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!

Shakespearean Doctor Who – No, Really, It’s a Thing

doctorwho:

doctorwho:

Being able to travel thorough all of time and space, The Doctor’s interacted with many real-life historical figures. From meeting Richard Nixon to fighting a Vespiform with Agatha Christie, he’s made a lot of important and famous friends.

But how has The Doctor affected their lives? How have these interactions shaped history without anyone even realizing it? Soon, we can get a peek at just one example with Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks.

Newly discovered entries and drawings in William Shakespeare’s journals reveal for the first time the astounding relationship between the great Bard and the Doctor.

Since his first adventure in 1963, the Doctor has enjoyed many encounters with William Shakespeare. Now, BBC Books has rediscovered notebooks, long thought lost, compiled by the Bard in which he divulges the influential role the Doctor played in his creative life. Here are the original notes for Hamlet, including a very different appearance by the ghost; early versions of great lines (“To reverse or not to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”); the true story of how the faeries of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were first imagined; stage directions for plays adjusted to remove references to a mysterious blue box; and much, much more.

Lucky for us, our friends at Harper Collins were nice enough to give us 10 copies to give away to 10 lucky Whovians.

In honor of Shakespeare’s impressive portfolio (approximately 4 poems, 38 plays, and 154 sonnets that we know of,) you can have a chance at winning a copy of Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by posting your own Doctor Who-related poem/haiku/limerick/etc.

And it’s okay if you’re not the best at writing poems, because it can be as simple as:

Roses are red, the TARDIS is blue.
This example is bad, how about a haiku?

Sorry

Post yours in whatever format you’d like (text, recited in a video or audio post, drawn into a piece of fanart, etc.) using the hashtag #DW Poetry and we’ll randomly select 10 entries to win next week. We’ll be reblogging our favorites throughout the weekend, and the deadline is Monday, July 14th at 10AM EST. Good luck!

And we’re so so sorry to people outside of the Fifty States, but this giveaway is only open to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (including the District of Columbia.)

(PS, you can always get your own copy right here if you’d like)

In case you missed it, we’re holding a contest!

Henry V

  • Title:  Henry V
  • Director:  Kenneth Branagh
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  MGM (DVD release)
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Christian Bale, Kenneth Branagh, Brian Blessed, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Richard Easton, Ian Holm, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, John Sessions, Emma Thompson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Oh, for a Muse of Fire that would ascend the brightest heart of invention.”  — Chorus
 
“No King of England if not King of France.”  — Henry V
 
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V
 
“And upon this charge, cry God for England, Harry, and St. George.”  — Henry V

Branagh does a very traditional take on Shakespeare’s history play, Henry V, and brings it to life on the screen wonderfully.  The film features an excellent cast.  When watching Shakespeare, either live, or a television or film presentation, I’m always almost distracted by the famous quotes and Henry V is no exception, which goes to show just what an excellent writer Shakespeare really was.

But Henry V is also a history play, meant to instruct the Elizabethan audience on their history, with a favorable nod toward the Tudor line.  The film opens with Henry’s advisors explaining to him that he has a just claim to the throne of France, through the female line, though France is claiming Sallic law — that is, Royal descent through the male line only.  The French Delphin arrives, bearing the message the King has refused Henry’s claim — and an insulting present.  This pushes Henry into the decision he was leaning towards:  he will invade France and pursue his claim militarily.

Henry and company are next in Southampton.  Henry is asking his advisors how to deal with a man who has broken the law.  They advise harshly.  However, the audience knows these advisors are conspiring against Henry and are actually in the employ of France.  Henry gives the man accused a light sentence, then he has the three conspirators arrested. They are accused of High Treason. Henry, points out that since they did not advise mercy for a lesser crime, he will show no mercy to them.

The English army heads to France, and into a battle.  Henry himself  leads the charge, with rousing words of bravery on horseback, “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V. They take the castle, but Henry advises his men, they are not to harrass the villagers.  Nothing is to be taken, but paid for.  The French people are not to be harrassed.  Henry even orders the execution of one of his own men who was caught stealing from a church, though the man is an old friend and advisor.

Finally, the English army reaches Avincourt.  They are cold, wet, tired, and sick.  On the eve of battle, it is plain they are out-numbered five to one.  Henry takes another advisor’s cloak and wanders through the British camp, getting a feel for how his soldiers really feel about the king.  Some support the king, others, fear they are on a fool’s errand and the king will only get himself captured and need to be ransomed. Henry swears this will not happen, though he is also worried by the long odds.  The next day, Henry gives the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”) and the English charge into battle.  The battle is extremely well-filmed, showing both chaos and violence, and historic tactics.  Again, Henry leads his own men into battle.  The English archers fire thousands of arrows into the French army, killing hundreds of men and boys.

At the end, though it looks like the English have one, Henry is unsure.  The French envoy arrives and tells him that he has won the day.  Later there is an accounting — the French have lost 8000 men, including over 500 newly named knights.  The English, about five named men, and an additional twenty-five.  Henry gives credit to God for fighting for them.

Henry then goes to the French king.  Among his terms, the crown of France and the king’s daughter – Katherine.  The French king gives all to Henry.  Henry, after some courting of Katharine is to marry her. The film shows the two as the new king and queen.  However, Chorus reminds the audience that Henry’s son is not the man his father was, and he will lose France.

The courting scene between Henry (Kenneth Branagh) and Katharine (Emma Thompson) is wonderful, and the sparks fly — though she speaks only French, and he really only speaks English.  He tries speaking in French to her, but only succeeds in making her laugh.  Still, the chemistry is palatable.

Christian Bale is extremely young (like eight) in this, playing one of the boy pages, who sets off the flight of arrows at Agincourt, and is also killed. But he’s recognizable — and it’s surprising to see him.  The cast is filled with excellent British talent:  Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, John Sessions, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed and Judi Dench, as well as, of course, Branagh and Thompson.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Highlander