Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Discovering Hamlet (DVD Review)


Dir: Mark Olshaker
USA, 2011 (DVD Release)

Reason to see: I'm fascinated by people's fascination with Hamlet, and what better way to understand it more than a behind the scenes look with Kenneth Branagh & Derek Jacobi?

Discovering Hamlet is a documentary on the 1988 production of Hamlet starring Kenneth Branagh with stage direction by Derek Jacobi. As I've always been slightly mystified by Hamlet, how it holds such appeal that has persisted through the ages, I was really looking forward to digging into this program and I absolutely adored it. One of the things I loved about the documentary is that it parallels the unveiling of the story of the Hamlet with the unveiling of the life cycle of putting on a stage production which is an absolutely beautiful and graceful way to celebrate and share the beauty and magic of theatre. This is done in such a way that both the play of Hamlet plus the production itself is understandable to the novice as well as being enjoyable to expert. That's actually one of the things I've always loved about theatre, you don't have to know everything to enjoy it but the more you do the more you enjoy. What a beautiful thing!

It's also an absolute joy to see Kenneth Branagh through the rehearsal process and on stage as Hamlet, as well as seeing Derek Jacobi direct. Through the interviews with the actors we get to hear Derek Jacobi's and each actors insights and interpretations of their characters several of which are fascinating including a different take than I've seen on Polonius in particular. I was also blown away by a new take on the To Be or Not To Be speech which is absolutely amazing and showcases one of the wonderful things about theatre - the fact that likely the most well known speech ever can still have a new and interesting take on things. I thoroughly enjoyed the insights into the play and characters, from the interviews as well as from seeing the rehearsal footage. It's a treasure to see all the behind the scenes footage from directors notes to tech dress to the opening night of the play.

The documentary is narrated by Patrick Stewart and includes footage of the rehearsal process, production meetings, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Derek Jacobi, actors Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Richard Easton (Claudius), Edward Jewesbury (Polonius), Sophie Thomspon (Ophelia), David Parfitt (Rosencrantz), Jimmy Yuill (Guildenstern), Richard Clifford (Horatio), Dearbhla Mollow (Gertrude) & Jay Villiers (Laertes) and plus set desinger Jenny Tiramani, text advisor Rusell Jackson and costume supervisor Susan Coates. It's beautifully constructed with fantastic footage of the production and contains a wealth of extras. A great find that I highly recommend.

DVD Extras
Disc 1:

  • A Conversation with Sir Derek Jacobi (33 minutes) Interview with documentary writer/director Mark Olshaker and Sir Derek Jacobi discussing the production, Hamlet in history and the draw to the play and role, the challenge of directing as an actor and lots of discussion about acting including great stories of working with and being inspired by other actors.
  • Photo Gallery (1 minute, set to music) photos from documentary filming, rehearsal process and actual Hamlet production .
  • The Players in the Production text biographies on Kenneth Branagh, Richard Clifford, Richard Easton, Edward Jewesbury, Dearbhla Mollow, David Parfitt, Sophie Thomspon, Jay Villiers and Jimmy Yuill
  • Hamlet Through the Ages notations and descriptions of Hamlet performances by Richard Burbage, David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, Edwin Booth, Sarah Bernhardt, Sir Henry Irving, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, John Barrymore, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Sir Derek Jacobi
  • Sir Patrick Stewart Biography text biography
Disc 2:
  • Derek Jacobi Extended Interviews (53 minutes) includes three extended interviews on directing (34 minutes), an interview at 2 1/2 weeks in (8 minutes) and a segment on Shakespeare and performing after the first preview (11 minutes).
  • Cast and Crew Interviews (26 minutes) includes interviews with Kenneth Branagh (5 minutes), Russel Jackson (8 minutes), Sophie Thompson (8 minutes), Costume Supervisor Susan Coates (6 minutes) and Set Designer Jenny Tiramani (1 minute)
  • Behind-the-Scenes includes (1h 10 minutes) behind-the-scenes selections of Director's notes from Derek Jacobi (22 minutes), Directing the Cast (9 minutes), Sword Fight Choreography (12 minutes), Rehearsals of Act 2, Scene 2 & Final Scene (11 & 6 minutes) as well as the Cast Party (11 minutes).
Plus a 9-page viewers guide

Discovering Hamlet is available on DVD as of February 1, 2011. Check it out over at Amazon.ca & Amazon.com

Shannon's Overall View:
I adored it
I'll easily watch it again
I highly recommend it

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© Shannon Ridler, 2011


Marina said...


Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

It really is a must-see. I absolutely adored it.

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