Monday, February 8, 2016

Good Play Gone Bad - I Love David Tennant I Didn't Love David Tennant's Hamlet

David Tennant is a very good actor, eventually he might become a great actor.  He could be one now but I don't think his well know, well regarded TV version of Hamlet shows that except in a few instances.  Some of his delivery of the most famous speech of the play, To be or not to be.... has the best rhythm of any I've ever heard.  Others, not so much.  By the time he's said the first several lines of "Oh that this too, too solid flesh" you wonder how, since he's already coming unhinged,  he's going to act to intentionally convince the court that he's gone bonkers after he saw the ghost.  Well, by giving a stagey, unconvincing, madcap stage version of madness, mostly.  His straight acting of madness reminded me of the brilliant "bad acting" Ophelia mad scenes of Sabrina Grdevich in the great Canadian series Slings and Arrows.* I think The production design didn't help, the moderny-dress set in some dismal institutional feeling building with only the grave scene outside in a dirty Brit churchyard under dirty grey light is pretty bad.  Mariah Gale, the Ophelia,  mostly does better at playing mad though by the time she's gone mad her upper class Brit upper class cool has made it harder to believe.

I saw the movie when they had it on American TV, perhaps shortly after it was on British TV and remembered I didn't like it much.  I watched it again over the weekend, twice, and saw why I didn't like it.

Patrick Stewart as Claudius and his brother's ghost is pretty convincing throughout, especially in the scenes when he's watching his crime reenacted and when he's conspiring with Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.   The scene where Hamlet first meets his father's ghost has some problems, mostly with the direction, the embrace of the ghost with Hamlet, the rock-opera "SWEAR" that rocks the set is just stupid.

Penny Downie as Gertrude is good though I didn't find her willow speech convincing.  I liked the short scene when Laertes comes back vowing vengeance and endangering the reign of Claudius, that struck me as just right.

Some of the lesser characters were some of the most convincing, Peter De Jersey played Horatio wonderfully, for what few lines and scenes he's got.  Ryan Gage as the obsequious courtier Osric struck me as excellent, his playing of the Player Queen to  John Woodvine's fine Player King, not nearly as good.

Mark Hadfield as the grave digger was annoying instead of amusing.

It is too bad you couldn't see them all play Hamlet in a different production with some other director than Gregory Doran.  There's nothing wrong with an unconventional production except when the production distracts from the performances and the play, itself and this one so often did.  The security camera stuff was stupid.  If someone would tone down the wild-eyed crazy sane-Hamlet of David Tennant and reigned in the crazy crazy-Hamlet Tennant did it might be better.  The soliloquy filmed as a selfie is about the lowest point in it - I won't say which one because I hope it doesn't become know as the "selfie soliloquy".   I found it all more frustrating instead of compelling.  It felt too often like a dress rehearsal that the director should tell the actors to tone it down and lose some of the affectation.   I'd also restore some of the most famous lines, especially in the final minutes of the play. The death scene was too fast, too martial arts movie paced.

I would probably watch it again, it's certainly better than what's likely the most well known filmed "Hamlet" Mel Gibson in Zeffirelli's digestion of the play.  Though reading the play is a better option.

* Sabrina Grdevich played a real Ophelia at the Stratford festival in Canada, one of those performances you read about and wish you could see it, I expect it was great since she played a bad actor playing it badly so well.   If you haven't seen Slings and Arrows you are missing some of the best TV ever made written and acted by actors who knew that world better than anyone.  I generally like Canadian actors more than American or British actors, not sure why but the ones I've seen seem to know their stuff more.   And if you've gotten this far, you might know which fatheads I hope are annoyed by this piece which I'm posting in honor of Fathead Tuesday.  I'll post it later Monday if it looks like we might lose electricity.

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