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‘To be or not to be, that is the question!’ – ‘Hamlet’, Act Three, Scene I
This is a spectacular production of ‘Hamlet’, the well-known play by Mr. William Shakespeare himself!
It was a joy and fun to watch! I’d been meaning to watch this TV film production of ‘Hamlet’ by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) for some time. It heralds a cast led by two of my favourite actors that have the greatest talent and are worthy to perform this Shakespeare play for this modern setting.
David Tennant and Patrick Stewart are fantastic in this! Despite my lack of knowledge about the play itself, it was enjoyable all the same. You’ll be surprised to find out that this is not your traditional Shakespeare costume drama play. It’s not set in the 1500s and is brought to a modern setting of today.
The characters wear modern clothes and the production has a modern direction. I purchased the TV film on DVD in Stratford-upon-Avon, January 2013. Stratford is a lovely place. I’ve enjoyed going there for weekend breaks with my parents. I’ve enjoyed going around the shops and restaurants. A highlight!
But I haven’t yet seen a Shakespeare play inside the RSC house in Stratford. I’ve enjoyed going into the RSC bookshop and that was where I purchased the ‘Hamlet’ DVD from. It was great for me to do. I’m not very familiar with all of the works by Mr. Shakespeare, I’m afraid. His plays are an acquired taste.
But I certainly studied some Shakespeare plays during my English lessons at school and at sixth-form college. The plays include ‘Macbeth’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘King Lear’. All of these plays I’ve encountered are tragedies and I’ve seen various adaptations of them, whether cinematic or televisual.
I’ve seen bits of the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ film with Leonardo DiCaprio and have seen a theatre-styled TV film of ‘King Lear’ with Sir Ian Holm. ‘Hamlet’ is a play I’ve heard about but never actually read or seen before. I knew about the “To be or not to be…” speech, but I had never encountered ‘Hamlet’ in school.
When I purchased the ‘Hamlet’ DVD starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, I also purchased the play text too. I went through the play text whilst watching the film in order to follow what was being said by each of the actors playing the characters. This was an unusual but very invigorating experience.
I saw this film in parts as it was three hours long in total length. I decided to watch each of the five acts of the play over five days to savour my enjoyment of it. I don’t fully grasp the story entirely since Shakespeare’s dialogue and writing is archaic for its time. But I have got the gist of what was going on.
‘Hamlet’ is a story about revenge. The title character Hamlet seeks revenge over the death of his father, who was killed by his uncle Claudius to become king. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark. He is so wrecked with remorse over the death of his father. Pretty soon, he sees the ghost of his father appear.
His father’s ghost tells Hamlet how he came to die by his uncle’s hand. Hamlet seeks revenge over Claudius and in doing so, it drives him mad and costs him the loss of his family and friends who either get killed or become fearful of him because of his rage and madness. It’s a pretty tragic story to watch.
Yet it’s so wonderfully played out by a good group of actors, pulling off great Shakespearean performances. The 2009 ‘Hamlet’ film has a history. Originally it was a stage production in London in 2008 by the RSC with David Tennant performing and leading the cast and this was performed 60 times.
Then quite suddenly, David Tennant suffered a back injury and had to undergo surgery in order to recover. This meant delays for him to return to play the part of ‘Hamlet’ in the theatre. However, once David had recovered, the RSC collaborated with the BBC to recreate the Shakespeare play as a TV film.
This would include the original cast from the stage production including David Tennant, which is a joy to behold. The TV film was shown on Boxing Day 2009, not long after the first episode of David Tennant’s swansong ‘Doctor Who’ TV story, ‘The End of Time’, was shown on TV after Christmas 2009.
David Tennant as Prince Hamlet is tremendous! David is well-known as the Tenth Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’. He’s one of my favourites. It was nice to see him in something else other than ‘Doctor Who’ and experience him in a Shakespeare play. He’s grasped the Hamlet role well with the text’s dialogue.
He puts across the darker qualities of the part when being torn with revenge and hatred. He also portrays a humorous side to the part to emphasise Hamlet’s madness which was funny to watch. David pulls of a brilliant performance as Hamlet, that is both funny and scary at the same time in this TV film.
Patrick Stewart is also great as Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius. Patrick is well-known for playing Captain Picard in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and is a well-known theatre actor for Shakespeare before and after ‘Star Trek’. I’ve wanted to see Patrick Stewart perform in a Shakespeare play for some while.
To see him in one opposite David Tennant is an absolute joy and a blessing. Patrick’s performance enthuses throughout this TV film with richness and believability. He has a rich and powerful voice in a Shakespearean play. Patrick also plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father as well as his uncle during the play.
The rest of the cast are also great. There’s Penny Downie as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and Mariah Gale as Ophelia, a potential flame for Hamlet. I found Mariah Gale’s performance as Ophelia terrifying and scary when she goes mad in the story. There’s Peter de Jersey as Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend.
Edward Bennett stars as Laertes, Ophelia’s brother and rival to Hamlet and there’s Oliver Ford Davies, who I’ve seen in the 1999 BBC production of ‘David Copperfield’, as Polonius, Ophelia’s father. There’s John Woodvine, who starred in the ‘Doctor Who’ TV tale, ‘The Armageddon Factor’, as the Player King.
I enjoyed the soliloquies performed by the actors in the play. David Tennan’’s “To be or not to be…” speech was inspirational and in character as Hamlet decides whether to live or die with such believability. I did enjoy Patrick Stewart’s soliloquy as Claudius when he’s torn by the foul act he made.
That moment when David Tennant’s Hamlet comes up behind Patrick Stewart’s Claudius and is about to kill him before he decides not to in the end was tense. Since the play was written for the theatre, the characters focus on the camera interacting with the TV audience when doing asides or soliloquies.
The setting for the play was certainly inspirational as most of it is filmed inside around a college in England. It makes it all so believable and familiar in a modern setting. It also provides a theatrical backdrop which is something I have seen before when I watched the ‘King Lear’ DVD with Sir Ian Holm.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of ‘Hamlet’ featuring cast and crew interviews with David Tennant; Patrick Stewart, etc. There’s also a ‘Think Theatre’ advert that promotes job opportunities at the RSC and a commentary with director Gregory Doran, producer Sebastian Grant and cinematographer Chris Seager.
‘Hamlet’ is great to watch with brilliant direction and cast performances. David Tennant is funny and thrilling as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart gives a bold performance. This is one for you if you’re a David Tennant fan; want to see him in something other than ‘Doctor Who’ and appear in a Shakespeare play.
‘Hamlet’ (2009) rating – 9/10
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