Sunday, June 10, 2007

14 Nicholas Farrell

Hamlet played by Nicholas Farrell
Directed by Natalia Orlova

Produced as part of the BBC's Shakespeare: The Animated Tales project, this Hamlet manages to lucidly abbreviate the story to just over twenty-five minutes employing voiceover and impressionistic imagary from the Russian animators of Christmas films who use paint on glass to create the world. Bravely, screenwriter Leon Garfield only layers in narration when absolutely necessary -- to explain the prince's tooing and froing between Denmark and England, relying instead on Shakespeare's verse where possible.

There is some creative license. In the opening narration, Michael Kitchen's delicious tones, after noting that 'Something was rotten in the state of Denmark' goes on to imply that there are already whispers in court regarding Hamlet Snr's death, that perhaps he was poisoned, a fact that in the play only Hamlet and perhaps Horatio is privy to. It's pretty unequical as to the Dane's state of mind on hearing the news: '(Hamlet) hides his terrible knowledge under a cloak of madness'. It seems pointless to list the cuts because there are so many, but it's interesting to note that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't survive (simply referred to as 'spies' when necessary) but the Gravedigger still manages to enjoy a few jokes.

With little time to create a pschological coherance it's perhaps understandable that the performances whilst distinctive don't leave as much of a mark as the mystical images. That said, Nicholas Farrell's Hamlet perfectly carries some of the narrative burden even if there's little time to establish much of the humour inherent in the character on the page -- but its telling that he only really flies when interacting with others, Tilda Swinton's etherial Ophelia or Dorien Thomas's rather stolid Horatio (Farrell would later appear in Banagh's Hamlet film is Horatio).

It is the first time I've seen the same actor doubling the two older brothers, Claudius and Hamlet although the irony is lost of course because the character designs are so different, the former reminiscent of The Walker Art Gallery's portrait of Henry VIII. Claudius is perhaps the most memorable of characters with Hamlet perhaps being a touch too much like a yokel -- but is long golden locks do contrast nicely against the stone grey back drops and the crashing of the sea that buffets the castle.

Overall then, it's a treat, the kind of pleasure which is best enjoyed in the evening with a cup of coffee and some rice pudding, feet up next to a radiator and I wish that the funds had been available to animate the whole play in this style. The most effective moments are when the visuals and sounds take flight, as in the terrifying appearance of the ghost, with actor Joseph Shrapnel's booming voice relating the terrible deed as he floats stately across the battlements. But the most emotional scene is reserved for Ophelia's decent into real madness and her sucide, her songs echoing about the halls of Elsnore, her figure decending into a ghost like state before disappearing into the garden, her drowing signalled by the disturbance of a crane.

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