A team of renown Hamlets providing educational behind-the-opening-night reality of stage preparation. Excellence for that use. I have years of experience as set designer/construction/crew with community theater. This is an honest look, but on a professional level, the very best of Hamlet professionalism. It's Derek Jacobi's (Cadfael-a must view) 1st directing and Kenneth Branagh's (Henry V, Hamlet) first Hamlet acting, although he went on to win awards with his Directing/Lead/Writer of a DVD version of Hamlet-1996. What better teachers of Shakespeare? Try "Playing Shakespeare" on DVD for one.
This is a must for serious acting students. Footage is gleaned from 30+ hrs of footage made during the 4 weeks of prep for Hamlet. From the raw 1st read, through rehearsals & tech rehearsals, up to opening night prep; it's an in-depth behind-the-curtain look at theater never seen by most patrons. It's honest, it's with preparatory flaws, but yet it's 'grease-paint' excitement. Illuminating educational theater. A lesson, 1st time on DVD, for acting want-to-be's (or not to-be's). Sorry! :-)
There are other stars like Sophie (Emma's sis)Thompson. Narration is provided by Patrick Stewart. Performed in Birmingham, this pre-show footage gives a lot of tips and fun looks at building up to perfection in theater. Even a sword fight. All in 53 minutes. If that's not enough, there is huge elaboration on this with the first-time-seen 3+ hours of bonus. Subtitles included for the feature.
Disc 1 special features:
==A Conversation with Sir Derek Jacobi: 34 min; 2010; with subtitles
==Photo Gallery: B&W
The Players In the Production: complete cast text bios; Kenneth Branagh-Hamlet, Richard Clifford-Horatio, Richard Easton-Claudius, Edward Jewesbury-Polonius, David Parfitt-Rosencrantz, Patrick Stewart-Narrator, Sophie Thompson-Ophelia, Jay Villiers-Laertes, Jimmy Yuill-Guildenstern.
==Hamlet Through the Ages: 12 text bios of past Hamlet actors
==Sir Patrick Stewart Biography: text
Disc 2 special features:
==About these Segments: text message
==Deric Jacobi Extended Interviews:
'On Directing' 33 min, 1988; '2 1/2 Weeks In' 7 min; 'On Shakespheare & Performing' 12 min shot after opening night.
==Cast/Crew Interviews: 'Kenneth Branagh' 4 min; 'Russel Jackson' 8 min; Sophie Thompson' 8 min; 'Costume Super' 7 min; 'Set Designer' 2 min.
==Behind-the-Scenes: 'Dir. Notes' 22 min; 'Directing the Cast' 10 min; 'Sword Fight Choreography' 14 min; 'Rehearsal Act 2 Scene 2': To be, or not to be, 12 min; 'Rehearsal Final Scene': Good night sweet prince, 17 min; 'Cast Party' Swan Light & 11 min.
Also the traditional Athena booklet, this one 9 pages of text & photos in 'A Viewer's Guide.' Excellent.
So what's the problem? Why 4 stars? It's not for everyone. Not a true performance, just preparing for the performance, which the DVD viewer never gets to see this Hamlet in it's entirety. A bit of the bonus material seems to be from the 'editing floor'; not aimed to any speaker/person, not focused, dark, with some bad sound, with background motor noise. I'll bet acting students will overlook this negative bit, to be able to hear the excellent directing-coaching usable by the novice to a professional. That's not me--I painted set pieces--my forte.
Bottom line on purchase?
A smashing lesson presented on DVD for acting want-to-be's.
Educational footage of what it is like to prepare for a show.
Perfect for University, Public, and HS library.
Sorry about the length of this review,
"Good night sweet prince."