DVD Review: Hamlet (2014)

“A man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one’”

One of the main problems with the countless thinkpieces about the filming of live theatre is that they are almost always written by people who have ample opportunity to see the plays live. To talk about losing the innately unique quality of theatre unfolding before you is all too easy when you’re seeing shows pretty much every day of the week; when your own opportunities to see theatre, especially the bigger productions that tend to get filmed, are limited due to any kind of accessibility concern, it becomes a whole ‘nother ball

Which is a slight digression from how I intended to start this, by saying that I wonder how much of a difference it makes if you’ve seen a production live and then on screen. I’ve not done the double, as it were, on many plays, I’ve tended just to use DVD as a way to catch up on things I missed and so was a little hesitant about whether to include Sarah Frankcom’s production of Hamlet for the Royal Exchange in this collection. But boy am I glad I did, for I enjoyed immensely, possibly even more than I did at the theatre.

Margaret Williams’ direction for the screen is astutely done, capturing much of the intimacy of the in-the-round staging but also throwing in some interesting camera angles and perspectives, the bird’s-eye view being particularly well deployed for an anguished scream or two. And the intensity of Maxine Peake’s sweet Prince is magnified magnificently, her crisp accent a mastery of vocal control which contrasts sharply with the emotional roar that comes from Hamlet’s unravelling here, I was surprised at just how deeply moved I was whilst watching.

Frankcom’s strength comes from her determination to make her best Hamlet, rather than the definitive one (which is perhaps where I felt Branagh fell down a little). Barbara Marten’s emotive Gertrude, Gillian Bevan’s officious Polonia, Claire Benedict’s achingly good Player King, Michelle Butterly’s poignant Gravedigger, Thomas Arnold’s steadfast Horatio, there’s so many strong performances in this ensemble that the soul simply has to be stirred. The cleverness of Amanda Stoodley’s design choices also come to the fore again and again, making this probably the Hamlet I’ve enjoyed the most, certainly on screen and quite possibly on stage too. 

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