Archive for May 18, 2019

Desperate Dane

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2019 by dcairns

I was always sort of curious about Tony Richardson’s HAMLET. And maybe the end result is more sort-of-interesting than truly compelling, but those kind of films are very attractive to blog about, I find…

Richardson made the film cheaply by shooting at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, using the backstage spaces, a lot of bare brick corridors, making for a dour and oppressive Elsinore… also, shooting practically the whole film in tight medium shots and close-up, so as to take the strain off the art department and put the emphasis on face and voice. But here’s where the artistry comes in, because while a film of HAMLET made up of close-ups sounds like a televisual thing, Richardson keeps his cast, and Gerry Fisher’s camera, in motion, continually cramming new faces into the frame in new compositions. It’s very, very inventive, and turns a budgetary consideration into a compelling artistic one. The way figures fall off into soft blurs as they recede; the way the ghost never appears on camera but impresses merely by his voice (uncredited — who?) and by a bright light on the astonished features of the onlookers; the way everyone is always just UP IN YOUR FACE…

The cast is pretty interesting: Nicol Williamson’s puffy, pallid face does not suggest that of a student, but name me a Hamlet who does. What he does have is the ability to speak his speeches like a normal human having a conversation (without trampling the pentameters), so that he’s at his very best in the more conversational scenes. Williamson is one of those actors who can get overexcited, so I’m slightly less enamoured of his Big Scenes, but once you get over the shock of a Hamlet who’s so physically unappealing (maybe this is my self-loathing Scots side talking) I think you’ll find him impressive.

Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia seems less naturalistic, but maybe because Marianne Faithfull does not have a naturalistic face, body or voice. She’s not like someone you’d expect to meet, though I warrant you’d count yourself lucky if you did. A bit like Fenella Fielding, her mouth assumes expressions impossible on a normal skull, but I don’t think it’s mere whimsy that compels her to do so. Her face just goes that way. It’s like she’s continually being called upon to say the words “stewed prunes.” So she’s more miraculous than credible, through no fault of her own. Unable to overcome her natural advantages. And I kind of question what she sees in the jowly Scotchman, but there it is.

Antony Hopkins and Judy Parfitt are both within a year of Williamson’s age, which makes their casting as his uncle and mother… questionable. But that’s practically a tradition too. Boost the Oedipal aspect by giving H a MILF of a mom. Of course, in terms of box office, and possibly in terms of artistic success, Richardson ought to have swapped his Hamlet with his Claudius, because a movie starring Hopkins as The Dane would still be shifting units today if he’d done so. But in fact, both Hopkins and Parfitt have been rendered less effective than they might be by some very odd direction. It’s clearly a decision Richardson made, something he wanted. They’re both amused by Hamlet’s grief and unconcerned when he goes mad. It’s quite hard to work out why they embark on subterfuges with Polonius to learn the cause of his derangement, because they really don’t seem bothered about it. Most peculiar.