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!