Friday 12 February 2016


Starring Tim Roth, Gary Oldman and Richard Dreyfuss, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead sees two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet take centre stage as we learn of their importance to the Prince of Denmark's tale. This is the other side of the same coin, if you like.

The 25th anniversary of the film (and 50th anniversary of the original play) is being celebrated with this new DVD, which comes with a bonus disc full of extras. Written and directed by playwright Tom Stoppard, it has a curious set up that will certainly pique the interest of many. In a time when sequels, side-sequels and spin-offs are increasingly prevalent, I was intrigued to see such an interesting idea applied to the work of Shakespeare; Hamlet, no less.

And there are things to admire about the film. There's a great interplay between Roth and Oldman as Rosencrantz and Guildernstern (I'll leave you to figure out which one is which), two contemporaries of British cinema who have worked together a number of times and who clearly have a great trust in their fellow performer. It's odd to see Oldman in a role that is mostly whimsical comic relief, but he's very good at it. A young Iain Glen takes on the role of Hamlet, resembling Alfie Allen in a way I'm surprised hasn't set many a Game of Thrones Reddit thread alight. His performance as the potential future King of Denmark is fresh and exciting, if not more suited to a theatre experience.
It would be appreciated more by those who've studied the Bard, but to fully appreciate the film, I think you would have to be a minor obsessive of Hamlet, of which there are some out there. As well as being about the trivial goings-on of a pair of minor characters, it's surprisingly dense, and as a film, it's a better play. With Stoppard's cheeky stabs (sometimes literally) at actors and their perceived pomposity (as evidenced through Richard Dreyfuss's troupe of travelling performers), it is a play about the theatre, and that doesn't quite translate to the big screen. It certainly has moments of wryly funny, sarcastic humour, and there is a charmingly off kilter approach to its obsessions with the minutiae of life and bizarre non-sequiturs that recall the cinematic works of Richard Lester. One scene sees Oldman holding a bowling ball and a feather and dropping them from a height. "You'd think this would fall faster that this..." Thud. "And you'd be right".

For fans of the Bard it's an interesting curio, featuring two performances from Roth and Oldman that are never less than watchable. Sadly, its overlong running time and often impenetrable text will struggle to capture the interest of a wider audience. It's cinematic limitations are clear, and the DVD even includes a candid interview with Stoppard from last year, where he discusses his motivations and limitations as a director. This was his sole directing effort, and despite some plaudits laid on the film at the time (Stoppard controversially won the Golden Lion ahead of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas), his strengths do not lie behind the camera lens.


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