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Customer Review

205 of 222 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ... Tis well. I'll have thee speak out the rest, too, February 21, 2010
This review is from: Hamlet (2009) (BBC) (DVD)
"Hamlet" doesn't need any introduction -- the tortured Dane, the ghost, meditations on suicide and a climax full of death. But while many adaptations of Shakespeare's classic play feel stuffy and distant, this "Hamlet" has it all -- sleek elegant sets, powerful acting, and clever modern twists on the age-old stuff. And the best part is the brilliant performances by David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.

Prince Hamlet of Denmark (Tennant) is understandably upset when, only a short time after his father's death, his mother Gertrude (Penny Downie) marries his uncle Claudius (Stewart). But when Hamlet encounters the tormented ghost of his father (Stewart again), he learns that his dad was murdered by his uncle -- but he's plagued by indecision, since he's unsure if the spirit was truly his dad.

Hamlet's behavior becomes more bizarre and erratic -- he dumps his girlfriend Ophelia (Mariah Gale), arranges a play that mimics real life a little too closely, and generally acts like a loon (yodeling with a fake crown?). But when an argument with his mother ends in tragedy, Hamlet's fate is sealed as Claudius begins plotting to get rid of him too...

"Hamlet" is one of those plays that only really comes out two ways -- either you have a passionate, intense tragedy full of very human characters, or you have two boring hours of some whiny guy talking to himself. Having suffered through the latter in the past, it makes me appreciate a well-done performance all the more -- and this "Hamlet" is full of energy, vitality and wit.

A lot of that comes from Tennant, who is simply brilliant as Hamlet -- loads of energy, and a weird edge to his "madness" (example: freaking out Polonius by pulling a weird face). And he runs the entire emotional gamut here -- love, pain, puckish comedy, loathing, sorrow and shock, with the absolute peak being the hauntingly sad "to be or not to be" scene.

And Patrick Stewart is casually brilliant in his double role -- Claudius seems like a genial guy, but Stewart lets out little hints of his true nastiness; on the other hand, the ghost is all heavy intensity. Downie is excellent as Gertrude, and Gale is rather flat in her first few scenes, but after Ophelia goes mad she's amazing. Ripping off her clothes, leaping around, smacking Gertrude -- it's frighteningly good.

And the settings and costumes are similarly amazing. The entire play is done in a sleek, elegant modern style ("mad" Hamlet runs around in jeans), but the grandeur of a royal court is still there -- lots of elaborate formal clothes, and a looming, columned black palace-stage. There are some clever modern twists (Polonius spies through a one-way mirror and security cameras), and there are some truly brilliant bits of symbolism sprinkled through the story (Gertrude seeing the mad Ophelia in a shattered mirror).

This adaptation of "Hamlet" is a solid piece of work, with the smooth feeling of a classic play done by insanely talented people. Also: David Tennant is astounding.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 24, 2010 7:07:47 AM PDT
I quote you:

""Hamlet" is one of those plays that only really comes out two ways -- either you have a passionate, intense tragedy full of very human characters, or you have two boring hours of some whiny guy talking to himself."

It's so true.
Good review! I've seen bits of this on youtube and was amazed. Can't wait to see the whole thing. Do you know if it's the full text?

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2010 2:58:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 24, 2010 3:34:33 PM PDT
Eric Wyness says:
I recently saw a broadcast and yes, it is worth seeking out, particularly for Stewart's superb Claudius, although there are so many fine dvd Hamlets available (two favourites - Derek Jacobi's BBC production from the late 1970s, and a surprisingly good NY Shakespeare Festival/PBS Kevin Kline a decade later).
No, this is by no means the complete text; a great deal of the wider political matter was dropped, as it usually is. Branagh's is the only complete text on dvd that I'm aware of, 242 minutes, versus the BBC's 215 and PBS' 165.

Posted on May 31, 2010 12:24:10 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 31, 2010 12:24:49 PM PDT
NYer says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2010 8:39:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 30, 2011 7:56:09 PM PDT
Thank you for the info. about completeness.

I adored David Tennant as Hamlet; & I would have loved to see this DVD when I was studying Shakespeare in school. I gave this to 2 friends for Christmas.

I watched this the first time with the English subtitles. It is helpful to see Shakespeare's poetry as the actors speak it. Then, I watched it again without the subtitles in order to better appreciate Tennant's work. Bravo!

By the way, when I saw this on PBS as part of "Great Performances," there was an excellent half-hour discussion with the actors after the play. I assume this is included as a bonus feature in the DVD.

Posted on Sep 9, 2011 7:16:43 AM PDT
Nana Hassan says:
I've never took the time to watch any of Shakespeare's plays that were adapted for tv. Most are usually horribly overdone versions, in my opinion, but your review and my love for David Tennant inspired me to watch this one. And let me tell you, it was brilliant.
Tennant's Hamlet is very touching, and especially mad. He plays the part well, the Dane who went crazy after seeing an apparition resembling his father, which turns out to actually be the spirit of his slain king.
This isn't coming out well, but what I mean to say is thank you for the awesome review. I'm sure many people will want to watch this rendition of Hamlet after reading your report.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2013 3:49:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2013 3:50:06 PM PST
KJD says:
@NYer: Reviews are SUPPOSED to be reductionist. Spare us the pseudo-intellectualism. Nobody found your comment helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2016 6:24:33 PM PDT
Paul says:
Since when does a plot review, cliches, and buzz words constitute a "Good review!"?
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