01 Nicol Williamson



Hamlet played by Nicol Williamson
Directed by Tony Richardson

The opening moments in any production of Hamlet are critical because the audience, assuming they know the play fairly well, will already be asking the 'How are they going to do...' question. It's the ghost. Hamlet senior. What is he going to look like? In a film, it's an even bigger challenge, because some people watching might expect a special effect. The approach here is a shot of bright light across the young Dane's face and his voice echoing through the frame. The style of the film is already crystallised. It's not about the surroundings or set dressing. It's about the emotion of the piece, the words. In this key moment we are looking in his eyes as he hear's his fathers words, and that's a device used throughout the piece.

On first appearance, Nicol Williamson might seem a bit old for the part. Certainly, I've seen Claudius's who look younger. But that does a disservice to his performance, which commands every scene he appears in. His Hamlet is far from mad; he's using a bluff technique to search for the why's of his father's death and how he's reacting to it. Unusually. in the intimate moments, during the soliloquy's he's at his most vulnerable, as though he's unable to come to terms with these feelings, and only really comes to life when he has someone to relate to.

A very young looking Anthony Hopkins makes a compelling Claudius, who with his gluttony seems like a man who could do wrong. Equally Judy Parfitt passes the test of being attractive enough for a man to kill for even if her skin is worryingly grey. Although not at grey as Ophelia, played by Marianne Faithful who in some shots looks positively black and white, almost as though the trickery of the film 'Pleasantville' had been used. Which is a shame because it detracts from rather a good performance.

The production was filmed at The Roundhouse Theatre which explains that use of extreme close up and the complete lack of establishing shots. The lighting absolutely picks up the actors faces, making what settings there are perfunctory. It mustn't have been a very easy shoot -- most of the speeches and scenes are played out in one shots -- there is very little editing in places, which allows the text the breath. I've seen the play many times and it was a joy on this occasion to hear how much of our language found a basis here.

The main oddity this time are the supporting actors. This is the only Hamlet you'd expect to find Michael Elphick and Angelica Houston standing around in the background, along with Roger Lloyd-Pack popularly known as Trigger in 'Only Fools and Horses'. The latter is particularly distracting because his face is so familiar and he appears, not only as Ronaldo, but also as a player, one of Laertes friends and a miscellaneous bystander in the duel at the end. One man should not have that many different beards. Also worth noting is the approach to the credits at the end, which are spoken, in a style similar to Truffaut's 'Farenheit 451' over a shot of Hamlet.

I watched the dvd of the film on the 30th March 2005.

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