Saturday, June 28, 2014

Twelfth Night Or What You Will (Independent Shakespeare Company’s 2014 Production) Theatre Review

I have come to expect great things from the Independent Shakespeare Company, and this group has not disappointed me yet. Their new production of Twelfth Night or What You Will is a total delight.

The first line of this play is one of those famous lines that many people know regardless of whether they’ve ever seen or read a Shakespeare play. This production chooses an interesting and original way to approach it. David Melville comes on stage with a small drum kit attached to his back and a banjo, and reads the opening announcements. He then plays a song on the banjo, the last line of which is “If music be the food of love.” The play then begins, with music playing on a Victrola. Orsino (Ryan Vincent Anderson) is affected by the music and begins to cry, so his servant shuts it off. He then delivers the opening line: “If music be the food of love, play on!” So the Victrola is turned back on.

It’s a playful and excellent start to the production, and immediately sets the tone for what is to follow. The set has two levels, and the company quickly makes use of both, having Viola (Kalean Ung) and the Captain begin the second scene on the upper level.

As is often the case with this play, it really gets going with the introduction of Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew in the third scene. The entire cast is quite strong, but these three actors are standouts for me, and their first scene together is excellent. Toby is played by Danny Campbell, whom I loved as Falstaff in The Merry Wives Of Windsor a few years ago. Sir Andrew (AndrĂ© Martin) wears a yellow suit with bow tie, top hat and pants that are just a bit short, so you get a sense of who he is before he ever speaks a word. When Maria (Bernadette Sullivan) says “bring your hand to th’ butt’ry bar and let it drink,” she puts Andrew’s hand on her breast and holds it there, and his reaction is hilarious. This group seems to always toss in at least a few modern references in their outdoor productions, and in this scene when Andrew boasts of his “back-trick,” he does Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. Later, Feste improvises a few lines to add to his list of jokes to amuse Andrew, including “Los Angeles has a wonderful public transportation system.”

This play has a couple of inherent difficulties. One of them is having Viola be believable as a man (this, of course, is a difficulty in several other Shakespeare plays), and this production does a really good job with that. As Cesario, Viola wears a suit and black bow tie, and carries herself differently. It helps too that Olivia picks a very precise moment when she begins to be attracted to Cesario, which is one of the many funny moments in this production. (My favorite Olivia moment, however, is when she is suddenly confronted by what she sees as two Cesarios, and exclaims, “Most wonderful!” Her delivery is full of joy, as if she’ll get both of them, which is perfect.)

Feste (David Melville) uses a toy horn to punch his jokes at certain points. It’s an old device, but it’s remarkable how this company can take such things and breathe life into them. Another example is that Toby does the old gag of kicking his hat as he tries to pick it up, but makes it work. And there is some silly business with Andrew’s suitcases, with Fabian returning one as Andrew brings out the other. We’ve seen all of this before, and perhaps that’s the point. But it all works well.

The actors also make great use of the outdoor space, making several entrances from the audience. And early in the play Malvolio drags Feste out through the audience as Feste begs the chance to explain his reasoning in referring to Olivia as the fool. Probably the best use of the audience is when Malvolio reads the planted letter, and Toby, Fabian and Andrew spy on him from among the crowd. (Andrew has some great moments in that scene, like when Malvolio speaks of him and Andrew blurts out, “That’s me, I warrant you.” What’s great is that he delivers the line with a certain amount of pride.)

Fabian is female in this production, dressed as a maid, and played well by Julia Aks. There is some attraction between her and Feste, which presents opportunities for added humor, as when they’re interrupted by Toby and Andrew. When Toby opens the door to reveal him, he gives the “Welcome, ass” line, another great moment. Fabian also accompanies Feste on accordion and backing vocals on “O Mistress Mine” and on the final song.

Orsino gets a few wonderful moments too, especially when after demanding a song from Feste he is reduced to tears by the music and has Cesario sit next to him. And there is a wonderful moment near the end where he grabs Sebastian instead of Cesario/Viola.

And of course Luis Galindo is magnificent as Malvolio. After discovering and reading the letter he believes is from his mistress, his reading of “I am happy” is hilarious. And then he takes a moment to force his face into a smile, something that is clearly not easy for him to do. What I love is that by the end, you do come to feel for Malvolio.

The last scene of this play is actually a somewhat tough one to do, particularly in making it believable that Viola doesn’t figure out sooner that Sebastian is alive. But Kalean Ung makes it work quite well. By the way, this play has for me what is possibly the saddest line in all of Shakespeare: “I was adored once too.” But it’s also quite funny, and it gets a laugh in this production.

There is one intermission, coming at the end of Act II.

Twelfth Night or What You Will is directed by Melissa Chalsma, who directed the company's recent production of Romeo And Juliet. It runs through July 20th, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. After the 20th, the Independent Shakespeare Company will present The Taming Of The Shrew. But there are still nights here and there until the end of August when they return to Twelfth Night. Check the company’s calendar. I highly recommend seeing this production. In addition to an excellent cast, it’s wonderful to see Shakespeare performed in the park. Be sure to take a sweater or light jacket, for it gets cool by intermission.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hamlet (2009) DVD Review

Hamlet (2009) stars David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies, Mariah Gale, Edward Bennett and Peter De Jersey. It was directed by Gregory Doran. This is a special film version of The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play (not a filmed stage version). It features some excellent performances. There is only a bit of re-ordering of scenes, and just a few odd cuts, particularly regarding Fortinbras.

Act I

This version has a modern setting, and the opening shot is through a security camera. Francisco has a rifle. Marcellus’ flashlight shines on Francisco’s face, leading Francisco to say: “Stand, ho! Who is there?” We don’t see the Ghost in the first scene. The camera at one point acts as the perspective of the Ghost, with Horatio (Peter De Jersey) addressing it. After the Ghost exits, there is then another shot from the security camera, leading us to wonder whether the camera has captured the Ghost’s image. The second time the Ghost (Patrick Stewart) appears, we see it. In fact, we see it before Horatio and the others do, as it appears behind them. It advances on Horatio. And on the security camera, it is not visible.

Hamlet (David Tennant) is in a black suit, with black tie. Cornelius becomes Cornelia, a woman, in this version. Only she, not Voltimand, says “In that and in all things we show our duty” (a slight variation on the play’s line). Laertes (Edward Bennett) looks to Polonius (Oliver Ford Davies) for guidance in what to say to the king, and in the background we see Polonius mouth, “Your leave and favor to return to France/From whence though willingly I came to Denmark.” Polonius whispers, “And bow them,” which Laertes then repeats. That makes Claudius’ asking for Polonius’ word on the matter rather funny. Claudius (Patrick Stewart) gives a serious and pointed delivery of “’tis unmanly grief.” As everyone exits, we get another security camera shot (a little distracting and off-putting). Hamlet says his first big speech to himself at first, not to camera, and breaks down almost immediately and is on his knees for much of his speech. He then does turn to the camera partway through the speech. Hamlet delivers the last lines of the scene to the camera.

Because Polonius prompted Laertes in the second scene, the connection between those two characters is made stronger, and so we better see their similarities when Laertes gives Ophelia (Mariah Gale) advice just before Polonius advises Laertes. On Ophelia’s line “and recks not his own reed,” she pulls two condoms out of Laertes’ suitcase and holds them up. Ophelia and Laertes have clearly heard Polonius’ advice before, for they chime in with some of his lines. Ophelia’s last line of the scene, “I shall obey, my lord,” is certainly not delivered with any happiness.

Hamlet falls to his knees on “Murther!” Patrick Stewart is fantastic as the Ghost. He grabs Hamlet and pulls him up slightly from his knees on “If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not,” which he says with anger. When the Ghost disappears, a cloud of smoke hangs in the air in his place. When the Ghost commands “Swear,” the ground shakes. Hamlet says “our philosophy” instead of “your philosophy” to Horatio. There’s a wonderful moment after “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit,” when Hamlet looks around, as if waiting to see if the Ghost is truly gone or not. Horatio and Marcellus exit after “And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.” So Hamlet’s final line of the scene is cut.

Act II

The second act opens with Polonius saying “Give my son this money” rather than “Give him this money.” There is another security camera shot during Polonius’ exchange with Reynaldo. Polonius gives a wonderful, confused pause before “What was I about to say?” The scene ends with Polonius’ “This must be known.”

Claudius does confuse Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Gertrude corrects him, but sweetly. Cornelia delivers the first of Voltimand’s lines, and changes “nephew’s levies” to “nephew’s march.” Then Voltimand takes up the speech there. The speech is simplified, paraphrased. But oddly, the lines about Fortinbras’ request to pass over the land are cut completely. Polonius is wonderful in the scene with Claudius and Gertrude. On “I have a daughter,” Ophelia is escorted into the room. Claudius says “As of a friend faithful and honorable” rather than “As a man faithful and honorable.”

After Gertrude says, “But look, where sadly the poor wretch comes” (cutting the word “reading”), this production jumps to lines from the first scene of Act III, beginning with Claudius’ “Sweet Gertrude, leave us.” When Gertrude says “And for your part, Ophelia…” it’s clear that she has never met Ophelia before. This scene continues with “To be or not to be…,” and then into the scene with Ophelia, which Claudius and Polonius watch from behind a two-way mirror. Hamlet, by the way, wears a very silly T-shirt with muscles printed on it, which just doesn’t seem right. After Ophelia asks “What means your lordship,” Hamlet jumps to “I did love you once.” After Hamlet says “Go thy ways to a nunnery,” the surveillance camera zooms in, making a noise. He looks up to it, while Ophelia looks toward where Polonius and Claudius are watching. Hamlet then says “Let the doors be shut upon him…” directly to the surveillance camera. He tears up his letters before exiting. After Polonius says “We heard it all,” the film then goes back to Act II, and Polonius says: “Away! I do beseech you. Here he comes. I’ll board him presently.” In the play he delivers these lines to Claudius and Gertrude, and they are: “Away! I do beseech you, both away./I’ll board him presently. O, give me leave.” In this version Hamlet exits after tearing the letters, then returns only moments later, and looks into the mirror, where Claudius is still hiding. And that’s what leads him to say, “Well, God-a-mercy.” An interesting idea. And so in the exchange with Polonius, Hamlet knows he’s being observed, and that certainly colors his responses. Hamlet picks up the book that Ophelia left behind, and that is what he reads. This version uses the emendation “god kissing carrion.” It doesn’t makes sense for Polonius to ask, “What do you read, my lord,” as it is the very book that he himself gave to Ophelia. On the third “Except my life,” Hamlet makes a face that reminds me of a particular bit that Terry Gilliam did in one of the Monty Python skits. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter, we see it from the security camera. Several of the lines about dreams are cut. The sound of a car horn (rather than a flourish) leads Guildenstern to say, “There are the players.” Hamlet is excellent in his dialogue with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, particularly just before Polonius enters. Though this version has a modern setting, the players are all men, so Hamlet’s lines about the one actor’s voice and height are delivered to a long-haired man. The First Player is wonderful. After “who shall ‘scape whipping,” Polonius says “Come, sirs,” thus cutting a couple of Hamlet’s lines. Hamlet reaches up and smashes the security camera, and that leads to his “Now I am alone.” He then sits down on the floor before beginning “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I.” Hamlet approaches the camera to ask us directly, “Am I a coward?


After Claudius says, “And drive his purpose to these delights,” he then jumps to “I have in quick determination,” skipping over lines that were moved to an earlier spot. Claudius spots the broken surveillance camera, leading to his “Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.” That is the best use thus far of those cameras.

The second scene begins from the point of view of Hamlet’s personal camera, as he says, “Speak the speech…” Hamlet takes a player’s mirror and reflects light onto several players in succession on the lines about “the mirror up to nature.” Hamlet really hits the joke of “country matters,” saying “cunt…ry matters.” The players enter after “died two months ago and not forgotten yet,” thus cutting much of Hamlet’s speech. Hamlet films part of the dumb show and the play, sometimes capturing Claudius’ reactions. Claudius asks Polonius: “Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in ‘t?” Claudius calmly says, “Give me some light.” Hamlet wears the costume crown and sits on the throne, thus when he asks, “Have you any further trade with us,” he uses the royal “we” (or in this case, “us”). Hamlet is excellent in the bit regarding the recorder. Hamlet speaks his soliloquy into his personal camera.

Claudius bends over and coughs before beginning “O my offense is rank.” While Claudius is knelt in prayer, Hamlet approaches him from behind with a knife raised. Hamlet’s following lines are done as voice over. Because it’s a knife, he says, “Up, blade” instead of “Up, sword.”

Polonius hides behind a mirror. Hamlet grabs a pistol from a bedside table and shoots through the mirror. The pictures of the two kings are in newspapers rather than the usual lockets. When the Ghost appears, his love for Gertrude is still clear, which is wonderful. As Hamlet drags out Polonius’ body, he calls out cheerfully, “Good night, mother,” which makes Gertrude laugh in spite of herself – a wonderful moment. Her laughter quickly turns to tears.

And then Claudius is behind her, rubbing her shoulders, to begin Scene v. Instead of “Behind the arras” Gertrude says “Behind the mirror.” And instead of “Whips out his rapier,” Gertrude says “Whips out his weapon.”

We have a scene of Hamlet dragging Polonius’ body up stairs, and the men looking for him. When they bring Hamlet before Claudius, he is gagged and bound to a wheeled office chair (bringing to mind Bobby Seale during the Trial of the Chicago 8).

Scene viii, with Fortinbras, is cut. So gone from its rightful place is one of Hamlet’s major speeches (“How all occasions do inform against me”).

Act IV

Scene i takes place in Gertrude’s room, and she stands by the broken mirror where Hamlet shot Polonius. The Gentleman is cut, and Horatio speaks his lines. Ophelia first appears in the broken mirror. At one point Ophelia’s hand goes to touch the bullet hole in the mirror. Ophelia dances about and removes her clothes as she sings her mad song. Laertes enters with gun drawn and aimed at Claudius. Ophelia enters with giant clumps of weeds, rather than just a few small flowers. Ophelia is quite good in this difficult scene. When Claudius says, “Where th’ offence is let the great axe fall,” we see Gertrude’s astonished reaction in the background, which is very nice.

Oddly, the film then goes to Act III Scene viii, with the lines about the “promis’d march.” The problem, of course, is that the earlier lines about that promise were cut, and no mention has been made of it until now. That’s the first big problem in this production. Hamlet then sits down and again turns his camera on himself for the “O how all occasions do inform against me” speech. Also odd is that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not with him. Hamlet is alone. Has he already dispatched them then?

The film then goes to Act IV Scene iii (skipping Scene ii), beginning with Claudius’ line, “Laertes, was your father dear to you” (approximately halfway through the scene as written). Then after Laertes asks, “Why ask you this,” Claudius holds up the letter and says, “Hamlet comes back.” He then goes to “What would you undertake…” Claudius still says, “How much I had to do to calm his rage,” even though the first half of the scene, where he works to do just that, is completely cut. The scene began with Laertes fairly relaxed, so that line no longer makes sense.

Act V

The second gravedigger is included in this version, and they begin the scene talking about Ophelia’s death. But all the stuff about Adam and about grave-makers building strongest is cut. One skull is already out of the grave at the beginning of the scene. Another is tossed up out of it as Hamlet and Horatio approach. And then another skull is tossed up (so actually the third skull of the scene). It is the first skull that is Yorick’s. When the funeral procession approaches, Hamlet and Horatio run off, Hamlet still holding Yorick’s skull. The Gravedigger quickly gathers up the other two skulls. Laertes lifts Ophelia’s body, holding her in his arms, when he tells the Gravedigger to toss the dirt on them both.

The beginning of the second scene is cut. Horatio says, “So, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are dead” rather than “… go to ‘t.” The Lord is cut. Much of Hamlet’s speech to Laertes is cut. It goes from “I here proclaim was madness” to “Sir, in this audience…” Most of Laertes’ response is also cut, and the cut makes Laertes seem more dishonest and treacherous. We get several shots from the security camera. Hamlet gets the first hit immediately. When Claudius tells Gertrude not to drink, she right away understands the reason, looks into the cup, then says, “I will, my lord.” Hamlet actually hands Claudius the cup when telling him to drink rather than forcing it down his throat. And since he’s already cut (and perhaps also because he really loved Gertrude), Claudius gulps it down to make his death easier, quicker. A very interesting choice. Osric’s lines about Fortinbras are cut, as are Hamlet’s. Hamlet says, “To tell my story,” then goes right to “The rest is silence.” The last line is Horatio’s “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Fortinbras is cut, which makes me wonder why the earlier Fortinbras scene was included.

Time: 182 minutes

DVD Special Features

The DVD includes Hamlet: Behind The Scenes, with interviews with key cast and crew members and plenty of behind-the scenes footage. David Tennant talks a bit about the “To be or not to be” speech. Both he and Patrick Stewart talk about performing soliloquys on film. Patrick Stewart also talks about the Claudius’ choice to drink the poison. Penny Downie gives her thoughts on performing the closet scene. Director Gregory Doran talks about the use of surveillance cameras. This feature is approximately thirty-two minutes.

There is also a commentary track by director Gregory Doran, director of photography Chris Seager, and producer Seb Grant.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hamlet (2000) DVD Review

Hamlet (2000) stars Campbell Scott, Jamey Sheridan, Blair Brown, LisaGay Hamilton, and Roscoe Lee Browne. It was directed by Campbell Scott and Eric Simonson. This version of Hamlet takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century, and features a very good Campbell Scott as Hamlet. The supporting cast is a mixed bag, with John Benjamin Hickey absolutely excellent as Horatio, but Roger Guenveur Smith completely awful in the role of Laertes. At three hours, there aren’t too many extreme cuts, though there is one that shocked me. And the film generally avoids re-ordering the scenes, which is good (though the “To be or not to be” speech is moved to an earlier spot).

Act I

The film opens with a couple of shots in daylight before the credits. Then there is a shot of Francisco nervously looking about while on his watch. There are also a couple of shots of a few characters inside, without dialogue, an interesting way of introducing them. Then we go to Act I Scene i. The Ghost appears in the dark distance, and is seen only partially, which is nice. The second time he appears, he is suddenly standing closer, and so we get a better view of him. The Ghost takes a few steps toward Horatio (John Benjamin Hickey), then stops when Horatio says, “Stay, illusion.” It’s an interesting choice, having the Ghost move toward the men rather than away, and also for it to actually listen to Horatio. The Ghost then moves forward again, seemingly about to speak.

A jazz band plays for those dining at the beginning of the second scene. Ophelia is present at the table, and exchanges looks with Hamlet. Hamlet has a black ribbon tied around his head. Claudius (Jamey Sheridan) stands, and the band stops, and he addresses those present. After Claudius gives Laertes (Roger Guenveur Smith) leave to return to France, Hamlet (Campbell Scott) gets up and walks away from the table. And that leads to Claudius addressing him. Hamlet says his first line to himself, facing away from Claudius. On “unschool’d,” Claudius suddenly, forcefully removes Hamlet’s head band. Hamlet then wears the black band tied around his arm, and he moves to a different part of the castle before delivering his first big speech (“O that this too too solid flesh”). He says it to himself, not to the camera. Horatio’s reaction to Hamlet saying he sees his father is perfect, and I love the way he covers after that. The lines about the ghost being armed are cut.

While Polonius (Roscoe Lee Browne) and Ophelia (LisaGay Hamilton) talk, they watch as Laertes leaves. Laertes and Hamlet exchange words and shake hands in the distance while Ophelia and Polonius talk. The scene ends with Polonius’ “I charge you.”

The Ghost appears on a platform above Hamlet. He is not wearing armor. As the Ghost describes his own murder, Hamlet suffers, seemingly to experience it, even bleeding from his ear. Hamlet and the Ghost’s conversation takes place on a beach, apart from the castle. Horatio and Marcellus catch up to Hamlet there. When the Ghost says “Swear,” it is like he is rising from the sand. On the second “Swear,” fingers begin to rise out of the sand. Campbell Scott gives an interesting reading of “Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” After they swear on the sword, the Ghost’s arm reaches out of the sand and seizes the sword, pulling it into the dirt (it is, after all, Hamlet’s father’s sword – earlier we saw Hamlet take it).

Act II

As Reynaldo leaves, he sees Ophelia at the door, and says, “My lady” (a line not in the play), which causes Polonius to look up.

I like that Gertrude and Claudius seem concerned with Fortinbras’ request to pass through their lands. Polonius opens the door to reveal Ophelia seated a bit away. Polonius then says, “I have a daughter,” indicating her to Claudius and Gertrude. Polonius then bids Ophelia to leave as Hamlet enters, reading. Hamlet can’t concentrate, hearing the whispers of the Ghost. He tosses the book away, then breaks his reading glasses. He then takes the broken glass and holds it to his wrist. After a moment he cuts himself, leading to “To be or not to be,” a bit earlier than in the play. This is the first re-ordering of speeches in this film version, and the only major instance of it. After “lose the name of action,” Polonius appears, and asks, “How does my good Lord Hamlet?” Hamlet says “good kissing carrion,” not the emendation “god kissing carrion.” Hamlet sort of sings the third “Except my life.” Hamlet is actually surprised and pleased to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet really asks, “Were you not sent for?” It’s not said with suspicion, which is great, as it allows Hamlet the moment to become so during the exchange. Campbell Scott is absolutely excellent in this scene. Polonius does not say “tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral.” Because this is a more modern setting, the players include women as well as men. So all the lines about the player’s beard and voice are cut. Hamlet pauses after “blood of fathers.” Hamlet’s reaction to Polonius’ interruption is great. After that, two other players deliver some of the Player’s lines.


The third act begins with Ophelia being prepared for her exchange with Hamlet. Then it goes to Gertrude’s “Did he receive you well?” to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as they walk through a corridor. Though the “To be or not to be” speech was moved to an earlier spot and so Hamlet wasn’t speaking upon his entrance, he still says, “Soft you now,” which doesn’t really make sense. After “Go thy ways to a nunnery,” Ophelia kisses Hamlet, and he returns the kiss. While they’re making out he asks, “Where’s your father?” But it seems like he really doesn’t know. He’s simply inquiring. But why? There’s been no indication from the hiding place. But then he must think her reply dishonest. Oddly, at this point Polonius and Claudius sneak out of their hiding place without being seen, and Hamlet suspects now that they are in there and grabs Ophelia’s hand and pulls her to the door, which is now open. None of this quite works.

Scene ii begins with one of the actors reciting lines with Hamlet, who is seated and wearing the costume crown. Hamlet then gets up to say “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you” – an interesting variation. The scene really has Hamlet coaching this one particular actor on a particular scene. The dumb show is cut.

Hamlet begins sneaking up on Claudius, with his dagger drawn. After “And so ‘a goes to heaven; And so am I reveng’d,” an arm reaches into frame to push his dagger down. It’s a strange choice. First, Hamlet doesn’t ask, “And so am I reveng’d?” He delivers it as a statement, like he’s resolved to do it. And then it’s the Ghost that stops him, which is odd, especially as just a bit later the Ghost will appear to Hamlet “to whet thy almost blunted purpose.” So why would he stop him from the revenge? It doesn’t make sense.

Polonius doesn’t die immediately. And in fact at one point he stands up before finally dying. And when he falls, the Ghost stands there in his place. As Hamlet exits with Polonius’ corpse, Gertrude kneels down and begins scrubbing the blood from the floor. We see Hamlet shove Polonius’ body into the space from where Claudius and Polonius earlier spied on him. So Hamlet’s line is changed to “nose him as you go into this closet by the lobby.” Obviously, that’s a more awkward line. As the men open the door, Ophelia appears and sees. Horatio draws her away.

Act IV

The Gentleman is cut, and his lines are given to Horatio. When Ophelia enters, she is wearing her father’s jacket and bloody shirt. Claudius tells a servant, not Horatio, to follow Ophelia. Horatio exits too. Laertes is the weakest actor in the film and his reading of “I’ll be reveng’d/Most throughly for my father” sounds positively odd. The “flowers” that Ophelia distributes are all blades of grass.

The Attendant and Sailor are both cut from Scene ii, and the scene begins with Horatio reading the letter. It’s read by Hamlet in voice over. That goes right to Claudius reading his letter, thus cutting the beginning of the third scene. Shockingly, that scene ends with Claudius’ “How, sweet Queen?” Gertrude’s sad look toward Laertes is all we get. Gone is her famous description of Ophelia’s death. This is one of the few cuts in the film that is just wrong.

Act V

The second gravedigger is actually present in this version, and the fifth act begins with their dialogue about Ophelia. The bit about the grave-maker building the strongest is cut. The first skull is cut. Laertes’ line “A ministering angel shall my sister be/When thou liest howling” is cut. But Hamlet still then says, “What! the fair Ophelia?” But how would he know without Laertes’ line? Hearing Laertes say “sister” is what alerts Hamlet. Though even if Laertes had said the line, Hamlet might not have heard it, for this Laertes has a habit of speaking very softly (perhaps as a way of masking his poor acting abilities). Still, it’s a line that absolutely cannot be cut. I would argue this is the worst cut in the entire film, even worse than Gertrude’s speech about Ophelia. This scene doesn’t quite work, partly because of that cut, and partly because of the questionable acting skills of Laertes, and partly because of the piano music which doesn’t feel appropriate. (Actually, the piano score almost never feels right in this film.)

Hamlet’s line about staying in practice is cut. The Lord’s line “The queen desires you to use some gentle entertainment…” is given to Osric, who says it to Hamlet just before Claudius and Gertrude enter. Laertes almost whispers “Have at you now,” which is really odd. After all, this is the moment when he kills Hamlet. And he speaks quietly, almost matter-of-factly. It’s almost like he’s bored. (He really should have been re-cast.) The bit where Horatio tries to drink the poison is cut. Hamlet sees the Ghost just before he says “The rest is silence.” The film ends with the soldiers shooting, which we view through a window.

Time: 180 minutes

The DVD includes a ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, with interviews with some of the cast members, including Campbell Scott, Roscoe Lee Browne, Blair Brown, LisaGay Hamilton, Jamey Sheridan and Roger G. Smith.