“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).

“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.

“The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” (2011)

In 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera arrived on the West End stage. After 25 years, the musical achieved global success, millions of viewers, a film adaptation in 2004 (which I don’t recommend) and a sequel. Filmed at the Royal Albert Hall, this performance (which you can rent on YouTube) brings the show to a bigger stage and celebrates its role as one of the biggest shows in theater history, w/ speeches, performances, and appearances by the original cast (and some notable Phantoms). Starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, POTO tells the story of a deformed musical genius who lives underneath the Paris Opera House. Shunned by society, the Phantom seeks revenge (w/ cruel and violent acts). He’s in love w/ a chorus girl, Christine Daaé, who he has been secretly training to replace the leading lady.

Karimloo (who is Canadian) is engaging and very effective w/ his gorgeous voice and imposing physical presence. One side of his face looks genuinely scary; this was done by the original makeup artist. Boggess (who is American) is charming and her stage presence is as strong as Karimloo’s. Her soprano voice is bright and clear. She esp. does a terrific job w/ Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. Past of the Point No Return was very compelling; two leads show that they have great chemistry together (even though The Phantom has on a hooded cloak). I learned that Boggess was the original Ariel in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid.

The encore featured 4 different Phantoms from around the world and was the debut for one of them: Peter Jöback from Sweden. He was scheduled to play the Phantom after the concert in London. The other 3 Phantoms who sing are: Colm Wilkinson (who is Irish; the original Canadian Phantom and Jean Valjean in Les Mis in London and NYC), John Owen-Jones (London’s longest running Phantom). and Anthony Warlow (Australia’s most famous Phantom). The original Phantom, Michael Crawford, was also there, as was the incomparable Sarah Brightman (the original Christine; former wife of Webber). I remember buying her CDs in HS.

The camera work allows you to admire the production design and does so unobtrusively, often it has a very cinematic look…

Hadley Fraser has a different take on the childhood sweetheart of Christine. Fraser brings an energy and eagerness to the character. I loved Fraser because he brings a new energy and charisma to the character.

[Karimloo] is both very threatening and very vulnerable. He is both aggressor and victim. He captures the fragility of the Phantom’s mind and the strength of the Phantom’s will.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 11 (“Vortex”)

Quark:  You think the whole galaxy is plotting around you, don’t you? Paranoia must run in your species, Odo. Maybe that’s why no one has ever seen a changeling. They’re all hiding!

A Mindaran ship arrives on DS9 w/ twin brothers, Ah-Kel and Ro-Kel (Randy Ogelsby), known as smugglers. Another mysterious alien, Croden (Cliff De Young), has been spending time in Quark’s bar. He comes from the Gamma Quadrant, so is one of a kind on DS9. There are reports of he and Quark (Armin Shimerman) having long convos. Odo (Rene Auberjonois) disguises himself and catches Quark negotiating w/ the Mindarans about an artifact (probably stolen). Odo can’t prevent Croden from killing Ro-Kel while trying to steal the artifact. Ah-Kel vows revenge, as twins of his species are like two halves of one being.

[Croden has killed Ah-Kel’s brother in self defense]

Ah-Kel: My only purpose in life from here on… is to see him dead!

Croden, who is roguish and talkative, tells Odo that he has seen shape-shifters before (he uses the term “Changeling”- a first for DS9). He claims they once lived on his home planet, but were driven out. He saw them on another planet a few years ago and can take Odo there. Croden opens a locket containing a shape-shifting fluid; Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) declares this is partly organic (living) matter! Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Dax (Terry Farrell) go through the wormhole to inform Croden’s people that he has been arrested. They want no contact w/ outsiders and demand his return. Sisko agrees; Odo is tasked to fly Croden back.

This is a strong ep which was inspired by a Western. New viewers, as well as fans who are re-watching, will enjoy this story. It turns out that the prisoner is not what we assumed. We may wonder if he deserves death, as his planet has no trials. The security chief is faced w/ a conflict between his duty and his desire to learn more about his people. We get to see Odo unsettled (very rare); he and Croden have to rely on each other to survive. In the end, we realize that (unlike Federation officers), Odo has his own sense of justice!

Odo: [to the stone changeling] Home… Where is it? Someday we’ll know… cousin.

In the shot in which Rom places the drink bottle onto the tray, we see that there are five glasses instead of four. The camera focuses on the fifth glass in homage to Hitchcock’s Notorious. According to writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Odo’s line: “I’m a security chief, not a combat pilot” is a tribute to Dr. McCoy’s running line in TOS: “I’m a doctor, not a….” The exterior visuals of the vortex are re-used shots of from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, w/ color slightly changed and flipped upside-down.

[1]…gives us more insight into him [Odo], especially his efficiency and integrity as a law enforcement officer, while at the same time giving us a peek past his cold exterior to see his inner loneliness and vulnerability.

[2] The resolution to this story is highly satisfactory and tells us something important about Odo. As we’ve come to expect, Auberjonois and Shimerman give stellar performances.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 1, Episode 7 (“Dax”)

The teleplay for this ep was co-written by the fabulous Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana; she wrote several eps of TOS and improved many others as script editor. Fontana (only in her mid-to-late 20s) was pivotal in developing the character of Spock and Vulcan culture in TOS; she later wrote some TNG eps. If you like courtroom drama and strong character development, then you’ll enjoy this story. I think it’s the strongest ep (so far) in S1.

After having Klingon coffee (raktajino) and getting hit on (yup, again) by Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig), Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) walks toward her quarters. On the way, she is attacked by three hooded aliens in a corridor. Bashir tries to intercede, but gets knocked out in a fight. These aliens know how to get around the station’s security controls, so they quickly reach their ship and set off. Luckily, Major Kira (Nana Visitor) pulls it back w/ a tractor beam (yay). Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) demands answers for the assault and attempted kidnapping of his science officer. Ilon Tandro (Gregory Itzin) insists he has the right to take Dax back to Klaestron IV, as Dax is accused of murder and treason! According to Ilon, his father Gen. Tandro (a martyred hero to his people) was murdered and betrayed by Curzon 30 yrs ago.

Cmdr. Sisko: I want you to find all the medical evidence you can to support the theory that Jadzia Dax and Curzon Dax are two entirely separate people. Major…

Dr. Bashir: Excuse me, sir, I-I don’t know that there is any medical evidence on that.

Cmdr. Sisko: Assume there is, then find it.

[Sisko has asked Kira to search for precedents involving Trills]

Major Kira: Is a Trill responsible for the conduct – for the acts – of its antecedent selves?

Cmdr. Sisko: Right, that kind of thing.

Major Kira: What if I find the answer is yes?

Cmdr. Sisko: Then that answer is wrong. From this minute on, our answer is “no.”

After the above scene (in Sisko’s office), we see that the world of DS9 is going to be different from that of TNG. Could you imagine Picard saying these lines? No way, life is black or white on the Enterprise! A no-nonsense/sassy Bajoran arbitrator, Renora (veteran character actress Anne Haney), holds a hearing to determine if Jadzia (only 28 y.o.) can be held responsible for a crime supposedly committed by Curzon (the previous host of the Dax symbiont). Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois) travels to Klaestron IV to look for some evidence that could help Jadzia; he meets w/ Gen. Tandro’s widow, Enina (veteran Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan). This actress (who also has a strong theater background, like Auberjonois) did a terrific job w/ her role!

Renora: This will be an informal hearing, so I’m going to start with some informal advice: I am one hundred years old. I do not have time to squander listening to superfluous language. In short, I intend to be in here until supper, not senility.

As the hearing goes on, Sisko is frustrated by the fact that Dax says nothing in her own defense. I really liked the scene in her quarters; we learn more re: both characters and see their developing (friend) chemistry. Like many fans and critics, I wish Dax had more lines in this ep; Farrell does a good job. The actress admitted to being intimidated (at first) w/ portraying a character over 300 yrs old who had lived many lives.

…finally get an episode centered on Dax. She has been seriously neglected as a character up to this point, including the aspects of her complicated relationship to Sisko, and this episode does a bit to explore that relationship.

It nicely explores the morality of holding holding one host responsible for the sins of the previous host and whether it is the host or the symbiont which is responsible.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews