Hamlet – Review

Bruce Ramsay’s adaptation and directorial debut Hamlet (in which Bruce also stars as Hamlet) premiered in Canada back in 2011. It was received quite well nabbing eight Leo nominations, and won Best Costume Design for the lovely creations that assist in establishing Hamlet’s world set in the 40s. Last year Hamlet made its way Stateside to premieres in both New York and Los Angeles. We are very pleased to announce that next month Hamlet will be launching on Amazon Instant. Now audiences from coast to coast can finally spend an evening at home with everyone’s favorite dysfunctional royal family.

With only three days to shoot, and a very limited budget, Hamlet finds a new breath and voice breaking away from the standard classic Shakespeare adaptations. Yet, it is as strong and beautiful as any other adaptation found on stage or screen. It is rare for people to stray too far from the original piece, but Bruce creatively brings a realism to his film that is unmatched. Focusing solely on the family, he is able to raise to the surface things so often overlooked. There are moments in the film that we have never before seen with characters interacting in ways that make more sense to life as we now know it. It is modern and relatable, however set in the 40s there is still a feeling of duty, honor, and respect that lacks in today’s world. It puts Hamlet at odds with almost everyone in the house. Even the house is his enemy with hollow halls to echo past memories and carry voices not meant to be heard.

Hamlet comes home to a world pulled apart by grief and betrayal. Enraged at the marriage of his mother to his uncle, after the untimely death of his father, only sets into motion an evening of insurmountable disasters. Bruce brings an array of emotions to his Hamlet. Falling into madness while engulfed in misery you can see the struggle shift in his eyes. One minute full of rage, the next gentle with love, playful then deepened with sorrow, and followed by a tinge of pain from abandonment.

Hamlet finds his only saving grace in the stunning Ophelia (Lara Gilchrist), but even she falls victim to his demise. Their love shows all levels of emotion from passion, to tenderness, to affection, to the ultimate surrender of life. You can feel the life deflate from Hamlet as he sits on the steps slowly losing touch with his heart and reason for living. Ophelia’s spiral begins where she inevitably ends creating a full circle for her anguish. Bruce pairs the couple together for the infamous madness scene. It is something that brings an entirely new revelation at the damage caused by Hamlet’s unrelenting need for revenge. He destroys that which is most precious to his love and in doing so he breaks her beyond repair. It is always so hard to watch the moment when Ophelia becomes unhinged. As she unravels before everyone the look of sorrow in their eyes is overwhelming. You can feel their hearts breaking for her. Ophelia is the most innocent of sacrifices lost in the entire story. It makes everyone vulnerable. Lara so perfectly and eloquently plays the part. It will be difficult to ever find her equal because she completely embodies the essence of Shakespeare’s beloved Ophelia.

The amazing ensemble of actors took the story past the page. Every single actor was astounding. They brought to life their characters so completely that you feel, at times, as though you are looking through the windows of your neighbors. Even if you have a brief moment of recognition of the actors it is quickly replaced by complete belief in the characters. I think actors often struggle with Shakespeare since it has to be played just right otherwise you sound absurd trying to make the cadence of the dialogue work. I never once doubted what they were saying. After really getting into the story you almost forget that you are watching and hearing Shakespeare. In keeping the first moments of the film void of dialogue, it allows you observe the world you are about to enter before throwing the Bard’s language into the mix. Anyone, no matter their knowledge of Shakespeare or Hamlet, can watch this film and follow along. It truly brings you into their world and holds you there until the very last line and the very last breath. You are emotionally invested in the story along with the characters.

The scene when Hamlet first sees his father, as the ghost, was heartbreaking to me. I had such a visceral response that it quite surprised me. As the King harnessed his emotional wounds setting Hamlet on the course to avenge him, I found myself saddened at his words. The grief, birthed out of tragedy and the unbearable weight of betrayal, entombed the King and Hamlet in a moment where a father and son share in mourning a life cut short. It haunted me. I even awoke in the middle of the night after watching it half expecting to see the King’s ghost standing over me in the darkness. I couldn’t shake the gravity of that particular scene. It finally dawned on me why I was so moved by that moment. My father has been fighting cancer and just a day before I watched Hamlet Dad received the amazing and awesome news of an ‘all clear’ from his oncologist. I projected my own feelings of bottled up fear and hopelessness into the relationship between Hamlet and his father. It took experiencing Hamlet’s grief alongside him for me to realize that for the first time in a long time I feel at peace. Hamlet doesn’t have that peace. His father was stolen from him and nothing can bring him back so the grief and rage boil within. It is his final undoing.

No matter what dysfunctions your family may have, they are still your family. You can’t choose the crazy that comes with those you are bonded to by blood. Poor Hamlet hasn’t a chance. We know this going in, but somehow we still hope for a different outcome. Shakespeare knew his audience. Art, in all forms, allows us to bring in our own experiences, relationships, fears, understanding, love, loss, and interpretations as we get lost in the moment. Hamlet will reach people where they are in life. If you are in love then you’ll be drawn in by Ophelia and Hamlet’s love. If you are enraged then you’ll better relate to the revenge aspect of the story. No matter how you view Hamlet you will react through what you bring in from your own life. This is why 400 years after this story was first penned we still pack theatres to witness the plot thickening. We are out for blood, but somewhere down deep inside I think everyone secretly hopes for a happily ever after for Hamlet and Ophelia.

Bruce brings Hamlet, and his world, to life in a light we seldom see them in. A unique and clever way to introduce Shakespeare to today’s audience in a beautiful adaption of the story. One house. One night. Two families. All is not well, indeed.

*Hamlet will be released on Amazon Instant in February. In the meantime, check your local listings to see if Hamlet is part of your cable/satellite VOD lineup. Be sure to follow the Hamlet cast on Twitter: Peter Wingfield (Claudius), Stephen Lobo (Horatio), Haig Sutherland (Laertes), and John Cassini (Butler). Also please take a moment to like Hamlet on Facebook.

Jan Ostegard

It's been four decades since I first discovered a passion for movies. One momentous evening in 1977 my sister and brother introduced me to Star Wars and it forever changed my life. I relocated to Los Angeles after receiving a BA in Theatre and lived in the San Fernando valley for nineteen years. Besides acting and writing, I enjoy movies, music, theatre, relaxing at the beach or in the mountains, mastering racing games, traveling around the world, and hoarding chapstick. My husband and I are currently readjusting to life back in the States after spending three years living in Shanghai, China.
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