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  • TBC
  • 2007
  • 146 mins

Fodor's Hamlet

Fodor's Hamlet

Synopsis

This 42nd film version of 'Hamlet' is a digital experiment that stays faithful to Shakespeare's text while thoroughly messing about with his characters

About

William Shakespeare, eh? He wasn't half bad with a pen, but he knew jack when it came to movies. And so any filmmaker wishing to adapt the Bard for the silver screen is faced with a perennial problem: how to make all the stagy action and mannered wordplay appeal to the contemporary cinemagoer?

Do you play it straight, like the Hamlet of Franco Zeffirelli (1990) or Kenneth Branagh (1996), in the hope that the big-draw stars and lavish production will help viewers forget they are not in a theatre? Or do you transpose its events to a modern setting without changing much else, like Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000)? Or do you dispense almost entirely with the original text, retaining just a few key elements from the original in an otherwise postmodern reimagining, like Aki Kaurismäki's Hamlet Goes Business (1987)?

As the 42nd film version of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', and one of three made in 2007 alone, (Alexander) Fodor's Hamlet faces a lot of competition, yet it manages to distinguish itself by radically reinventing the traditional characterisation without ever straying far from Shakespeare's original dialogue.

Here the respectable nobleman Laertes (Wing) has been transformed into a cockney thug. Hamlet's close confidante Horatio has switched gender to Horatia (Reddin-Clancy), lending the homo-social aspects of their friendship a mild sexual frisson. The Ghost (Frail), who appears only twice in the original, is here, along with two phantom children, a constantly visible background presence, always watching, waiting and manipulating from the sidelines, so that the play's more supernatural elements are brought right to the fore - with one scene in particular, set in a hotel corridor, evoking no less than the spooky chills of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).

Ophelia (Sheffield), in turn, has become a shallow, selfish smack addict, while the Danish prince himself (Belchambers) is much younger than the typical cinematic Hamlet - even if this is, upon reflection, thoroughly in keeping with Shakespeare's original text.

Best of all, Ophelia's doddering old bore of an uncle Polonius has been turned into the scheming, omnisexual femme fatale Polonia, played with show-stealing relish by Lydia Piechowiak. And all this has been accomplished with hardly an alteration to the original script, besides the odd bit of effing and blinding, a minimal name-change, and one or two innocuous ad libs from the cast ("You fight like a girl," Hamlet tells his sparring partner after a bout). Rarely has Shakespearean dialogue been so dramatically recontextualised - and, very much to the actors' credit, rarely has it been delivered so naturally.

Still, the problem with all this character-tampering is that it ends up seeming much ado about nothing. It is all very well to see Ophelia shooting up, or Polonia engaged in a lesbian seduction, or Laertes giving Horatia a vicious beating - but part of the enduring appeal of Shakespeare is the power and drive of his stories, something which Fodor's tangential experiments often serve more to disrupt than to complement.

This is a film of striking, imaginative parts that never quite add up to a coherent whole - and as a result, even when cropped to a judicious two-and-a-half hours (as opposed to the four-or-so hours it takes to perform the unexpurgated play), its narrative meanders far more than the original's, dragging at the viewer's patience. And some of the scenes positively misfire. Fodor's decision, for example, to include some of his own 'comic' business between the gravedigger and an unexploded landmine demonstrates, if nothing else, how easily attempts to mess with the Dane can blow up in your face.

On the other hand, Fodor's film is never dull to look at. He pushes the possibilities of high definition digital to the limits with light-saturated or colour-filtered images of an intense immediacy, as well as unusual framing and a range of technical tricks (split screens, freeze frames, CCTV-style flickerings) to glut the eye.

It is nothing short of a miracle, born of talent and ingenuity, that a film with so minuscule a budget (£15,000), and shot so quickly (just 15 days), should be so visually stylish and so rich in eerie atmosphere. Even the limited sets (most of Hamlet was shot in a single room over a pub in north London) have been exploited to create a disorienting sense of claustrophobia that sits well with the themes of ghostly haunting and inescapable destiny. So even if Fodor's Hamlet is far from perfect, it is without question an impressive calling card.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: James Frail, Max Davis, Alan Hanson, Wilson Belchambers, Simon Nader, Tallulah Sheffield, Lydia Piechowiak, Katie Reddin-Clancy, Jason Wing, Alexander Fodor, Di Sherlock
  • Director: Alexander Fodor
  • Screen Writer: Alexander Fodor
  • Writer (Play): William Shakespeare
  • Producer: Paul Allan-Slade
  • Photographer: Diego Indraccolo
  • Composer: Joe Lyske

In a nutshell

Blighted but bold, this Shakespearean adaptation messes with the Dane to the ultimate disadvantage of its own narrative coherence - but it certainly dies a stylish death.

by Anton Bitel

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