Tuesday, 13 October 2009

'Tube or not 'Tube

A horrendous and tenuous pun as a title for this post, but never mind. I thought I'd share a few of my favourite cinematic representations of arguably the most famous moment in any of Shakespeare's plays. I'm talking about Hamlet's soliloquy at the start of Act 3 Scene 1 of Hamlet, usually known as the "to be or not to be" speech. If you're not familiar with the story of Hamlet, firstly shame on you, and secondly have a read of Wikipedia's synopsis before you continue.

Olivier's Hamlet (1948)

Largely traditional in his presentation of this famous scene, Olivier's portrayal of the troubled prince is still incredibly powerful. In many ways very simple, but hugely effective at the same time. Throughout the whole thing, Hamlet is very clearly considering killing himself either by chucking himself into the sea or by stabbing himself, and Olivier really makes you believe that he might do it at any moment. Despite being over sixty years old, the simple camera effects help set the scene well, and focus on the fractured mind of Hamlet at this point in the play.

Branagh's Hamlet (1996)

Branagh's four-hour long uncut film version of Hamlet is my favourite version of the play, possibly my favourite Shakespearean film and certainly one of my favourite films ever. However, on the surface, Branagh's version of "to be or not to be" seems relatively unimpressive compared to what it could be in Branagh's cinematic epic. On closer inspection it's a masterclass in subtlety by the actor and director. Despite not wearing his emotion on his sleeve, the intensity of Branagh's performance belies the prince's mental state. Add to this that he is looking at his reflection the whole time, plus the fact that the mirror is in fact two-way and Claudius (played by Derek Jacobi) is looking into Hamlet's eyes throughout the entire thing, and the speech has gone from underplayed and unspectacular to being woven into an incredibly complex and cerebral moment in the film.

Hawke's Hamlet (2000)

Director Michael Almereyda's postmodern Hamlet, even if it is not entirely consistent or successful in what it attempts, is compelling viewing (and definitely worth a look if you enjoyed Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet or 10 Things I Hate About You). However, Ethan Hawke's version of the Act 3 Scene 1 speech is my favourite of all. Hawke's troubled film geek walking down the "Action" aisle in Blockbusters, the genre name displayed all around him in exquisite irony and beautiful cinematography, is simply sublime. As Hawke's Hamlet walks back and forth between screens displaying violence and explosions and a sign telling him to "GO HOME HAPPY", I can't help but grin at the way Shakespeare's script is simultaneously being turned on its head and adhered to so very closely, even referenced in its own portrayal.

A slightly (alright, very) Shakespeare-geeky entry, but you guys can put up with them every so often. To finish, one of the best moments from so-so '90s action comedy The Last Action Hero, with Arnold Schwarzenegger uttering the infamous line. Enjoy.

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