Archive for the Theatre Category

Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost’s Scenes #5b

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2022 by dcairns

OK, I’ll finally be finished with Branagh now.

The second appearance of Old king Hamlet in Kenneth Branagh’s looooooooong HAMLET has a few things I like in it. But is terrible. Let’s see if we can find out why!

I do not hate the intercutting of Hamlet in fast tracking shot with quick cuts of earthly eruptions — it’s kind of an illustration of the text, it creates a visceral excitement. It’s a forced, hammy excitement, in my view, but I can see how other people might dig it. Thrown into the Cuisinart are also quick shots of the big corpse lying in state and so on. Straight-up illustrating what the character’s talking about is the coward’s way out when it comes to Shakespearian cinema, but I will admit, we can follow what Hamlet is on about.

It’s not at all clear that Hamlet Jr. is following Hamlet Sr., or that he has any good reason to think he’s trotting in the right direction. But apparently he is.

Then there’s a spooky moment with Brian Blessed’s disembodied voice, heavily electronically treated, as Hamlet looks around an empty glade. Acceptable, except for the voice — given the setting, a more or less NORMAL voice that cannot be PLACED would be more authentically scary.

And then Branagh attempts a jump scare by having the ghost appear out of nowhere, grab Hamlet, and fling him into a tree. For no reason. It doesn’t make any sense.

The TV sketch show Spitting Image had a strange influence on the world — it may have actually influenced the UK public’s view of its politicians (sadly, not always in the way intended — and it also caused Greta Scacchi to refuse to go nude in THE PLAYER after they did a sketch pointing out how she was always naked, and suggesting (satirically — and quite untruthfully) that she insisted on this. Robert Altman was apparently pretty shitty about her refusal.

The show also spoofed Brian Blessed as an actor who likes shouting. They had writer John Mortimer, in puppet form, pitching a show where BB would play a very quiet man. “Who SHOUTS all the time? I love it!” roars the puppet Blessed. “No, no, he’s very soft-spoken!” “Then why is he always SHOUTING?”

I have a vague theory that either Branagh or Blessed saw this and thought it would be great to cast BB in something where he only whispers, to show his versatility. Unfortunately (1) Gielgud had beaten them to it and (b) Gielgud gains power by his whisper, he becomes more dominating, and Blessed loses power. Plus the fact that it’s a very enunciated, very loud STAGE whisper, and electronically treated, makes it rather silly. And one-note.

All the theatrics have nothing to do with psychology, or any credible notion of the supernatural and its rules within this story world. And I don’t know, but on a basic level a fat ghost feels wrong. (In the Olivier, the ghost is erect, straight up and down, but Hamlet’s father, in flashback, is a bit rolly-polly).

Brian Blessed for Player King. Charlton Heston as Ghost. There, fixed it.

We are being asked to believe that Julie Christie was married to Brian Blessed and then was won away by Derek Jacobi. These relationships raise a lot of questions the movie/play can’t answer. It’s probably quite helpful if Claudius is a good-looking guy, sexy, and maybe Hamlet Sr. is noble-looking but stern and not so sexy. Hamlet shows his mother miniature paintings of both men, trying to show to her what a bad choice she’s made. When Branagh does this with pictures of Blessed and Jacobi, it’s hilarious.

(The Zeffirelli pretty much nails this requirement.)

I don’t hate the Japanese ghost story trick of the light fading up on BB’s silhouetted face. Though I think that kind of thing works better if the scene is taking its time. I understand how, with a four hour text, they felt the need to rush everything — one more reason not to do the whole text.

Giving Brian contact lenses and ordering him not to blink makes his ghost rather… blank. Basically, all these restrictions turn the Ghost into a bore.

Random angle change! About time we had one of those. In fact, there were lots as Hamlet was haring through the woods, but they came as a cluster and you could call that a consistent stylistic approach. Here we’re in a shot / reverse shot dialogue scene and the abrupt profile at 1.39 is jarring a.f. It’s all about ENERGY!

More bubbling and seething ground, feels like the same footage we had before, now step-printed for some mysterious reason. This serves to distract attention away from the Ghost quoting Bertie Wooster, possibly a good thing. Actually, BB says “like quills upon the fretful porcupine,” instead of “porpentine,” which is what we have in Shakespeare’s text. I suppose this is OK. “He clearly MEANT to write porcupine,” says Branagh, rapping his knuckles against the playscript, whap! It could easily be a mistranscription. I favour cutting the line, it’s too amusing post-Wodehouse, and for those of us who know the text somewhat, correcting it is a distraction.

It may be that Branagh felt “I’m doing the WHOLE play” was a USP which alone justified doing this six years after Zeffirelli.

Brian’s “O list!” is just FUNNY. Which isn’t what we’re going for here.

When we get the big Rosebud mouth closeup on “murder” Branagh does something sort of interesting, I will admit — the repeated prosthetic shot of the ear, bulging and seeping as it reacts to the “leprous distillment” recently funnelled into it. The sound effect is interesting too — it’s basically redolent of a speed change, as if the editor is yanking the dial on his Steenbeck. I kind of like it, I think it could be used again in some other context, probably more effectively, but it’s an interesting notion.

Both Hamlet and dad get profile shots now. An ineffective, inexpressive, un-atmospeheric choice which diminishes the performances — perhaps no bad thing in Branagh’s case, but BB is playing this blind, stationary, whispering, and now his face is reduced to a hissing outline. Give the poor man something. Not too much! But something.

Now we get the flashback, the least effective part of the Olivier version, ported over and rendered preposterous by the film’s insistence on making everything Christmassy. Hamlet Sr. sleeps in his orchard, in the snow. OK, he has a fur rug and a fire and a pot of tea. But still, I do not believe it. Also, Shakespeare has him asleep so the poison can be poured into his ear — we have to imagine him lying on his side.

Branagh’s turn to be ridiculous, as he positively gibbers “Oh my prophetic soul,” a line that demands a certain simplicity (Just Say The Fucking Line is a good direction sometimes) so as not to sound fruity and overcooked. Branagh now cuts away to the uncle on the line “uncle”, which is just unforgivable. Zeffirelli does something similar, later, but at least the uncle is THERE in his version. Branagh is so anxious for us to understand, it’s rather pathetic. This turns into an entire flashback showing the Hamlet family enjoying a game of curling. Floor frisbees. Not indicated in the text. Mad.

“Brief let me be!” (4.28) Brian turns, I would have to say theatrically, from his profile shot to look right into the lens. Hysterical. Yes please, Brian, be brief, if you think you can manage it.

Wrong ear, Brian!

Brian’s death scene, played in fake slow motion. Awful. It isn’t any good in the Olivier, either. A fat guy falling out of his lawn chair is never going to be convincingly tragic. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Elsinore’s Funniest Home Videos.

Among the many reasons this is ineffective is the sheer redundacy of having the story told in blank verse AND show in herky-jerky visuals. But Branagh needs to liven up his totally static exposition scene. Having the ghost walk — as he says he has been condemned to do — would be one way to keep the thing on its feet.

But even if Branagh had kept the scene developing visually by having the characters MOVE, his ghastly flashback are probably necessary because the scene is so damn long. But just showing you the exact thing Hamlet Sr. is saying isn’t a solution. It makes me nostalgic for the curling.

Surprisingly, Branagh chooses NOT to show the glow-worm paling his ineffectual fire, but he does helpfully put a cock-crow on the soundtrack. Visually, the ghost’s disappearance is decent, but Patrick Doyle’s score now comes syruping into the mix, giving everything a solemnity that seems to, I don’t know, FLATTER Hamlet and his vengeance quest. I don’t think you have to see the Prince as a psychopath, though he is definitely adolescent and shitty at times. But this emotion, here, seems utterly wrong.

Branagh has a tendency, in this role, to suggest extremes of grief by making his voice go UP into a sort of timorous squeak, and he does this on “O all you host of heaven!” (6.52) and it’s laugh-out-loud material.

Looking at what this production needs to make it work totally dismantles every salient feature of… this production. Branagh the actor needs a director. The director needs a better actor. The text needs cutting. The cast need swapping around. (In the whole huge crowd, the only one who seems like he could play Claudius is Don Warrington, who would be awesome. He has the nothing role of Voltimand.)

Branagh falling face down in the dry ice, in a Keatonesque flat wide, is pretty funny. Having him say “O earth!” TO the earth is, I guess, a reasonable choice, if a tad literal-minded (“literal” is this film’s keynote). Branagh now builds to a big slobbering climax lying on his gut, spitting into the fake snow. Again, Olivier had all this worked out — when Shakespeare’s text requires an actor to build to a big climax, the camera should move AWAY rather than, in the conventional way, IN. Because we do not which to see the character SPIT. Because a big performance is acceptable only from a certain distance. This was embarrassingly obvious in Branagh’s saliva-drenched HENRY V, and we already had the example of Olivier getting it right in HIS HENRY V and TELLING US ABOUT IT. This is Branagh’s THIRD Shakespeare film.

“My tables!” Branagh briefly gestures here — Hamlet wishes he had his tables on him, but doesn’t. I think that’s OK. You need to do something with the line, if you’re keeping it. I think having him take out his tables and write would be a good choice. That’s what the stage directions say, although we know Shakespeare didn’t write those. It seems plausible that “Writing” was put in there because that’s what the actor playing Hamlet did. When he says “So, Uncle, there you are,” this makes sense if he’s written “Uncle.” Branagh just looks confused when he says the line. As well he might.

Branagh kisses his sword — a swipe from Olivier. But that’s OK. Borrowings which work are a good thing. Better than the multiple ineffective choices, blunders and bad laughs we’ve had in the past few minutes.

Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost’s Scenes #5a

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on July 12, 2022 by dcairns

Back to the Branagh. You love to see it.

Branagh once said he’d be unlikely to make a Macbeth, because Polanski’s was pretty fine. So I guess he was indifferent to the Olivier and Richardson versions, though as we’ll see he’s certainly seen them, and I guess he was super-indifferent to the Zeffirelli which was only six years old.

The four hours gets off to a rocky start, I can tell you: the title is chiselled in stone as part of the set. This struck me as cheesy — maybe I was being dense not to realise that it’s the inscription on the plinth of Hamlet’s dad’s statue. But Branagh could have made that clear by tracking back from the plinth to reveal the statue (CITIZEN KANE style) rather than tracking to one side which causes the sign to slide off screen right in a “nothing to see here” manner. You don’t expect to encounter it again.

I guess if Jack Lemmon had come to me and said “I want to play a spear-carrier in your four-hour HAMLET,” at first I would have probably said, “You are mistaken, I’m not making a four-hour HAMLET,” but then I might have been flattered into letting him do it. But this is plainly the kind of top-heavy casting where you notice the actor at the expense of the role. Classic John Wayne “Surely this man was the son of God.” Can you do it with more awe?

Jack Lemmon is a beloved American actor. But quite poor here. He’s elderly, it’s late at night, it’s cold, and it’s an unfamiliar idiom — that must be why he’s slipping into the cadences of Jimmy Cagney playing Bottom playing Pyramus — textbook school play robotic speech. Disconcerting and saddening.

Since Branagh is doing what a lot of stage productions do, setting his production in A period but not THE period (admittedly, one could make a case for either medieval or Elizabethan), we have to get used to quite a lot, so I suppose it’s good to have our first Black actor in this scene, Ray Fearon as Francisco. Establish the principle. But it’s rubbish the way the Black actors only play spear-carriers.

This is a scene with quite a few terrified blokes reacting to a ghost. The only important one is Horatio. And Branagh’s casting makes sure we notice Horatio less than Marcellus and Francisco.

Barnardo patrols by the gate. He looks about as he walks. Some panning shots attempt to simulate his POV though they’re taken from a stationary position.

Suddenly we’re very far away and here’s the statue of Hamlet Sr. It looks like it must be quite small (somehow you can tell with statues). Some very clumsy cutting follows, between Barnardo getting worried and a jib shot exploring the statue for reasons we cannot yet guess. None of this works, I think it’s fair to say. Then the statue draws its sword just a wee bit and —

CREAK! Blimey, the statue of Hamlet’s father is coming to life, like Talos, one thing that absolutely none of the characters say they see. That’s one of the main traits of this wordy version — things happening which in no way match what the characters say. Seems to me, if you’re doing the whole text you’d better read it and make sure you understand it.

But really what counts here most is the random angle changes. That’s what Branagh is all about — along with the meaninglessly whirling camera, the random cut to a surprising new angle is his calling card. When I see that calling card I always reply, “Mr. Cairns is not at home.”

When so many of the choices seem chosen from a tombola, it’s good to remember that Branagh is animated by some actual stylistic preferences — he likes pace and energy. So do I. But how far can you take them? Can you have Francisco tackle Barnardo roughly to the snowy ground (so what if the play clearly isn’t happening in winter? cf Ophelia’s flowers) and still have Barnardo say to him “You come most carefully upon your hour,” while the dude is lying on his back? What if he yells it? What if everybody yells, even though it’s night and the royal family probably doesn’t want blokes yelling right outside?

The two men now get up and stand unnaturally close together despite the wide (65mm!) screen, and neither makes a move despite Bernardo having been relieved and pronouncing himself really keen to get going. This is the first shot that makes it clear that they’re NOT, in fact, right next to Blenheim Palace which is standing in for Elsinore. The gate is some distance from the building. Maybe the shouting is OK, then, but it didn’t seem OK when it was happening.

Then they start power-walking at a diagonal away from the gate, towards fuck all, but luckily this brings Marcellus and Horatio into view. Our guys immediately jump and yell and point their spears. Energy!

It’s fine to have Americans do Shakespeare, it’s fine to have them do it with American accents, but “random” is never a good strategy and having one random yank spear-carrier is distracting. And Marcellus also seems a bit old for his job. A good chunk of this scene is “Is that Jack Lemmon?” and “That IS Jack Lemmon!” and “WHY is that Jack Lemmon?” I think the only way this would have worked would be if Francisco was Walter Matthau. I jest. Sadly, Branagh is in earnest.

Note the clumsy way, when they decide to go and sit by the fire, we get a special shot of JL exiting frame. That’s it. The characters are moving from one static position to another and we need a cutaway of Lemmon taking one step to help us get there. Because energy!!!

Once the three guys (Barnardo having headed for home and Horlicks) sit down, we could settle for a flat free but some atmosphere seems called for, so we’re given a genuinely nice shot of Francisco up close with his chums blurry in the b/g, which works well. So it doesn’t last long. Still, I approve of the VFX shot of the star Barnardo speaks of. I don’t approve of going back to the flat three-shot when they react to the ghost for the first time. Never repeat a master shot — words to live by, if you can.

Patrick Doyle’s music now gets very excited as —

  1. we go BACK to the side shot favouring Barnardo that we just left and
  2. we track in low angle on the ghost / statue — impossible to place where it is with regards to our character and
  3. a crane shot plummeting towards the ground as the three amigos push through the gates
  4. tracking shot rushing right to left as B, F & H flee PARALLEL TO THE HOUSE, which you might think they’d try to reach and
  5. cut into a closer view of the same (ENERGY!) and then back again and
  6. a long lens static rear view of them now running towards the house somehow and
  7. a blurry rush of motion with a brief bit of Jack Lemmon in it, maybe talking and
  8. another crane shot descending, as the boys hide behind a bit of wall and
  9. three big scared heads in a row and
  10. side view medium shot, halberds at the ready and then back to 9, then 10, then 9 and
  11. another shot of the ghost with no context and
  12. the crane shot of the wee wall again, but this time retreating and then 9 again and then more of this and
  13. the ghost/statue but now we’re tracking away from it, symbolizing that it’s going away

Whew! Eighteen shots in 35 seconds (average shot less than two seconds). ENERGY!!! And such a RANGE of shots. Big shots, small shots, some as big as your head. And absolutely impossible to work out why THESE shots. I mean, we can justify the ghost appearing. We can justify shots looking at the people who are speaking. The crane shots seem to be intended to suggest the ghost’s POV (as in EVIL DEAD) but they don’t seem to match where we assume it to be, and the actors don’t look in the right direction, so they add to the general confusion.

The Cuisinart approach to cutting has deleterious effects all round — that long lens static rear view, however short you hold it onscreen, cannot add to the “energy” because it’s so undramatic — it’s wide, static, flat, and filmed from the rear — it’s eating up time that could be taken by one of the tracking shots, but I suppose it’s needed because it’s the only shot showing the characters running in a sensible direction.

Shakespeare doesn’t have his characters run away, but this is acceptable. Closing the gate on it is an issue, though, because we’re never shown what the ghost does in response to this. It keeps coming, apparently, but we’re not shown HOW. I don’t think we really WANT a visual effect of it passing through the gate, but the way things are shown it’s kind of needed.

The big big problem is the lack of connection between the ghost and the peeps. They never share a frame, which is already a problem (this COULD be used expressively to make the ghost’s reality open to question, and insofar as the sequence is animated by an idea, I think this may have been KB’s intent). The lack of a clear POV/reaction structure renders it all incoherent and unconvincing. The shots of men looking don’t clearly connect to the shots of the ghost. The “possible ghost POV shots” don’t connect to the movements of the ghost we see. It’s like everything else: some decent, sometimes bold shot ideas in search of a sequence.

This frenetic montage starts two and a half minutes into the film, which is, as I may have mentioned, some four hours long. It constitutes a pretty good warning that our director is flying blind without a space helmet.

But there’s more to come!

TBC

Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost’s Scenes #3 & #4

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2022 by dcairns

The Kozontzev HAMLET is grand and the ghost is particularly fine. If you want a spectacular, epic vision of the ghost, you couldn’t really do better. Something about the particular tone of this movie isn’t quite up my alley but I have no end of admiration for the showmanship here. Why don’t any of the other versions make use of the possibiities of BILLOWING CLOAKS?

(Does Branagh, perhaps? I’ve forgotten already, but I’ll remind myself soon when I rewatch and write about his ghost encounters. Flowing robes seems a very Branaghlike trope.)

I’m here today to break down the Franco Zeffirelli HAMLET though — the one with Mad Mel. Just two arch-Catholics hanging out together in a Scottish castle.

FZ — I keep thinking that must stand for Frank Zappa, but never mind — foolishly omits the ghost’s first appearance, which gets his film off to a far weaker start. But he has a great cast, except for his Hamlet. Mad Mel has foolishly seized on the chance to do some Great Acting, whereas the thing he could and does contribute most effectively is Movie Star Presence. This is diluted by his attempts to get flowery.

Along with Mel, we have the excellent Stephen Dillane as Horatio, and some other guys I don’t know as Marcellus etc. It’s fine not having well-known faces in every role, in fact it’s preferable to the insanely overstuffed Branagh.

Hamlet is bemoaning his uncle’s wassails, if you’ll pardon the expression, viewing him through an unconvincing grill (I don’t know if you’d want a giant hole in your banquet room ceiling, not in Denmark, although I guess before chimneys were invented you might need something like that so you don’t asphyxiate). In addition to supporting players like Alan Bates, Glenn Close (only 11 years older than her screen son), Ian Holm and Helena Bonham-Carter, FZ has David Watkin on camera and Ennio Morricone on score. Neither of these great talents was doing their most exciting work by this time, but the film looks and sounds good. Watkin and designer Maurizio Millenotti can’t quite convince me the tower set is a real place, and although I suppose with a medieval tower at midnight some form of artifice is always going to be involved. MM was also costume designer, had worked for Fellini, and Gibson would import him for his acclaimed how-to guide to crucifixion, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

I should mention that unfortunately the only copy I could get is 4:3, and it’s not open-matte, meaning I can’t crop it to the right ratio: we’re missing a third of the image. So any aesthetic judgements come with major provisos — we’re not really seeing the film FZ made, even allowing for the reduction in size and definition. Plus my copy is glitchy.

What’s good about the ghost’s first appearance here is that he’s just a colourless figure in the distance. What’s uncanny about him is that everyone recognizes him as a dead man. He’s far enough away that there could be some doubt, which makes things even more worrying, in a way. At a certain distance, you can be sure you know the person you’re looking at, but you could still try to sell yourself on the idea that you’ve made a mistake.

I think all this would be better if we’d had the ghost’s first appearance, though.

FZ’s editor has some unlikely credits. Richard Marden had cut the Olivier OTHELLO (yikes) before being adopted by Stanley Donen for BEDAZZLED and TWO FOR THE ROAD, and then cut the dazzling SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY for John Schlesinger. But he also cut SLEUTH, which I don’t think is a well-edited movie (but Olivier was having trouble with his lines, which may have caused problems), and also also garbage like CARRY ON ENGLAND and WHAT’S UP NURSE! and returned to Donen’s side for the regrettable SATURN 3.

This would all work great except the first shot of the HFG (Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost) shows Paul Scofield, for it is he, in a medium shot, defying all sense of optical POV. And then he gets another closer shot later. This takes me out of the reality of the scene, and in trying to startle us — and it’s not particularly startling — by having PS enter in MS — the film breaks the reality of the scene. If you were Horatio or his chum, you’d first see a wide shot, and then you might filter out the surrounding scenery and mentally create a kind of medium shot. But you couldn’t start with that.

In other words, all the wide shots of the ghost are great, Mel advancing from the distance to his own MS is good, but jumping in for impossible detail views harms the scene. It’s a bit like the horrific moment in THE PIANIST when Nazis throw a disabled man from a window, and Polanski’s camera watches from the window opposite, never taking you unnaturally close. The drama comes from the sense of REALITY, and attempting to amp it up with close-ups would actually detract from that, by putting us where we couldn’t be.

Good bit of following, and the Mel gets up on the tower and finds himself alone. A nice bit of the uncanny. There’s nowhere else the ghost could have gone. And then he’s there — an equally impossible thing.

Gibson’s attempts to get action movie stuff into HAMLET are NOT actually embarrassing: it’s what he’s best at, after all. So he swirls around with his sword, sees the ghost — and immediately drops it.

Great shot of Scofield, just sitting there, making a strange, ineffectual movement, lowering one hand from the battlement, attempting to look as mild and unthreatening as possible, and looking VERY SAD — sad that his only son is afraid of him, I think. A great choice. As impressive as Olivier and Kosintsev’s ghosts are, they can’t do this kind of human stuff.

And then the scene is McKellan’s, and we’re in very good hands. Scofield is quite old to be Gibson’s dad, just as Glenn Close is quite young. The positive side of this is we can imagine her preferring Alan Bates. But that voice! No better casting was possible.

The cutting of the dialogue here is quite good — whenever we see Gibson, it is possible to imagine everything the ghost says being in his mind (the ghost tells Hamlet exactly what, in a sense, he wants to believe, hence “Oh my prophetic soul!”) If Gibson were stronger I’d say hold on him more, but as it is the balance is good and Gibson gets through the scene respectably, mainly just listening and reacting. His bigger moments seem forced.

Slow track in on Scofield, and an even weirder hand movement at 4:08. Somehow Lynchian, in that one senses some crazy backstory there we’re not getting. “But that I am forbid to tell…” The movement seems to ward off whatever harrowing power forbids the ghost.

PG Wodehouse has forever ruined “like quills upon the fretful porpentine” as a dramatic line, if it ever did work, so I don’t miss that bit.

At 4.47 Scofield is suddenly being viewed from a new angle, even though Hamlet, whose POV we assume it to be, hasn’t moved recently. It seems likely that, having no doubt already pruned the text, FZ and his cutter have decided to snip out a chunk of footage. Indeed, all through this scene the dialogue has been savagely slashed, but it kind of has to be for a movie. Even for a play.

Scofield has the best male voice maybe ever. I mean, Richard Burton, yes, and I am partial to a bit of James Coburn, but Scofield is somehow less obvious, he achieves his gravitas without the need for Sensurround rumble. He’s much of what makes Patrick Keillor’s LONDON and ROBINSON IN SPACE two favourite things — I can’t watch Keillor without Scofield, the vacuum left is unfillable.

I started to wonder whether, at some point in this sequence, Hamlet might not want to go to his father. Sure, the man’s a ghost and therefore scary, but as the scene goes on and Hamlet gets over his initial doubt and feels pity for his poor old dad, might it not be a good idea to dramatise that by having him actually approach. And FZ takes my hint — the ghost comes forwards, saying “Adieu” — a bizarro choice but Scofield, but one he sells — if you’re a ghost, you can vanish while walking towards someone — and as the ghost reaches out, Hamlet in turn reaches up — whether to fend off the spook, embrace him, or to stop his own head from exploding, we cannot know — and the reverse angle reveals the HFG has indeed vanished.

The ghost’s “Remember me” is absolutely heartbreaking and haunting.

Now the floor is Mel’s, so things get quite a bit worse quite fast. It’s not a bad choice to have H return to where he has a view of his uncle’s revelling, so he can be looking right at the damned villain while he curses him. But FZ and his cutter include closeups of Bates, midrevel, and have neglected to shoot it from a high angle, so I find its inclusion jarring and clumsy. H then has the line about his “tables” but he hasn’t got any school jotter on him, so the schoolkids in the audience are destined to remain puzzled — he borrows a leaf from Nicol Williamson’s sweaty book and tries to carve his vow on the castle’s stonework with his sword. Sparks fly! Not convinced he could wield a sharp sword that way without losing some fingers.

I think directors should probably listen to the author when he has Hamlet call for his tables, and actually give him some tables. I expect this was done a lot on the stage until it came to seem cliche. but you can enliven tired business, you don’t have to chuck it out completely.

The last bit feels like H should still be writing, but Mel does it as H swearing on his sword, then hyperventilates a bit — this is all quite forced — then suddenly drops out of view. The rest is silence — until Kenneth bloody Branagh rocks up, a mere six years later. Tune in next time to hear Prince Hamlet say… absolutely everything.