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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrift, thrift, 30 Mar 2005
Stuart Burns (Liverpool, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
The opening moments in any production of Hamlet are critical because the audience, assuming they know the play fairly well, will already be asking the 'How are they going to do...' question. It's the ghost. Hamlet senior. What is he going to look like? In a film, it's an even bigger challenge, because some people watching might expect a special effect. The approach here is a shot of bright light across the young Dane's face and his voice echoing through the frame. The style of the film is already crystilised. It's not about the surroundings or set dressing. It's about the emotion of the piece, the words. In this key moment we are looking in his eyes as he hear's his fathers words, and that's a device used throughout the piece.
On first appearance, Nicol Williamson might seem a bit old for the part. Certainly, I've seen Claudius's who look younger. But that does a disservice to his performance, which commands every scene he appears in. His Hamlet is far from mad; he's using a bluff technique to search for the why's of his father's death and how he's reacting to it. Unusually. in the intimate moments, during the soliloquey's he's at his most vulnerable, as though he's unable to come to terms with these feelings, and only really comes to life when there a peers to relate to.
A very young looking Anthony Hopkins makes a compelling Claudius, who with his gluttony seems like a man who could do wrong. Equally Judy Parfitt passes the test of being attractive enough for a man to kill for even if her skin is worryingly grey. Although not at grey as Ophelia, played by Marianne Faithfull who in some shots looks positively black and white, almost as though the trickery of the film 'Pleasantville' had been used. Which is a shame because it detracts from rather a good performance.
The production was film at The Roundhouse Theatre which explains that use of extreme close up and the complete lack of establishing shots. The lighting absolutely picks up the actors faces, making what settings there are perfunctury. It mustn't have been a very easy shoot -- most of the speeches and scenes are played out in one shots -- there is very little editing in places, which allows the text the breath. I've seen the play many times and it was a joy on this occasion to hear how much of our language found a basis here.
The main oddity this time are the supporting actors. This is the only Hamlet you'd expect to find Michael Elphick and Angelica Houston standing around in the background, along with Roger Lloyd-Pack popularly known as Trigger in 'Only Fools and Horses'. The latter is particularly distracting because his face is so familiar and he appears, not only as Ronaldo, but also as a player, one of Laertes friends and a miscellaneous bystander in the duel at the end. One man should not have that many different beards. Also worth noting is the approach to the credits at the end, which are spoken, in a style similar to Truffaut's 'Farenheit 451' over a shot of Hamlet.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enter a great actor on a minimalist set, 22 Mar 2005
Andy Millward (Tiptree, Essex, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
Strange that the Tony Richardson version of Revenge of the Great Dane should be almost forgotten (this being the first review.) But then, every filmed production bar the Hollywood adventure (and they have no shame) has to some extent fallen within the shadow of Olivier's 1948 version, precursored universally by "the definitive...."
Is this fair? While both noticeably betray their stage origins, there the similarity ends. In fact, the two are chalk and cheese. Olivier's escapade is vastly shorter than the original text at a mite under two and a half hours, but Richardson tells the story in under 2 hours! This is Hamlet stripped to his absolute essentials. Any less and it would look like an Eastenders omnibus edition! Richardson's aim is to simplify and clarify the Bard, concentrating on Hamlet's emotional schizophrenia and aided by a claustrophobic, minimalist Elsinore (actually the Roundhouse theatre.)
For example, no distractions like a walking Peppers Ghost - we don't see the ghost, other than a bright light shone on the faces of the actors. We hear the words and watch every minute nuance of expression on Nicol Williamson's magnificent features in glorious close-ups. To be or not to be... not dangling over a clifftop but held precisely in the light and shade of Hamlet's meaning as he lies on a couch.
And what of Williamson? Olivier's Dane seems almost louche and laconic by comparison. Williamson is a study in how to smoulder with paranoid ambivalence. In turn intense and bewildered, he confides in the camera as a silent companion, maybe his alter ego. This is a great Hamlet, perhaps one of the finest performances in this role for many years. Like Olivier, Williamson is fabulously complex and multi-layered, but his simplified Hamlet retains depth and vision. His mystique and irony seems entirely appropriate to the brooding Dane (witnessed by the famous occasion when appearing in the stage version, he stopped in mid-soliloquy, apologised to the audience for his bad performance, and stormed offstage!)
The actor may not have appeared in any film since 1997, but his power is undimmed. Despite the presence of Anthony Hopkins (as a curiously lackadasical Claudius), Marianne Faithful (a prim and proper Ophelia) and many other fine actors, Williamson's towering presence bestrides this Hamlet like the colossus he might once have become, had he not become distracted or allowed his name to be sulllied by bad films.
So how well has Richardson succeeded in taming his cast to deliver a meaningful
Hamlet? One review I read suggested he had managed to "wing it" despite an abominably low budget, and there's a little truth in this. The restrictions allow an inventiveness to combat the restrictions of the medium and the set to great effect, such as in the comic banter between Hamlet and Polonius. The final tragedy is underplayed and probably benefits as a result. Maybe not orchestrated as well as some, and could have benefitted from some opening out, but if you wanted to concentrate on your actors then the stage has most certaily been set and Nicol Williamson laps it up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every one speaks clearly without spitting or yelling, 9 July 2013
bernie "xyzzy" (Arlington, Texas) - See all my reviews
This is a well paced Hamlet. Filmed in The Round House, Camden, London, England, UK. Is minimalist and depends on acting to carry the play. We never see Old Hamlet so again we depend on acting.

Another thing that sets this presentation above most is not the words we all know by heart but the way the lines are delivered and that which is not said but implied. This version also leaves in the politics that wrap the "The Tragical History of Hamlet Prince of Denmark." We forget that Hamlets problem take place in a larger political arena.

I did notice that all the males and none of the females exhibit a full beard.
Well with the exception of Rosencrantz or Guildenstern.

A synopsis, Old Hamlet conquered Old Fortinbras seizing Fortinbras' land. Now that Old Hamlet is dead, Young Fortinbras wants his land back and is willing to take it by force. Meanwhile back in Dänemark Prince Hamlet who is excessively grieving the loss of his father, the king, gets an interesting insight from his father's ghost. Looks like Old Hamlet was a victim of a "murder most foul"; it appears his mother and uncle were in cahoots on the murder. On top of that they even get married before the funeral meats are cold.

Everyone will have a different favorite presentation written or acted. Yet this version stands alone as unique and worth adding to your library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars shakespeare with passion, 18 Jan 2010
Dr. E. turner (london, england) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
a performance that thankfully ignores the usual A-Level reverence for Shakespeare. Passionate and extremely physical, it is an exciting alternative to the BBC version, for example. (Compare, for example, Claire Bloom's performance as Queen Gertrude in both) Williamson's somewhat adenoidal voice can be intitially disconcerting, but the power of his performance and the sheer dramatic excitement of the entire production are proof that Shakespeare can be engaging without artificial trickery.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling performance, dismaying DVD, 12 July 2007
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
The film was obviously shot in a widescreen aspect ratio, but this edition has standard TV dimensions, which means a lot of the action is only partially in view. (The DVD of Pinter's BIRTHDAY PARTY has a similar dismaying presentation.) Why DVDs of important films are sometimes released only in inappropriate aspect ratio is something I don't understand.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Richardson's & Williamson's Minimalist HAMLET, 14 Jun 2010
Chip Kaufmann (Asheville, NC United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] [1969] (DVD)
I remember seeing this movie when I was in college and being totally captivated by it. I had already seen the Olivier version as well as a modernist version with Maximilian Schell so I was familiar with HAMLET on the big screen. The late 1960s and early 1970s were full of movie adaptations of Shakespeare, most of them highly original and very good. Roman Polanski's MACBETH, Peter Brook's KING LEAR and this production were my three favorites. Like Brook's LEAR, this had previously been a stage production. It was shot inside the Roundhouse Theatre (where it had been staged) giving it a intensely claustrophobic feel. This effect was heightened by shooting most of the film in extreme close-up but that drew me straightaway right into the drama. I felt as if Nicol Williamson was speaking directly to me in a conversational way. At first I thought his Hamlet looked too old (Williamson is a year older than Anthony Hopkins who plays his uncle) but that feeling quickly passed as I became riveted by his voice and reading of the text. In no time at all, he WAS Hamlet. In addition to the young Anthony Hopkins there was also Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia which meant more then than it does now but she acquits herself well. Look carefully and you can see an 18 year old Anjelica Huston as one of the court ladies.

For this production, Tony Richardson streamlines the text so that only the core essence remains. There are no wasted words. This bothers a lot of Shakespeare purists but for me this is is the ideal HAMLET for the Shakespeare novice to begin with and I would show it first in the classroom or to the uninitiated. It's easier to follow and if you're just starting out that's very important. Later on you can see the Olivier or any of the other versions, working your way up to Kenneth Branagh's uncut extravaganza which I admire but which I feel is too much of a good thing. Think of this as an indie version of the play which makes the most out of its limited resources. Unfortunately the current DVD (which is a vast improvement over the old VHS tape) has been released in the wrong aspect ratio. I would love to see Sony come out with a high quality edition that restores Gerry Fisher's widescreen photography so that it makes all the extreme close-ups even more startling and allows for certain dialogue scenes to be properly balanced. Still this current DVD version will suffice as it serves as a remarkable film document of a legendary performance. After 40 years, Nicol Williamson still rules!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The sexual innuendo is not clear enough, 13 July 2010
This review is from: Hamlet [VHS] [1969] (VHS Tape)
A few things have been modified in the play, for example the concluding remarks by Fortinbras that have been dropped, or the fact that Osric is quite obviously a transvestite. But basically that does not change much in the content of the drama. A first crime, Claudius' incestuous killing of his own brother to seize his crown and his wife, makes it true that there is something rotten in this kingdom of Denmark. This disorder will have to be set back up properly in the traditional Skakespearian way. All protagonists will have to die. Claudius of course, but also Gertrude, the Queen, Polonius the King's counselor and the father of both Laertes and Ophelia. Then Ophelia, Laertes and Hamlet.

And we mustn't forget Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Then and only then will Fortinbras be able to take over (though it is reduced to two allusions to him and his disembarking but not at the end of the play) and bring back some legitimacy, hence order in that disorder. We all know that plot by heart or nearly and we all enjoy the play in the play, the ghost, Yorick's skull, immortalized by Picasso, and so many scenes and situations. The distribution of flowers by Ophelia is one of these. Yet this film is different. I guess the editing of the DVD is closer to TV editing with a lot of close-up shots of faces.

But what is the most original of this film is the sensual dimension added to it. Claudius and Gertrude in bed having some kind of breakfast with quite a lot of people around, Hamlet among them: an incestuous and adulterous situation that has to be a provocation for Hamlet both in his Oedipian frustration and the betrayal he will accuse his mother later on with. The long kiss of Laertes and Ophelia is more a kiss of lovers than sister and brother.

The use of transvestites for the play in the play, which was normal under Shakespeare but may look bizarre today, even in 1969. But the transformation of Osric into one transvestite is more than surprising, since his business is not that of a woman, but definitely that of man, a courtier, a messenger of the King that reveals at the same time things he should not reveal, in other words a gossip but revealing a murderous plot against Hamlet, pointing out that this attitude is suspicious in many ways in feudal times and may reveal the homosexual dimension of Hamlet and the attitudes in that direction he may incite, voluntarily or not. That dimension of the play is quite obvious beyond the political approach of the action and the psychological characterization of the characters.

But I find these added elements either not enough or too much. Too much if we stick to the text written by Shakespeare. Too little if we want to reveal the deeply erotic, Freudian and perverted situation created by the first murder. But is Hamlet a pornographic play? Some may think yes. Some may think no. But there is no in between in that field. Was Gertrude the prize of the crime or was she not?

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Hamlet [DVD] [1969]
Hamlet [DVD] [1969] by Nicol Williamson (DVD - 2005)
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