“Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (BBC: 1980) starring Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, & Claire Bloom

This movie (available to rent on Amazon Prime) was part of the BBC TV Shakespeare project (1978-1985). Claudius (Patrick Stewart) played Derek Jacobi’s stepdad though he is 2 yrs younger. Gertrude (Claire Bloom) was only 7 yrs older than Hamlet. Jacobi was mentored by Olivier while he was a new actor on the London stage! Jacobi played Claudius in the 1996 movie version directed/starring his mentee- Kenneth Branagh. Jacobi’s long-time partner, Richard Clifford, has a fine supporting role in Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Originally, Director Rodney Bennett wanted to shoot on-location, but BBC said all productions were to be studio based. He said: “it is essentially a theatrical reality. The way to do it is to start with nothing and gradually feed in only what’s actually required.” The production design is open w/ no time-specific architecture, and a lot of empty space. It looks like a kind of filmed-copy of the stage play. The play is in its entirety, which is rare in film.

As I watch Jacobi, I’m tempted to think that he’s every bit as intelligent as Hamlet himself, so alive is he to every nuance of this character’s wit. He deepens, rather than solves, every puzzle regarding Hamlet’s character.

His displays of emotion swing from hatred to sorrow, love to vengefulness and everywhere else on the map… some of the more powerful sequences occur when he underplays them, with stillness, soft speech and thoughtful expression. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

We know the story, some of the lines, and the role is coveted by actors from all over the world. Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Richard Burton, Kevin Kline, Campbell Scott, Mel Gibson, Branagh, Ethan Hawke, David Tennant, Adrian Lester, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Simm, Andrew Scott, and Paapa Essiedou have all played Hamlet. Jacobi is able to show Hamlet as indecisive, funny (in a dark way), passionate, judgmental, and thoughtful. He puts the feeling behind the words, but it (for the most part) feels natural and not forced. When the players arrive at Elsinore, we see Hamlet’s flair for drama. One of the “meta” moments comes when the players gather around Hamlet as he takes on the role of director.

Is Hamlet really mad (crazy)? I don’t think so, though there are a few points where that can be debated. Is he contemplating suicide in the famous “to be or not to be scene?” I didn’t think so when I read it in HS and college, but now think differently. Does he want power himself or is mostly angry about the murder of his father? It’s up to us to decide; though he sees in young Fortinbras the “man of action” which he can’t (or maybe doesn’t want) to be. I thought of Hamlet as a scholarly type who (though 30 y.o.) isn’t quite ready for a leadership role. Though this took me two nights to watch, I thought the last hour was very compelling (incl. the sword fight w/ Laertes).

“Shakespeare’s Globe: A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (2014)

This is a very appealing production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays that should get wide attention. The cast is good, John Light ably doubles as Theseus and Oberon, and Michelle Terry impressed me as Hippolyta and Titania. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Trailer for the production

The play (which I saw last week on YouTube) opens w/ a dance/battle, showing us that Hippolyta (Michelle Terry), the leader of the Amazons (a tribe of women), was captured by Theseus (John Light) during war. Terry reveals intelligence, sensitivity, and power. She makes a connection w/ Hermia when she is threatened w/ death or life as a nun (if she doesn’t marry Demetrius- her father’s choice). As the play goes on, Hippolyta’s proud manner turns to teasing of Theseus; they share chemistry and could have a happy marriage.

The fairy land ruled by Oberon and Titania is decorated w/ animal heads and full of mischief. The quarrel between the long-married king and queen (over an orphaned Indian boy) has upset nature. Light’s Oberon is charismatic and full of energy in his gymnastic moves; he can act tough, but also has a soft side. He sympathizes w/ Helena when she’s chasing Demetrius, the man she loves. Terry’s Titania falls for (the ass-headed Bottom) after being tricked by Oberon.

The young lovers (Helena, Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander) are cute, funny, and energetic.They become muddy and disheveled as they tumble through the woods together. Hermia (Olivia Ross- also seen in Killing Eve) and Helena (Sarah MacRae) show real pain and confusion as their friendship is tested. The young men, Lysander (Luke Thompson) and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) try to one-up each other. The mischievous fairy, Puck (Matthew Tennyson), is there to make sure they don’t hurt each other.

The Mechanicals are also clog dancers; the sounds of their arrival breaks into the goings-on of the lovers. This group of Athenian workmen are planning to present an entertainment for the Duke’s wedding. Led by the comic/anxious, Peter Quince (Fergal McElherron), they attempt at presenting the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe w/ seriousness (despite their lack of talent). Flute (Christopher Logan) plays Thisbe w/ sensitivity, though he is rather clumsy. Snug (Edward Peel) has to use his joiner’s skills to repair their little stage, even during the performance- LOL! Bottom (Pearce Quigley) starts out wanting to play all the parts; he also flirts w/ the (live) audience. The Renaissance music helps to bring it all together.

“Royal Shakespeare Company: Othello” (2015)

addresses the character of Iago in a very different way, I think. Because suddenly, it heightens – for me anyway – the sense of betrayal. The sense of broken trust, the sense that you and I – as [Iago] says right at the beginning to Roderigo – we have fought in Rhodes, in Cyprus, on others’ grounds, Christian and heathen, we’ve seen war together, you and I, we are brothers. We’ve done it all together. But you went and chose that guy over me. -Lucian Msamati, actor

This is the first RSC production of Othello w/ a black Iago- and it really works! It’s also a modern adaptation featuring a diverse cast (who speak w/ a variety of accents) and live music (incl. from an oud). The director of this production, Iqbal Khan, is of Pakistani heritage. He grew up in inner-city Birmingham, England; his mother raised five sons after their father died young. Khan (who is now 50) was the first British Asian to direct a play in the West End. Iago (Lucian Msamati- born/raised in Zimbabwe of Tanzanian heritage) has an unique take on the famed villain. You may know Msamati as the charming pirate, Salladhor San, on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Othello (Hugh Quarshie- known for his stage work in the UK) is not as “noble” as we’re used to seeing.

Msamati’s excellent Iago is a stocky, tactically highly engaging figure who develops a cheeky rapport with the audience. His wounded racial pride can be heard, though, in the folk song he sings… -Paul Taylor (The Independent)

Desdemona (Joanna Vanderham- of Dutch heritage and raised in Scotland) is more spirited than usual; she was in the popular TV series- The Paradise. Despite the obvious age gap, this Othello and Desdemona have good chemistry. Roderigo (James Corrigan) is a Florentine and former suitor of Desdemona; he thinks he can still win her back. Iago knows just how to manipulate the younger man; Roderigo is like a puppet. Cassio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is the Florentine lieutenant to Othello who can’t hold his liquor; he is untested in battle. Roderigo has a sense of entitlement, as does Cassio (who tries to rap in one scene). Emilia (Ayesha Dharkar- born/raised in India and known work in indie films) is Iago’s neglected wife and serves Desdemona. Dharkar speaks w/ her natural Indian accent. Iago suspects her of being unfaithful (w/ Othello); their relationship has become bitter, much to her disappointment.

…it reinforces the historic bond between Othello and Iago, and helps to explain the trust the former places in his ensign. By making Othello the commander of a multi-racial unit, Khan also exposes the unresolved tensions in the group: you can see exactly why Iago would detest a Caucasian Cassio who tries to show his kinship with the men by taking part in a rap contest… -Michael Billington (The Guardian)

Why does Othello trust Iago so much? Well, in this play, they are both black men in a society that is white-dominated. Othello had gone beyond the bounds by marrying a white woman; Desdemona’s father, Brabantio (Brian Protheroe), even accuses him of sorcery. Othello is of higher rank and more assimilated than Iago; most notably, Quarshie speaks w/ a British accent and Msamati uses one which is thicker than his natural one. We know this a play about jealousy, but it’s also about presentation. Othello won Desdemona b/c of his skill as a storyteller; Iago manipulated many w/ stories he created. You can watch the full play on Marquee TV; check out some videos below.

Director Iqbal Khan gives a brief synopsis of Othello.
Act 1, Scene 1 of the 2015 RSC production of Othello.
Act 3, Scene 3 of the 2015 RSC production of Othello.

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 2, Episodes 1-3

Episode 1: The Homecoming

O’Brien: If they think scrawling a few signs is gonna get rid of us, they got another thing coming.

Sisko: Right now, they’re just trying to show us that we’re vulnerable.

Odo: I wouldn’t be overly concerned, Commander; this section is a low security area.

Sisko: As of now, Constable, there are no low security areas on the station.

Season 2 of the sci-fi series has a bigger budget, we see more sets, and more effective lighting is used. Quark receives a Bajoran earring from a smuggler. She says she received it on Cardassia IV; it needs to be delivered to Bajor (as any Bajoran will recognize it). Quark takes it to Kira; the earring belongs to Li Nalas, considered one of the greatest heroes of the Resistance. Kira asks Sisko for a runabout to rescue him. Bajor is on the verge of civil war; a group called The Circle wants to get rid of all aliens on Bajor. Odo finds their logo graffiti-ed on a wall in the space station. Jake is excited about his first date, though Cmdr. Sisko seems nervous. This teleplay was written by Ira Stephen Behr, who would go on to become showrunner in later seasons.

Sisko: I saw you, in front of the crowd on the promenade. They look at you, and they see strength, and honor, and decency. They look at you and they see the best in themselves.

Li Nalas: But it’s all based on a lie.

Sisko: No – it’s based on a legend. And legends are as powerful as any truth.

The scenes in the labor camp were shot in Soledad Canyon, north of LA. It was refreshing to be outdoors (off the station) for a while. The Cardassians said all political prisoners had been released; Gul Dukat apologizes (which is unexpected). Li Nalas (guest star Richard Beymer- Tony in West Side Story) says he became a hero by accident in a fine scene w/ Sisko. Frank Langella’s (Minister Jaro Essa) performances are uncredited (he did the show for his children, not exposure or money.) At the end of this ep, Minister Jaro declares Li Nalas the liaison officer, leaving Kira’s status uncertain.

I liked the frenemy scenes between Odo and Quark, which were a trademark of Behr’s writing. Beymer portrayed the reluctant hero well. I was very impressed w/ Langella (who even has a different posture when playing the politician to the crowd)! Kira and O’Brien made a good team during the rescue.

Episode 2: The Circle

Odo: [incensed] Major, you’ve been breaking one too many for fourteen and a half years! Cardassian rules, Bajoran rules, Federation rules, they’re all meaningless to you. Because you have a personal code, that’s always mattered more. And I’m sorry to say, you’re in slim company.

Major Kira: [softly] I’ll miss you too, Odo.

Jaro explains the reason for Li Nalas on DS9 is unrest on Bajor. Kira goes to have a rest at the monastery, as suggested by Vedek Bareil. She sees one of the Orbs of Prophecy. Sisko wants to get Kira back as his second in command. He sees Krim (Stephen Macht), the leader of the Bajoran military forces. The Circle is planning to overthrow the provisional government; if all non-Bajorans are expelled, they lose Federation protection. Quark tells Odo he knows who is supplying weapons to The Circle. We get a Game of Thrones-type scene (before the HBO show aired) w/ Minster Jaro and Vedek Winn.

Minister Jaro [to Winn]: We’re a match made by the Prophets.

I always thought it was too bad that the casting director didn’t get a better actor to play Bareil. I hadn’t seen this arc of eps before, but saw him over the course of the series. I know Bareil and Kira are supposed to be attracted to each other, but they lack chemistry. There is good (evil) chemistry between Fletcher and Langella; their plotting scene was great! The goodbye scene in Kira’s quarters was well-done (w/ both serious and light moments).

Episode 3: The Siege

Nog: Has there ever been one of your kind and one of my kind who were better friends?

Jake Sisko: Never.

Nog: And if our fathers couldn’t break us up, no stupid coup d’é… coup… coup-coup d’é…

Jake Sisko: Coup d’état. It’s French.

Nog: And no stupid French thing will either!

The Federation must evacuate the station, but Sisko has no intentions of leaving. He’s come to care about what happens to the Bajorans. Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir, Odo, and a few others will try to delay the the takeover as long as possible, until the truth re: who is supplying weapons can be revealed. Kira will take evidence to the Chamber of Ministers, but all the runabouts are in use for the evacuation. Li Nalas thinks there might be raiders intact on the Lunar V base; Kira and Dax set off to find out.

This conclusion was written by Michael Piller, co-creator of the series. Awww, poor Keiko and Molly- O’Brien chose his job over family. Quark gets tricked by his brother Rom (which is quite rare, but good to see). Kira and Dax have some light/fun moments, even while facing danger. Also, look out for Steven Weber (who was then starring in Wings). Hmmm, maybe he was a fan of ST universe also?


[1] This was an excellent episode in terms of building up a sense of DS9 as being more then a space station – a home for these people and they fight to protect it and the potential future it represents for the Federation and Bajor.

[2] I like this side of Sisko and he is much more assertive and interesting in part three!

[3] The action scenes in this episode were pretty good and there were a few fun scenes too…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 19 (“In the Hands of the Prophets”)

I was the like the space Pope. -Actress Louise Fletcher (on how she saw her DS9 character)

[Vedek Winn has asked Keiko O’Brien to refrain from teaching anything that might conflict with Bajoran beliefs]

Keiko O’Brien: I’m a teacher. My responsibility is to expose my students to knowledge, not hide it from them. The answer is no.

Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) is teaching the DS9 kids about the wormhole, when Vedek Winn (veteran actress/Oscar winner Louise Fletcher), one of the most important religious leaders of the Bajorans (and possible candidate to become the next Kai), arrives. She strongly disagrees w/ the scientific way Keiko chooses to explain the phenomenon, calling it “blasphemy.” She convinces the Bajoran parents to remove their kids (who are in the majority) from the school; only Jake and a handful of others remain.

[Jake is questioning the ‘stupidity’ of the Bajoran beliefs, comparing it with the Inquisition during the Middle Ages]

Cmndr. Sisko: You’ve got to realize something, Jake: for over fifty years, the one thing that allowed the Bajorans to survive the Cardassian occupation was their faith. The prophets were their only source of hope and courage.

Jake Sisko: But there were no prophets; they were just aliens that you found in the wormhole.

Cmndr. Sisko: To those aliens, the future is no more difficult to see than the past. Why shouldn’t they be considered prophets?

Jake Sisko: Are you serious?

Cmndr. Sisko: My point is, it’s a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe, but that doesn’t make it wrong…

Meanwhile, Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) finds an important item missing from his toolkit. He and his assistant, a young Bajoran named Neela (Robin Christopher), start looking for it. They find the tool in a corridor, together w/ the remains of a young ensign! What was he doing in this area? His death may have been an accident, but it seems suspicious to O’Brien.

[a group of Bajorans have arrived at the station]

Quark: Don’t tell me – there’s a Bajoran convention on this station I didn’t know about? Thanks, Odo! I need to call in more dabo girls.

Odo: It’s not a convention. They’re from an orthodox spiritual order coming to support Vedek Winn’s efforts to keep the Bajoran children out of school.

Quark: Orthodox? In that case I’ll need twice as many dabo girls. The spiritual types love those dabo girls!

This ep relates to the debate in US schools about the teaching of Evolution and Creationism in science classes. Both Keiko and Winn are unwilling to give in; perhaps surprising, Kira (Nana Visitor) agrees with Winn’s position. Kira suggests that there should be two schools on the station. Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) travels to Bajor to seek support from a more tolerant leader, Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim). He is also a candidate for Kai, but has a different attitude and philosophy than Winn.

Vedek Bareil: Today I am only a vedek. If the Prophets will it, someday I may be Kai. And I can be a better friend to you then.

Cmdr. Sisko: In other words, being my friend now might hurt your chances?

Vedek Bareil: The Prophets teach us patience.

Cmdr. Sisko: It appears they also teach you politics.

This is the S1 finale of DS9; it circles back to issues/events from the pilot (which we learn occurred 7 mos ago). The matte painting from “Emissary” was modified to show that the damage to the Bajoran city had been repaired. The teleplay is by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (who worked on many eps of TNG). An early idea was a crossover w/ TNG and have Sisko, Picard and their crews work together to fight against an invasion by Cardassians. Instead of that external struggle, we have an internal one between the Bajorans themselves.

[1] …is pretty good, with a tightly interwoven set of story lines, further ugly truths about Bajoran culture (and beautiful faith in the goodness of individuals), and some good performances. 

[2] Real stakes and powerful social commentary. This ep gets mega points for being brave enough to address religion with a bit of honesty…

[3] This episode will be relevant forever. There are so many people in this world who use religion/idea/belief as a sword to achieve hidden agendas.

-Excerpts from IMDB comments