is Will Scarlett o’Hara. … We’re from Georgia.” — Will

“And why should the people listen to you?” — Prince John
“Because, unlike some Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.”  — Robin

“We’re men, we’re men in tights. Tight, tights!
Always on guard, defending the people’s rights.
When you’re in a fix, just call for the men in tights.”  — “Men in Tights”, song and dance number (Cast)

Robin Hood:  Men in Tights came out as a parody of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves, but actually also parodies the classic 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. There are also some references to the ITV series, Robin of  Sherwood (aka Robin Hood – the one starring Michael Praed and Jason Connery). But with a new Robin Hood film in theaters (Starring Russell Crowe, and directed by Ridley Scott) and a new Robin Hood TV series (starring Jonas Armstrong and Richard Armitage) – this parody actually almost seems to work better now than when it was originally released. Some references no longer really work, but Cary Elwes is the perfect Robin Hood.

In this version of the tale, Robin is captured in the Holy Land during the Crusades, and thrown in a dungeon. There he meets Asneeze, who help him get free. The two led a revolt freeing all the prisoners. Thankful to be freed, Robin promises to look up and help Asneeze’s son, Achoo, when he arrives in England. In England, Robin finds his family’s castle being repossessed and the local villages being burned. He vows to rescue England from tyranny. Soon he’s put together a merry band:  Achoo, Blinkin (Robin’s family’s blind servent), Little John, and Will Scarlett. In a parody of Flynn’s Robin Hood, Elwes’ Robin brings a wild boar (rather than deer) to Prince John’s feast. He sees Marion, and they fall for each other. After a fight with Prince John’s men, Robin, rescued by his men, returns to the forest and begins training the villagers. Also, in a scene straight from The Adventures of Robin Hood, John decides to lure Robin into a trap with an archery contest. As in the Flynn film, Robin arrives at the archery contest, dressed as an old man. But it is John’s archer who splits Robin’s arrow. Shocked, Robin checks the script to see — and discovers he gets another shot. He uses a patriot target-seeking arrow, and blows up the another arrow. Robin is captured and John threatens to hang Robin, if Marion doesn’t marry him. She’s about to do it, when Achoo saves the day, shooting Robin loose from the hangman’s noose. King Richard (Patrick Stewart) arrives and knights Robin. Robin and Marion are “quickly married” by Rabbi Tuckman (Mel Brooks), and start their new life. Robin appoints Achoo the new sheriff of Rottingham. At first the villagers protest, “A black sheriff?” But Achoo responds, “Why not – it worked in Blazing Saddles,” — why do I get the feeling Brooks was waiting the entire film to use that line?

Elwes has a pencil mustache, like Flynn’s from The Adventures of  Robin Hood, and the costumes are also vintage the 1938 movie. Several scenes from the 1938 film are also parodied, notably Robin bringing the deer/boar into the Prince’s feast, and the archery contest scene. Also, Robin has a habit of starting long speeches – which quickly bore his audience. In one, he starts, sounding like Flynn, and ends, sounding like Churchill.

From Robin of  Sherwood – we get the opening sequence of the flaming arrows being shot from English longbows (in silhouette). Also, the character of Achoo, seems to be drawn from Nazzar, though he’s a lot more chatty.

But, Robin’s jibe that, “at least I can speak with an English accent,” is aimed straight at Kevin Cosner – who’s really awful accent (and inability to do one) was a major problem in Prince of Thieves. Unfortunately, though Elwes does an English accent perfectly — most of the rest of the cast is American and sounds it. The worst is Richard Lewis, who just does a bad job as Prince John.  (What is it with Prince John, anyway?  Nobody seems to get him right!  I swear, Doctor Who had the best Prince John I’ve seen in the story “The King’s Demons”).  But yeah, Robin Hood should definitely not sound like he comes from Iowa, and that was the trouble with Cosner’s film.

However, though funny in parts, and filled with some excellent honest-to-goodness sword-fighting scenes, this isn’t the classic Mel Brooks of The Producers, Blazing Saddles, or Young Frankenstein. I did like that it drew on all the Robin Hoods to date, and, again, with two new Robin Hoods out there, it’s worth watching again, but overall a bit disappointing for Mel Brooks.

There is a lot of excellent music in the film — the Robin Hood Rap is fun, the title number of We’re Men, We’re Men in Tights, is hilarious, and even Marion’s Theme is quite sweet.

Yes, I do have an R2 version of  this film. I couldn’t find an US/ R1 / NTSC version anywhere when I bought it. However, you can now find the film as part of the boxed set of Brooks’ films.

Recommendation:  It’s OK, but not stellar.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Roman Holiday