Friday, June 24, 2011


Director: Doran, 2009 TV, 3 hours, David Tennant as Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company

Claudius wears a business suit, and the bespectacled grave digger is dressed in immaculate tweeds like a well to do gentleman. Many of the characters, including Horatio, are non-white and one of the two envoys to Norway is a black woman. Hamlet himself is a nervous and twitchy young man in modern western attire, like a graduate student, at his most disturbed with an unbuttoned white shirt. Surveillance devices like TV cameras have been planted by Claudius to keep the incomprehensible prince in sight. Hamlet makes a movie of Claudius' reaction to the play within the play. All these anachronisms come very naturally and go to show that the drama is beyond time and place. Since most of us are familiar with the drama, and know what comes next, the TV film arouses a kind of suspense by making us wonder how things are going to be presented and the director gives us a welcome novelty of touch (always unobtrusive) at every twist and corner.

This is not to say that this is gimmickry. By freeing itself from constraints of costume and setting--we almost seem to on a time and space machine which hops from period to period--the film focuses on the essence of the play: the speeches, the acting, the depth of human experience. The film has a fluency of narrative and is a most enjoyable and unburden some revisit to the classic. David Tennant gives us a convincing and powerful Hamlet. At first his thin and office clerk like very unprincely appearance made him seem an unlikely candidate but we forget all that in the abandon of his portrayal--Hamlet, after all, is universal in his composition, and need not be confined in any particular physical mold. The seasoned Patrick Stewart, balding, bespectacled, and across sixty, gives a magnificent performance as Claudius.

This is the best of Hamlets, certainly better than the theatrically ornate and unnecessarily gloomy Laurence Olivier take, and even the over cinematic and applauded Kenneth Branaugh film. The least meddlesome are the best of Shakespearean enactments. After all, a successful enactment is one which takes you a step closer to the bard, and I feel inclined to another reading.

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