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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

David Tennant’s ‘Hamlet’ tomorrow night on PBS

At long last, the filmed version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet — starring David Tennant, with Patrick Stewart as Claudius — is arriving on American television, on PBS’s Great Performances:

Shakespeare’s immortal “To be, or not to be” takes on a whole new meaning (and medium) as classical stage and screen actors David Tennant and (recently-knighted) Sir Patrick Stewart reprise their roles for a modern-dress, film-for-television adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) 2008 stage production of Hamlet. The production will be presented on PBS by the Great Performances series on Wednesday, April 28, 2010, at 8 p.m. EST (check local listings). Immediately following the broadcast, the film will be available online in its entirety here on the Great Performances Web site.

I wrote about the stage version when I saw it in Stratford-upon-Avon in the fall of 2008. I hope to get a chance to write about the filmed version later this week: I’m curious to see how it stands up next to the stage production.

The DVD will be released in Region 1 on May 4th, and is available to preorder from Amazon U.S. and Amazon Canada. It is already available in Region 2 from Amazon U.K.



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  • Brian

    Wow! Thanks for the heads-up. I will definitely assign this to the DVR.

    It will be interesting to see how Mr. Stewart approaches Claudius differently now than he did 30 years ago when he was Claudius in the Derek Jacobi version.

  • very differently.

    also, i will be interested to see if PBS (and/or the RSC) leaves in the more devious, delirious and delightful sexual innuendos (some of them aren’t even innuendo!) and references. they added quite a bit in making the characters human and interesting… but they were a bit… wow!

  • They’re there in the DVD, bronxbee….

  • oh, that’s good! i have had the dvd for a while, just haven’t had the chance to watch it. dvds and broadcast are very different though… i’ll have to watch both.

  • zepto

    Thank you so much for posting this, I would have missed it otherwise.

  • Lisa

    Enjoy, America, Enjoy!

  • Fabritius

    Abysmal…truly abysmal effort.I was looking forward to it,as Hamlet is my favorite play.Histrionic and unconvincing, Tennant is out of his depth here.

  • Daniel

    Gregory Doran, the director, really needs to be declared an enemy of society. I’d like to think, since I like David Tennant, that the problem was that he stuck too closely to his stage performance. In the theatre, he had to perform the lines broadly enough that they registered with people seated in the back of the auditorium. A performance on film, generally speaking, needs to be quieter and more subtle. This production wasn’t subtle. My inclination is to blame the director, since–at least in the televised version–he muddled the editing, the blocking, the tone of many of the later scenes, the use of symbolism, and the jarring combination of time periods. The cinematography, however, was quite nice. But seriously, how do you fuck up Hamlet, with that cast, and how do you fuck it up that badly?

  • VT

    Well, I rather liked it. Of course I’m fully aware that I can’t judge anything with David Tennant in it completely dispassionately… :-)
    The muscle T-shirt was hilarious, though. Perfect.

  • Althea

    I like it, too. A lot. What I appreciate most in modern productions is the chance to see, by the actors’ or directors’ interpretations, what the original production might have meant to Shakespeare’s contemporaries. All we ever saw till the last few decades was romanticized, poetic readings, meant to do justice to his legend. It wasn’t till Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo+Juliet” that I had a reasonable idea of how one could appreciate the story more than the poetry and language. This “Hamlet” helped me to get how some of the speeches fit the action.

    People who saw these plays at the (original) Globe Theatre weren’t there to kneel at the feet of Shakespeare the legend, they went to hoot and holler at the comedy or gasp at the drama. I like getting a taste of that.

  • Joanne

    @Daniel:

    A performance on film, generally speaking, needs to be quieter and more subtle.

    I’m surprised you found it wasn’t subtle actually. What about those moments where Tennant talks directly to the camera? Or his “O that this too too solid flesh” monologue, which I thought began very subtly indeed?

    What I liked about this production is how stagy it was, actually. As I couldn’t see the play on stage it was good to get a feel of that. It reminded me very much of the McKellen/Dench/Nunn Scottish Play which I saw when doing GCSE drama at school.

    Admittedly I too cannot be particularly objective when it comes to David Tennant, because I do think he’s wonderful. :)

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