“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 1, Episode 3 (“A Man Alone”)

Jake (Cirroc Lofton) makes friends w/ a teenage Ferengi, Nog (Aron Eisenberg), Quark’s nephew and prone to act mischievous. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) argues w/ his wife Keiko (Rosalind Chao- who co-starred in The Joy Luck Club also in 1993), who hasn’t adjusted to life on DS9. On the Enterprise (TNG), Keiko was a botanist, but now she has no work. Odo (Rene Auberjonois) doesn’t see what’s so great about being a couple, as he comments to Quark (Armin Shimerman). This is a fun scene w/ actors who can do both comedy and drama. You also see their chemistry w/ each other as frenemies. Lt. Dax (Terry Farrell) explains to Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) that her species don’t go seeking romantic relationships. I like the charm and confidence Farrell shows, even in early eps. Siddig also brings the charm, yet his character has much more naivete.

Sisko: [to Odo] If you can’t work within the rules I’ll find someone who can.

The A-story focuses on Odo, the shape-shifting constable w/ a strong sense of justice who is caught up in a mystery. Odo sees a familiar face on the Promenade, the Bajoran smuggler Ibudan, and gives him a day (26 hours in this world) to get off the station. Sisko (Avery Brooks) says that the man hasn’t done anything wrong, so Odo can’t just kick him out. Odo tells of how Ibudan once let a child die b/c the parents couldn’t afford medicine. Ibudan also killed a Cardassian w/o provocation during the Occupation, so Odo turned him in. When Ibudan is murdered on one of the holodecks, Odo becomes the prime suspect. However, things are not as they seem!

Quark: [about Odo] He’s an ill-tempered, overbearing, cross-patch. But he was no Cardassian collaborator, and he’s no killer.

Zayra: I can’t believe you’re defending him, Quark. You’re his worst enemy.

Quark: Guess that’s the closest thing he has in this world to a friend.

There are a lines and scenes which wouldn’t be out of place on a cop show. Kira (Nana Visitor) says that Odo is “the most honorable man on the station.” The actress really seemed comfortable w/ her character from the start of the series. Dax and Bashir sift through evidence gathered at the murder scene and on the ship which Ibudan came on, trying to solve the crime. Some Bajorans on the station, incl. Zayra (Edward Laurence Albert- son of actor Eddie Albert) grow very suspicious of Odo. He is unlike anyone else in this community and worked under the Cardassians for some years. After Odo is relieved of duty by Sisko (for his own safety), he goes to his office. We see that it has been trashed; along one wall, the word “SHIFTER” can be seen. A mob gathers outside and Sisko calls in security to prevent damage and violence.

Keiko’s plan to start a school for the few kids on the station was a practical idea. Sisko liked the idea very much and Jake had grown bored of studying alone w/ a computer (which is what many kids are doing in quarantine). I liked the scene where Keiko convinced Nog’s father, Rom (Max Grodenchik), to allow him to attend. Rom is portrayed as confident and decisive, which changes drastically later in the show. There is an ep focused on Keiko’s teaching at the end of the season which fans esp. comment about.

[1] I enjoy how DS9 gets to work on establishing it’s characters right away– the payoff doesn’t come for quite a while but damn is it delicious when it does.

[2] …the conflict between Odo’s sense of justice and Starfleet rules will be done much better in later episodes…

[3] Odo – who really is a man alone – must learn to trust others to help him figure this one out and clear him of suspicion.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock on Family Life: “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) starring Teresa Wright & Joseph Cotten

[1] Joseph Cotten is the perfect charming monster.

[2] As for Teresa Wright, she finds some good notes as well in playing off of Cotten… …those kids are just the right icing to the cake the film cooks up.

[3] One of my favorite elements in the movie is the ongoing dialogue between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn, avid mystery readers who are constantly discussing the best ways to murder each other. Apart from being a bit of comic relief… it also demonstrates how lightly people think of murder and murderers… until they encounter them face-to-face.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Young Charlie: We eat and sleep and that’s about all. We don’t even have any real conversations. We just talk.

Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored w/ her uneventful life, living in Santa Rosa, CA, w/ her family. She knows exactly what they need- a visit from her well-traveled/sophisticated Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten), her mother’s younger brother. Out of the blue, they receive a telegram from Uncle Charlie announcing that he is coming to visit. Uncle Charlie creates a stir as the new man in the small town, dressing stylish and charming locals. Young Charlie begins to notice some odd behavior on his part. Two strangers, Graham (Macdonald Carey) and Saunders (Wallace Ford), come to interview the Newton family, saying they were chosen for a national survey. It turns out that they are (undercover) detectives!

Uncle Charlie: The whole world’s a joke to me.

Uncle Charlie: I guess heaven takes care of fools and scoundrels.

One reason Sir Alfred Hitchcock considered this to be his favorite movie was that he loved the idea of bringing menace to a small town. Hitchcock believed that the expensive and sturdy, but weathered and worn, look to the house would give the suggestion that the Newton family could be anyone, an average American family in any American town. Edna May Wonacott (book-loving/chatty Ann) and Estelle Jewell (Young Charlie’s friend Catherine) were locals of Santa Rosa, where the movie was filmed. Many of the extras were also locals of the town. The story is lightened up by the patriarch, Joseph (Henry Travers), and his eccentric neighbor, Herbie (Hume Cronyn- in his first movie).

Young Charlie: We’re not just an uncle and a niece. It’s something else. I know you. I know you don’t tell people a lot of things. I don’t either. I have a feeling that inside you there’s something nobody knows about… something secret and wonderful. I’ll find it out.

In his interview with François Truffaut in 1967, Sir Alfred Hitchcock said the dense, black smoke coming from the train that brings Charles to town was a deliberate symbol of imminent evil. Some viewers may have missed his cameo; he is playing cards on the train w/ his back to the audience. The waltz tune is Franz Lehár’s “the Merry Widow;” the nickname of the killer is the Merry Widow killer. Charlie’s sister, Emma (Patricia Collinge), mentions that he’d had an accident on a bike as a boy; his personality changed after the accident (getting into mischief). I learned that Collinge wrote the romantic scene in the garage between Young Charlie and Graham.

You can watch the movie (for free) on YouTube!