William Shakespeare
Strike Media

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As a supplement to the Theatre Royal, Windsor 2022 run of Sean Mathias’s intriguing take on Hamlet, the company also filmed a version of the production, which is now released on DVD and Blu-ray.

The main attraction was always going to be the appearance of octogenarian Sir Ian McKellen in the title role. This is not the first time that he has played Hamlet. Indeed, there is another film version available of the un-knighted actor taking on the role in 1970. This intimate version, which comes in at only around 110 minutes, is distinctive and often strays far from Shakespeare’s original.

Opening in black and white with the leading actor playing a vagrant trying to find his way into the welcoming venue, it is filmed in just about every imaginable space within the Theatre Royal, even the gents’ toilet.

Having cut half of the text, the film often feels compact and occasionally rushed as it hastens its way through the plot, frequently compacting scenes or moving text around. The star’s performance often comes over as more a commentary and class in how to perform the role of the Danish prince rather than part of a coherent whole, which has its pros as well as cons.

Although it was originally produced on stage, Sean Mathias has worked hard to convert it to film, concentrating on close-ups which allow viewers to see deep into the souls of the actors in a cast that pays homage to gender equality, allowing several of the male parts to go to women.

The star casting runs deep, with Jonathan Hyde portraying an irredeemably malign Claudius, producer Bill Kenwright’s wife Jenny Seagrove playing Gertrude with an inconsistent Germanic accent and Steven Berkoff making Polonius eccentric enough to make one wonder if he is a drunkard, with Francesca Annis and Frances Barber offering cameos respectively as the Ghost and First Player.

Mathias has worked hard to offer a different vision of this play, for example allowing Alis Wyn Davies to turn Ophelia into a flower child, complete with guitar and rock song. There are moments of beauty, especially the masque, choreographed by Wayne McGregor to music composed by Adam Cork, ahead of a brief but highly effective Mousetrap.

Overall, viewers will flock to see Sir Ian McKellen giving a masterclass in acting and may well appreciate the brevity of this Hamlet, although those who love the rhythm and poetry of the original might be better directed towards a more traditional production.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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