Sunday, January 20, 2013

Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Branagh '96

Each of these three scenes is given its own unbroken shot, a technique Branagh says fostered a kind of anxiety in the actors that translated to their characters. It's a clever and subtle way to get across the instability and political (and personal!) upheaval caused by the Prince effectively killing the Prime Minister.

Scene 1
Most of Claudius' lines are played as an aside though Gertrude is present, usually off-screen, which creates the effect of her shock. She is obviously stunned, disconnected from the scene, their final embrace non-committal. Is she still clutching at him, wondering if she should betray him, or is he the one holding her close? Probably a bit of both. In this version, he does love her, and she is the principal reason for the murder he committed. All of which clashes with his feelings for Hamlet - fear and murderous anger - nevertheless Gertrude's reason for living. He's impatient with her contention that her son is somehow repentant, thinking her naive and foolish. Because no matter how important Gertrude is to him, Claudius can't ignore his own selfishness. On hearing of Polonius' murder, he thinks first of his own safety, and by the time the scene is resolved, he's put together a plan to make sure the Court knows who was really guilty of the crime lest the blame fall on him. During a crisis, Claudius falls to public relations mode.

Not content to believe Gertrude's interpretation, Claudius visits the crime scene himself, looks at the counterfeit presentment of two brothers on the bed, puts it all together. Between this scene and his next (Scene 3), not to mention the play within the play, there's every reason to believe he's understood what Hamlet is really on about. The Prince is gunning for him, possibly planning a coup, but at the very least trying to avenge his father's murder. He can no longer excuse the madness, nor does he particularly believe Hamlet's act.

Meanwhile, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, asked to wait in the hall outside the rooms, and are often seen in frame, connecting them to Polonius, another conspirator listening in at a remove. Can their own deaths be far ahead?

Scene 2
Then, action. Soldiers running through Elsinore, searching Ophelia's bed. R&G find Hamlet first, creeping about as if in a comedy routine. They don't lay a finger on him, nor do the soldiers that join his train every time he turns a corner. It's a last hurrah for the madcap Hamlet, a version of the character that won' exist after Scene 3, and as if in an encore of a previous scene, he even takes Rosencrantz hostage (pipeless, this time). Branagh invents a bit here where an awakened Ophelia comes down the stairs, face to face with Hamlet. Confronted by the woman he's just orphaned, the Prince makes a run for it, going through room after room, jumping over tables (the courtiers seem to be having a late dinner after the play). It's notable that he tries to avoid his fate, or perhaps he's trying to find a weapon and get to Claudius before the guards get him. In the end, he reaches his library/study, but it's been compromised (as has the rest of Elsinore; note how none of the guards are those shown loyal to him in Act 1). A rifle is leveled at his head and we cut to Claudius.

Scene 3
Claudius is in his own study, sealing letters bound for England and explaining, in a soliloquy, the politics behind his next action. I wonder if Derek Jacobi muddled the pronunciation of "distracted multitude" on purpose, because it sounds like "destructive multitude" to me. Certainly, that's how he thinks of Denmark's population, as rabble not only stupid (distract), but dangerous as well. He's interrupted by R&G who bring Hamlet to him. Horatio is also dragged in, either as a co-conspirator or to bear witness to Hamlet's fair treatment. There are two reasons to have him present even if the text does not mention him. One is to keep him in play the same way Ophelia has been brought into these scenes. Neither character has appeared since the play, and neither gets a farewell scene with Hamlet before he is exiled. Branagh manages to give each of them a wordless farewell, both given meaning through performance. The other reason to have him there is to cement his role as an objective witness in the final scene. If he is telling us this story, he needs to be present as much as possible.

Hamlet continues to be insolent, and Claudius has had enough. He's drinking more and more (one of his sins), and back-hands Hamlet quite hard when the Prince refuses to give him a straight answer. And yet, Hamlet doesn't break character or even lose his sense of humor. In fact, the scene becomes a kind of duel, both characters knowing full well the other's secrets, but daring the other to reveal themselves in front of witnesses. Hamlet even goes so far as kissing Claudius on the mouth when he calls him his mother. Claudius finally breaks when Hamlet is carted off and he gives his "do it, England" speech, barely containing the rage and anguish he feels at the discord in his heart. His wish is to kill his stepson, but politically, he needs to exile him instead, either move sure to hurt the woman he loves. Because the exile means death, there's also a measure of guilt there. This is a man who only a few scenes ago was suffering from having committed one murder, and here he is ordering another.  It all plays out in Jacobi's voice.
Before being taken away, Hamlet goes to Horatio and almost talks to him, leaving it at a silent look passing between the two friends. Nothing so good for Ophelia, clutching at the chapel's doors as her father's found body is brought in, screaming her head off, her sanity already slipping away. Those screams echo over the water in an exterior shot, extending the mad scream right to the girl's very death, the brook where she will take her own life.

No comments: