Saturday, December 4, 2010

II.ii. New Arrivals - BBC '80

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are introduced with a symmetrical shot that creates the necessary equivalence between them. Claudius continues to play the politician, buttering them up to make sure they will betray Hamlet's confidence (not that he had cause to worry), while Gertrude seems more sincere in her compliments. Both overestimate Hamlet's love for these two individuals, although it's entirely possible the prince would have trusted them more had their mission not been discussed in open Court. When Hamlet later says he knows they were sent for, it may infer that he has spies in the Court, or just that things really aren't so secret in Elsinore. Do they think he's so out of it he won't hear the castle gossip?

R&G are played by Jonathan Hyde (Rosencrantz, on the right) and Geoffrey Bateman (Guildenstern, on the left), who both exude that certain lack of trustworthiness, licking the King's boots as they prepare to betray a friend.
As with the 1996 version, Claudius flips their names around and Gertrude corrects him. They laugh as if this often happens, and bow only to her hand. Claudius is in incredibly good spirits throughout this scene. Only Gertrude seems genuinely concerned. Claudius, when played as a real villain (as he is here), cannot be anything but selfish. He's looking into Hamlet's madness only as a way to keep Gertrude happy, not for her sake, but ostensibly to make his own life easier and more pleasurable. His joy only breaks once - when she awkwardly mentions their over-hasty marriage. She almost doesn't say it. It's the elephant in the room, and Claudius doesn't want to face the possibility. Are those his first pangs of guilt?

The Ambassadors
Claudius' big show continues with the arrival of the ambassadors to Norway. As they reveal Fortinbras' plan, Claudius gesticulates towards Polonius, silently saying "I KNEW IT! I TOLD YOU!" By the end of the ambassadors' tale, he's applauding as is the assembled Court. He has spun a potential danger for the State into a victory, but is deluding himself. He is so giddy, drinking it in, so occupied with the business of looking good, that the ambassadors' story need not be examined. He hands the Norwegian letter to an attendant without even saying the line about reading it later. That small cut makes Claudius even more careless.

There is a missed opportunity I should mention at this point. In their first scene, Voltimand and Cornelius seemed very serious, and I mentioned at the time that it looked like they were unhappy with the recent change in government. I postulated the possibility of their being loyal to Hamlet Sr. and resentful of Claudius' ascension to the throne. Could they be complicit in Norway's betrayal? Did they help arrange Fortinbras' passage through Denmark, a coup in the making? Fortinbras comes in at the end as a conqueror, but says Hamlet would have proven most royal had he ascended. Was he invader or rescuer of Denmark? There to depose Claudius and restore Hamlet to the throne? What the staging needed here to close the loop is a knowing look between the ambassadors. In its absence, they simply appear to have had a change of attitude in between acts, sharing in the happy news they're reporting.


Craig D. said...

Holy crap, Jonathan Hyde as Rosencrantz? And Eric Porter as Polunius on top of that. I wasn't planning on bothering with this version, but now I may have to... though I don't expect them to displace Steve Zahn and Bill Murray as my favorite actors in those roles. (Jacobi couldn't displace my favorite Hamlet, since I don't have one.)

And there's this other BBC version with Christopher Plummer as Hamlet, Michael Caine as Horatio, Robert Shaw as Claudius, and Donald Sutherland as Fortinbras, from the director of the excellent BBC Dracula with Louis Jourdan... too many Hamlets, not enough money in my bank account.

Siskoid said...

Though it comes with an unavoidable TV studio-bound cheapness, there's nothing cheap about the performances. Jacobi is for sure one of the greatest Hamlets ever, and certainly one of the better Hamlets on the list I'm using.

I look forward to adding more Hamlets to it as time goes on. There's no dearth of material out there.