National Theatre Live: Hamlet movie full length review - Cumberbatch let down by his choice of director
Benedict Cumberbatch asked Lyndsey Turner to direct his "Hamlet," the most talked-about production of the London 2014-2015 season. A live performance was filmed and shows up in movie theaters as part of the National Theatre Live broadcasts.
This is its third time being shown in theaters across America; the reason for that is that it's the most successful of the series. 200,000 people saw the first showing. Cumberbatch in "Frankenstein" often returns as well. So we know who the draw is, and why it sold out in London even faster than Beyonce and JayZ.
There is no correct interpretation of Hamlet, there is only what you prefer. I have seen this production three times - once in London and twice in the Royal National streaming. I've seen Ralph Fiennes, Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Michael Benz all take on the Bard. Michael Benz appeared with five other people on a bare stage for one of the best Hamlet productions I've ever seen. It certainly mined all the tremendous humor, was devoid of angst, and had a very young Hamlet who saw getting the "conscience of a king" as an adventure.
If that production with Benz proved anything, it was that you can do Hamlet successfully with a chair rather than the huge, dark set used in the Barbican production.
To say that this Hamlet was overblown, badly cut, and poorly directed are all understatements. Why Cumberbatch asked for Turner is an unknown. The play was cut so that he was isolated from the rest of the cast most of the time, so, though he was brilliant, athletic, and passionate, we really didn't get to see much interplay with other characters. The result? We lost part of what would have been an even more phenomenal performance.
Someone here posted that Cumberbatch ran a close second to Richard Chamberlain, whom I also saw as Hamlet in another cut version. To me there is no comparison. My acting teacher used to say that you have to play a part and not become too generalized in your choices. Seeing Chamberlain on stage, though I like him and grew up watching him, he is too generic in his choices. Cumberbatch never generalizes; he is always on point with the character he is playing.
The other problem with the production was that it was hard to tell what the time period was - Hamlet always seemed modern, Gertrude like something out of the 1940s, and her husband (Ciaran Hinds) Edwardian. Horatio (Leo Bill) had tattoos on every part of his body.
Other than Cumberbatch, the acting was so-so. The actress playing Ophelia (Sian Brooke) was annoying, which probably had to do with the way the role was cut, and, in her hysteria, hard to understand. Jim Norton was a good Polonius, and Karl Johnson as Hamlet's father's ghost and the Gravedigger was excellent. Ciaran Hinds and Anastasia Hille as Claudius and Gertrude turned in good performances.
Seeing this on screen is actually better than seeing it in the play because while Turner had no idea where the focus was supposed to be on the stage, the cameraman did. And sorry, but whose idea was it during the tell-all play to have Claudius with his back to the audience? Great way to see his reaction.
Sadly, Morag Siller, who played Voltemand, died six months after the end of this production, at the age of 46.
If it comes to your neighborhood, definitely see it for Cumberbatch - to hear Hamlet spoken in that voice is a wonder indeed.