In 2009 The Royal Shakespeare Company produced a television version of its 2008 stage production of Hamlet starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. The television version utilizes the camera very effectively in that the close-ups and back and forth shots work well to draw a television audience in. Watching a filmed stage play can be tedious, and this production alleviates that problem. While the actors speak in the iambic pentameter of the original play, they are dressed in modern clothes and employ the use of video surveillance and handheld digital cameras.
This three-hour television production follows the familiar story of the titular character seeking revenge against his uncle, Claudius, for killing his father and marrying his mother. It is the ghost of Hamlet’s father that tells Hamlet of his uncle’s treachery, proving a suspicion Hamlet already held. Hamlet then must prove to his mother and the Royal court that Claudius is a murderer and only seeks power. Claudius in turn wants to prove Hamlet has gone mad, and tries to distract Hamlet’s attentions toward him with the love of the beautiful Ophelia.
Patrick Stewart plays both Claudius and the ghost of the senior Hamlet. He does a fine job, and his background in Shakespeare and theater is obvious. He very nicely contrasts the two characters and makes the evil Claudius just that in his quiet deception. I also like David Tennant as Hamlet. He brings a lot of humor to the role and plays it with a looseness that I found to be quite refreshing. I found the modern clothes to be both amusing and distracting. At one point Hamlet is wearing an orange T-shirt with bodybuilder abs and pecs drawn on, blue jeans, and no shoes. On the one hand I liked the casual nature of the costumes, on the other I found myself thinking too much about what everyone was wearing.
Fans of David Tennant and/or Patrick Stewart will likely be drawn to this production, and will probably not be disappointed in their performances. What is more difficult is the lengthy running time. Hamlet has been shortened for various productions so it wouldn’t have been a slight to cut it down a bit to make it to improve the pace. The scenes with Hamlet and Claudius are captivating, but long scenes of other people talking can become hard to follow and boring at times. Overall, however, it is worthwhile viewing for anyone interested in Shakespeare or the aforementioned actors.
The Blu-ray video quality is good. This production was shot in high definition for television and the picture is crisp and clear. While there is nothing stunning in the visual presentation all the colors are rich and the detail is sharp. The sound is also good. The voices are well-defined whether the dialogue is a booming loud voice or a whisper. Overall the visual and sound presentation suits the purpose of the presentation without being spectacular. For special features there is a commentary from the director, producer, and cinematographer that doesn’t quite fill up the three hours of the movie. There is also a half hour “making of” documentary that features interviews with the cast and specifics on the production.