Hamlet: Presented by the Royal Shakepeare Company

Prince Hamlet (David Tennant) behind praying King Claudius (Patrick Stewart) scene from the BBC movie "Hamlet".
Prince Hamlet (David Tennant) behind praying King Claudius (Patrick Stewart) scene from the BBC movie "Hamlet".

Television Movie Review

The 2009 BBC version of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet presented by the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company from England, surprised me. This rendition had two well known actors starring in it; as Prince Hamlet (David Tennant, known mostly for his portrayal of the tenth Doctor in the BBC long running television series Doctor Who ) and King Claudius (Patrick Stewart, greatly recognized for his excellent performance as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Next Generation TV series and movies). I had zero inkling that both of these fine actors were members of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).

The RSC, renowned for its excellence, dates back to April 1879 when the Shakespeare Memorial Theater located at Stratford-Upon-Avon (in England) was completed and staged its first William Shakespeare play performance titled Much Ado About Nothing . March 20, 1961 the Shakespeare Memorial Theater was granted the title of the Royal Shakespeare Theater. The company behind the Royal Shakespeare Theater was allowed adoption of the name Royal Shakespeare Company. The RSC is well known throughout the United Kingdom and world-wide. The RSC prides itself for only accepting the best actors for their performances. It is regarded in the theater business as a great honor to be an RSC actor. Many directors and producers look for RSC actors for their television and movie projects (especially in the United Kingdom) due to the professionalism they exhibit and their first-rate acting skills. David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench and many other well known actors who are or have been members of the RSC are regarded as some of the very best in their field.

This RSC version of the play Hamlet ( that is well known throughout the world for captivating audiences since William Shakespeare's lifetime; 16th century) is a version with modern props, costuming, backdrop and all else that goes into a film's creation with the exception of the characters spoken lines and plot. They did not alter a single line from the original play. The words are entirely William Shakespeare's without deviation and remain Elizabethan. I was surprised how well all who performed in this production spoke Elizabethan English as if they had all their lives, properly speaking and using each word with a slight accent variation obviously targeted for the modern ear of the twenty-first century audience. I, who have grown up with William Shakespeare's sonnets and plays, was delighted by this rendition even though it was odd to see the guards holding rifles and Laertes plus other characters using hand guns. The modern clothing, including Hamlet's T-shirt was startling for whenever I think of Hamlet or any other Shakespeare play, I imagine Elizabethan garb worn by each character.

These things, however, did not detract from the enjoyment of the movie. The bare feet for those characters gone mad was a nice touch - a great way of saying, "Hey, character gone insane" to the viewer. There were a few places where I thought, "Why did they film this that way?" Later as the tragedy unfolded the filming technique made sense and left me with an "Oh, that's why" feeling. Superb acting including all other aspects; truly an awesome production. Well done RSC!

Unfamiliar with the tragedy Hamlet ? The plot of Hamlet is one of the most simplest William Shakespeare wrote which makes it widely used in High Schools throughout the United States under the class subject of English Literature. Many High School students will claim being tortured by having to read and study this play; that is until they realize it is about revenge and murder. Like all earlier renditions of Hamlet , this unique representation takes place in Denmark and is about the Danish Royal Family.

Prince Hamlet is the deceased King Old Hamlet's (also played by Patrick Stewart) son. Hamlet's mother (Queen Gertrude played by Penny Downie), not long after the death of her husband, marries Old Hamlet's usurping brother Claudius thereby making him King of Denmark. Immediately after the coronation of King Claudius, Prince Hamlet is informed by a few guards about a ghostly visitation who looks exactly like his father Old Hamlet. Prince Hamlet agrees to check this out with the guards and Horatio (Peter de Jersey), who he has known since childhood and trusts, at the exact time the guards have witnessed this apparition nightly appearing. This decision precipitates Prince Hamlet speaking with the ghost of his dear departed father and finding out his father was murdered by his uncle, the new King, Claudius. Sadly, Old King Hamlet in the traditional manner of King to Prince extracts a promise from Prince Hamlet to properly seek revenge his demise. The rest is about Prince Hamlet attempting to keep this awful promise. He seemingly goes mad which leads to his being sent away by means of Royal Decree.

After much time has passed, upon returning from England to the palace in Denmark (where the storyline began) Hamlet finds himself amidst enemies (except for Horatio). Hamlet is no longer liked by the Royal Court. King Claudius and Laertes (Edward Bennett) secretly plot to murder him with the usage of poison in a fencing duel between Laertes and Prince Hamlet. The remainder of this woeful tale covers a very tragic ending for the entire Royal Family.

Other cast members included: Mariah Gale (Ophelia, daughter of Polonius and sister of Laertes), Oliver Ford Davies (Polonius, advisor to the King), David Ajala (Reynaldo and the Dumb-show Poisoner), Keith Osborn (Marcellus), Sam Alexander (Rosencrantz and the second grave digger), Tom Davey (Guildenstern), Samuel Dutton (the Dumb-show King), Jim Hooper (the Dumb-show Queen and Priest who presides over Ophelia's funeral), Ryan Gage (Osric and the Player Queen), John Woodvine (the Player King), Ewen Cummins (Bernardo), Robert Curtis (Francisco and Fortinbras who is the nephew to the King of Norway), Mark Hadfield (the Grave Digger), Roderick Smith (Voltemand), Andrea Harris (Cornelia), Ricky Champ (Lucianus), Riann Steele (a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Gertrude), and Zoe Thorne (another Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Gertrude).

Hamlet, created for television by BBC, is rated NR (not rated). The characters losing their minds, funeral and revenge scenes might be too disturbing for children under 12; parental discretion is highly recommended. One should keep in mind Hamlet is an adult peice orginally written soley for entertaining adults. This RSC version is on DVD and runs a very lengthy 3 hours 2 minutes. William Shakespeare did not write short plays for they were written to entertain an audience for hours (Elizabethans were into getting their money's worth).

For those who thoroughly enjoy an excellent modernized rendition of a Shakespearean play, I highly recommend this version of Hamlet . You are a Theater lover? You will want to place this movie on your "must see" list. Not either of these types of viewers, more selective in what you watch? Do give this RSC performance of Hamlet a try; especially you Doctor Who and Star Trek: Next Generation fans!

Enjoy!

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Comments 2 comments

FatBoyThin profile image

FatBoyThin 17 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

I think Shakespeare can be wonderfully enjoyable when performed properly. I've seen several productions where the actors clearly had no clue what their character was talking about. Kenneth Branagh is one of the few people who seems to understand the text and who has the ability to perform his roles in a way that make them entertaining. Oh, and Ian McKellen, of course. And Patrick Stewart. And David Tennant. Naturally.


aliciaharrell profile image

aliciaharrell 17 months ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Yes, agree that it is wonderful and amazing when excellent actors perform Shakespeare properly instead of reciting lines clueless of what they are saying. Why I wrote this hub to help others find enjoyable renditions of a Shakespearean performance with actors who have the character nuances and Elizabethan language down as if their own. :D Thank you FatBoyThin for your insightful comment to this hub. Always delighted to hear from my fellow Hubbers. :D

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