Sunday, 9 October 2011

Hamlet: Mel Gibson style

Amazingly, this 1990 blockbuster was nominated for 2 (count them, 2!) Oscars. What the academy were thinking I'll never know, but it was probably something along the the lines of "ooh look at all the stars! And it's Shakespeare, you can't knock Shakespeare!"

The best I can say is that it was interesting.

Mel Gibson seems to have modelled Hamlet on a thug. The only way he is able to convey anger is by throwing people against castle walls, ignoring other avenues such as tone, expression or even the BLOODY WORDS ON THE SCRIPT. (I am calm, I am calm... breathe.) I'm just saying, Shakespeare has expressed the most complex emotions in beautiful, elegant and empathetic language. There's a bit more to Hamlet in my opinion than just anger.
Then there's the hair. They decided Hamlet should be blond, but in dying Gibson's hair it has gone a straw like auberny brown. Not handsome. Half the time I was concentrating more on his hair than on his words, which says a lot about his acting.

There is also a really creepy sex-like encounter between Hamlet and Gertrude (played by Glen Close) just before he kills Polonius. He's meant to be a little mad, but with the writhing and the moaning and grunting and thrusting it came off more as creepy than anything else. Plus, Glen Close takes the opportunity to neck someone any chance she gets, whether its Hamlet (too long for being appropriate, plus on the mouth), or Claudius who comes of very Henry VIII-like - loud, pompous, always carousing, eating, drinking, getting amorous or partying. The one true moment I felt was when he spoke to Laertes about his love for Gertrude, which was quiet and understated compared to the brash character we viewed for the other 2and a half hours.

I understood from the beginning that chunks of text would have to be cut to produce a Hamlet for the masses in the cinema, but I had to question which bits were cut. There is no mention of the ghost for the first half hour, the soliloquies seemed rushed or severely cut and Ophelia's gradual descent into madness and rambling folly took place in the space of two seconds. Normal. Completely bonkers. Dead. And that was the end of Ophelia.

This I felt was a shame, as Helena Bonham Carter does crazed and loopy very very well. In fact I'm stretched to remember a role that hasn't included insanity. Nevertheless, I thought Ophelia was a good representation, if severely limited in development due to lack of screen time.

What was used instead of speech was a large number of dramatic and misty landscape shots of the castle, the sea, galloping horses, dilapidated turrets, fancily dressed nobles.... It was very atmospheric and pretty, but didn't add much to the play. I personally would have favoured a bit less window dressing and a bit more acting.

With Fortinbras entirely cut from the plot, I was curious as to what would be made of the finale. I liked the fighting between Hamlet and Laertes, feeling real sympathy for Laertes as Gibson portrayed Hamlet as prancing around, using the bout for comedic effect against the deeper tensions of the room. However, the poisoning of the cup and sword couldn't have been staged in a more obvious manner. They must have thought the audience a pretty stupid bunch, needful of having the situation c-l-e-a-r-l-y and s-l-o-w-l-y explained.
As to the question of what happens to the Danish court with the massacre of their entire ruling class... unexplained. I'm assuming the country went into financial melt-down and descended into anarchy, but that's my choice.

Overall, if you want to see a GOOD staging of Hamlet, my advice would be to instead view either the Laurence Olivier, RSC David Tenant or the Kenneth Branagh versions, all of which are longer but very very enjoyable; well acted, visually pleasing and true to the text.

So Catrin Says...

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